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Andrea Janov poetry

Take ‘em All

Only one street light      sputters

almost illuminating the alley.
As I walk from Metro I hear
              Motorhead spitting through the speakers
                            and skateboard cracks against the pavement.

Black T-shirts with assorted
skate company and band logos
sit on their boards,
                     daring each other to do impossible tricks.

I tackle Dave. He slides
      over, making just
enough room on his board for
me to squeeze on and press against his damp body.

Matt is trying to kickflip over six boards
   The boys bet on his injuries:
             losing a tooth, needing stitches in his face
broken arm or wrist.                 

I watch Matt –      look to the ground
      then back        at the tower of interlocked boards

             Matt throws down his board
                 pushes off
                             wheels grind crushing pebbles
                                against the macadam as he
                                     rolls to the tower

The Freaks, Nerds, and Romantics: A Punk Rock Prom

Flashes bounce off
            spiked bracelets and studded belts
as we pose for pictures
in the alleyway behind Metro.

Our hair dyed to match
            our Salvation Army dresses –
taffeta frills and bows overtake
shoulders and obscure faces.
           Suspenders clipped on worn-out Dickies 
Fiend skulls show through
ripped button-down shirts
tattoos stick out
of shirt collars and spaghetti straps.

A souped-up Civic turns
        into the alley
                jerks to a stop –      Freaks!
     They shout from behind tinted windows.

                                    Eggs splatter
                         against the concrete
         and crack against bodies
      yolk oozes onto skin and satin.

We hurl stones –                        they throw
                       bounce                           the car in reverse             
                           off the windshield
       ping the hood
                   nick the paint.

David Herrle reviews LEAVING PARIS by Collin Kelley

leaving_parispublished by Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016
learn more about the Venus trilogy here

[Caution: some mild spoilers]

Tenacious and prolific as ever, Collin Kelley has successfully deviated from his usual poetry output and produced the final novel in his Venus trilogy: Leaving Paris, my favorite installment of the three. This time Collin’s Francophilism is fever-pitched. His preference of the City of Lights to probably anywhere in the U.S.A. seems more overt than in the preceding books, and his disillusionment, particularly with the South, sticks out like a sore Eiffel Tower. Perhaps what lovable protagonist Martin Page says to colleague and friend Julie Lacombe during a Memphis stop on his U.S. book tour sums up this basic cynicism: “You’re the most un-Southern Southerner I’ve ever met…America is always going to be a disappointment.”

Over the course of the three Venus novels, Collin’s plotting has become more and more cinematic, blending espionage/political intrigue with romantic drama, as well as some chutzpah-fueled magical realism. Really, literary genres compete somewhat in Leaving Paris, seeming to fluctuate from chapter to chapter at times. Normally this would be problematic, but Collin has managed to handle the mixture and the transitions pretty well. The overall cinematic quality of the Venus trilogy does show Collin’s pop-cultural cache, most notably with big winks to Richard Linklater’s Before film trilogy in parts dealing with the question of “What could have been?”

It’s 2005, about 10 years after the original book, and the ever-acerbic (and menopausal) Diane Jacobs struggles with both marital dissolution and caretaking her deteriorating father over in America, while over in Paris grande dame Irene Laureux runs the Editions Resolvere publishing house along with heir-apparent Martin, whose plans for production expansion include e-books, which must be intended to be amusingly quaint to current-day readers. (“Who wants to read books on a tiny screen?” asks Euan McEvoy, one of Martin’s seemingly countless ex-boyfriends. I joke, I joke.) Also, Martin’s romantic relationship with Christian Kigali has strengthened, and Christian worries for his father, Olivier, who is a Muslim convert (making his son’s name ironic) and a man with a serious secret life.

Looming behind such personal incidentals is the primary political situation in France, which involves tension between the right-wing Front National, spearheaded by the conniving and bitter Michel Arnaud, and unrest in Montfermeil, an immigrant-heavy banlieue. Arnaud seems resolved to rout out ethnic and religious undesirables at all costs, but his machinations face investigative threats and the Shakespearean inevitability of “the truth will out.” Of course, Irene, Martin and Christian become embroiled in what explodes from this societal powder keg.

Unless I’m remembering the other books inaccurately, it seems that Collin has really intensified the psychic link between the ever-odd and likable Irene Laureux, who, incidentally, speaks the two funniest lines in the entire book:  “Gay men love me. I can bend them to my will.” The mystical episodes also have become more…mystical. Besides Irene’s and Martin’s mutual visions and intimate extrasensory connection, there’s a sort of time travel involving “the Wood Between the Worlds” (a direct nod to C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew), “the other side of the mirror,” Einsteinian “quantum entanglement.” To put it more plainly (ahem), it relates to a phenomenon sparked by the rising of planet Venus, during which the Australian Yolngu tribe perform a ceremony called Barnumbirr so that communication with deceased relatives can be achieved. As one character puts it, “time is constantly folding and unfolding, like a wave crashing in on itself.”

During an episode of this warping of time and space, former-lover Paul, like Dante’s Virgil, guides Martin through what seems to be 17th-century Versailles and delivers him to a high-school boyfriend named Peter Daris, who shows Martin that “different choices” could have kept them together, to the point of aging happily as a married couple with a daughter. Then, as if ending a domino fall from lover to lover, Martin encounters David McClaren, the sexually conflicted and highly reluctant former love interest of Martin’s back in Conquering Venus.

Nowadays David is in even deeper sexual denial and, worse, married to a woman and utterly exploding from repression. (A quite disturbing scene involving a homophobic “redneck,” an intoxicated David and David’s belt illustrates this perfectly.) An interactive vision of Martin and David as a happy couple shows “the way it was supposed to be,” to use David’s tempting words. Apparently, Martin has a real choice to make. What about his boyfriend Christian? Could alteration of his past course be much-needed salvation for tormented David? What is the true purpose of this magical in-between place (or non-place)?

Collin’s ability to construct three weighty novels on the foundation of the comparatively simpler ideas of Conquering Venus is impressive. He cared enough about his characters and their potential to carry them over several years and through a lot of extraordinary circumstances, to say the least. He excels at threading together different plotlines and maintaining readers’ care for them. Even dastardly Arnaud, whose role could understandably be snubbed as a ho-hum caricature of an ultra-conservative fanatic (not much unlike David’s disapproving father, the “right-wing freak” and, of course, a gun lover), is a welcome familiar as far as dramatic conflict and sociopolitical-intrigue stories’ need for relentless Inspector Javerts are concerned.

In plotting Leaving Paris Collin wasn’t even finished with Irene’s murdered husband, Jean-Louis, nor his fateful lover, Frederick Dubois, who was the object of pursuit in the second Venus book, Remain in Light. Fans of the Venus books will be pleased to find that not only does the mystery surrounding the death of Jean-Louis back in the late 1960s factor yet again, gaining more contextual importance, but something surprising is revealed about the true identity of “gangster” Andre Sarde. Even Julie Lacombe, who was mentioned at the beginning of this review, has more to her than meets the eye. Put it this way: Leaving Paris is the archenemy of loose ends.

Pat McSpadden visual art

pat-1-charlie-parkerCharlie Parker

pat-2-emitted-wavesEmitted Waves

pat-3-distorted-possibilitiesDistorted Possibilities

Monica Piloni visual art

Monica Piloni lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. See her in her studio here. Visit her official website.



opium-series-monicaOpium Series




for-what-reason-would-you-want-my-soul-on-your-bed-monicaFor What Reason Would You Want My Soul on Your Bed?

what-if-there-is-no-soul-monicaWhat If There is No Soul?

Fabrice Poussin visual art

tea-time-is-it-by-fabrice-poussin-bTea Time, Is It?

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. An author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, etc., and his photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than one hundred other publications.

John Grey poetry


The sun is out at last,

the lake surface is warming,
its shoreline towels off.

Flowers find aspiration
where once was all survival,
splay their petals
frank and bold.

I lie on the bank,
content to absorb,
no eyes
but a collection of sights,
no flesh,
but foam-board
tacked with invitations.

Bluebird in the distance,
rabbit in the near,
gauzed light
through furze and fern…
in a fresh-opened heart,
a moment applies
for permanent residence.

“Quaquaversal” by Mathias B. Freese

I feel compelled, as a writer, to introduce you to my own idiosyncratic ways of going about writing a story. The creative process, as I observe, might prove of worth to reveal as I experience it. After finishing and publishing Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers I lie fallow. I never know what the next book will be about, but I do know that I will begin something as my need to write has not been stifled by age or an arthritic mind. I observe myself or, as Krishnamurti wrote, “the observer is the observed.” Chew on that for a while. So, over the past few weeks an amorphous idea began to gestate. In fact, I wrote a few pages called “The White Parasol.” But I get ahead of myself. What I want to explore here is my own creative process with the hope you may find it of note.

A few weeks back I was invited to a local institute to speak about memoir writing. In preparation I looked up Mr. Bernstein’s magnificent soliloquy in Citizen Kane, a scene that Welles believed was the best he had ever filmed. In that sequence Bernstein speaks of a young girl with a white parasol he had seen as a young man decades ago. All this is in response to the reporter’s quest to discover what or who Kane’s “Rosebud” was. Bernstein says that not a day has gone by that he has not thought about the girl with the white parasol. Memory and time are condensed in that observation, and it has a gravitas that needs time to be grasped or pondered. It is a valid cliché as we grow older that images from the past grow brighter with a concomitant feeling, at times, of nostalgia, sentimentality, pathos, and loss and attachment.

And so all this was floating about in my mind when I came across “quaquaversal,” a word I discovered serendipitously while looking up another word in the dictionary. Briefly, it is defined as being in all directions, emanating from a common center. I liked that immediately, and I thought of myself as a writer who tends to turn inwardly, deeply, profoundly, as if in search of the geode that may be the heart of any new story. David Herrle reviewed my book, Tesserae, and observed:

Anyone familiar with his other work isn’t surprised by Freese’s ability to always dig deeper through apparent bottom after bottom of self-analysis. “Fearlessness makes for authenticity in writing, so I can measure myself and not be a crybaby about it,” he writes near the end of the book. (In fact, he outdoes himself when he faces and reveals the truly tragic suicide of his daughter Caryn.) I’m reminded of what Orson Welles admitted to Henry Jaglom: “I’m dark as hell. My films are as black as the black hole.” This also is true of much of Freese’s literary output, but despite that darkness, that tendency to descend into the psyche’s hell, there is illumination and even rejuvenating sunlight. Frankfurters, root beer, ice cream and cotton candy at Coney Island glow alongside “tumultuous sex” with fantasy-come-to-life lover Marlene. In contrast to a fundamental sense of shame and ominous Rorschach perceptions, there are “non-maudlin memories”: childhood movies and radio shows, makeshift slingshots and scooters, the unintentional comedy of territorial, scolding adults.

Leave it to another writer to say it best. As the days went on with these story pieces floating about in mind, I came upon the idea of following the spine of Citizen Kane by having a deceased character (me) be deciphered by his survivors as they guess about this artifact they find or the last words he has to say upon his deathbed. I intended to break rules and do things with the structure of the story, as yet undefined, so that all the tesserae might come together into some visible mosaic.

In fact, this essay was written before I finished “The White Parasol.” This essay may help me to finish this story. I am writing to explain to myself – and to you – the process by which I noodle out a story. I created two Rosebuds for the story, one which is shared while the main character is alive, and another which is cryptic to his son who hears these words directly. The dying man utters Kaye-Halbert (the hyphen is of importance). The son mistakenly assumes that it is the name of a girlfriend, or some girl with a white parasol from the past. He asks relatives and friends if they have ever heard that name and he comes up zero. He goes online and discovers that Kaye-Halbert was a TV set from the early Fifties: a vintage TV set, probably 19 inches with knobs for volume, horizontal and vertical in the front, jammed with tubes. With this information he begins to consider. He recalls –freely associating – that his father told him that he ran home from school in 1951 and was able to catch the last inning in which Bobby Thompson hit a classic homerun off Ralph Branca to win the World Series. Truly memorable. And now he had it: Kaye-Halbert was his father’s Rosebud, a dying one, an image from his childhood for some reason that resonated within. Indeed, his grandmother had died, and her last words, his father shared with him, were “Father Knickbocker.” So, now, in my mind I have two Rosebuds to incorporate into my story.

What is the motive for my writing this Wellesian jigsaw puzzle like Susan Alexander’s lonely hobby? I think I want to self-discover myself once again. All my writing is about my navigation. I am the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. I want to access my core, and from that I want to achieve quaquaversal. And so it is a search, constructed through the artifice of a story. Citizen Kane looms large in several of my essays and stories, for there is something to that film which I experienced as a very young boy which grabs me, throttles my sensibilities and draws me close to it. I think it has to deal with loss. Kane reeks of loss: his mother, his sled, his mistress, his wife, his close friends. And, in a way, he loses whatever self he had. I will say boldly that he has lost love, and I identify with that, for, in a way, it happened to me.

When I was a young boy I visited a manufacturing plant run by my uncles, Seymour and Bernie. My father was in charge of plating. The Freeses made rhinestone jewelry of a high order. I used to wander about and simply observe. One black woman enjoyed me as a young boy and was most affectionate to me. I watched as she opened a tissue packet filled with stones (imported from Czechoslovakia, I think). With a bracelet that had been plated and designed by Bernie, plated by my father in rhodium, she embedded stone after stone by hand, craftily pressing down on the facets with a knife. It was hard work, often tedious, but the outcome was beautiful. On other sites workers would work on a clay tablet in which pieces were put together to make a pin, a necklace or earrings. They soldered brass pieces, and the odor of resin remains in my mind. After that they were taken to my father’s site in which they were plated and then returned to the room where rhinestones were placed into them. Here you have an association as I construct this small essay, for what I take from all this is infinite care and infinite details.

Details! All my stories and essays are embedded like a stone into a setting with details. “The White Parasol” will succeed or not on the careful placement of details. And so I will share some of the details I may or may not incorporate into the story. They are a buzzing mentation in me at this moment.

After his father’s (my) death, the son, Daniel, goes through his belongings, as we all must do eventually. What he comes upon are items from my own life that I will use for the story, so they really do exist. (The irony is that these will be artifacts for my actual son to collect, assess and metabolize. Oh, the psychological permutations are manifold.) So, like Kane’s sled, Rosebud, what I own and what I describe are condensations of many different layers of meaning. Call it gravitas, if you will. A tie clasp from the Fifties has a bluish square stone attached to it, given to me by my cousin Irving: a favorite of mine and a reminder of Irving himself. Daniel comes upon two maroon prayer bags for my tallis and phylacteries, which I was given by my Grandma Fanny for my bar mitzvah (I have asked my son, Jordan, to do bury this tallis with me when the time comes.) Daniel comes upon Jewish Tales and Legends, the first book I ever owned, with an inscription from my Grandma Flora, given to me when I was about seven or eight years old. I devoured this book and many years later used some of it in a story I was writing, to good effect.

Then Daniel finds a very thick album containing many photographs of his father’s family, his mother and father, his uncles, aunts, et al. The album has a page in it on which his father identifies each and every relative because he knows no one else would. His father is a saver, an observer, loyal, a rememberer – or the rememberer is the remembered. As Daniel scours and prowls the remains of his father’s artifacts, he comes across a gold mezuzah, a picture of his sister at age one, and, of all things, an ancient Duncan yo-yo from the Fifties. And there is one old shoe tree that his grandfather passed on to his father, who was a hoofer and used to be in Vaudeville. In a jewelry box he unearths a Queens College school ring from 1962, his grandmother’s silver marriage band and the tenderest finding of all: a ring with a soldered-on heart, which his father made for his mother in a shop class during junior high school. Some of these I will distill and take only the best details I can. After all, artifacts are our leavings, the cloaca of having been.

There is a primordial, perhaps genetic, tear in all of us. Some don’t know it exists and cannot palpate it. I feel it; I am a writer. It is in Bernstein’s tale of the white parasol. So, I will put the story of “The White Parasol” on my blog in the near future, when it has coalesced, and, hopefully, it has become quaquaversal.


Matt is a writer who lives in Nevada.  He’s the author of The i TetralogyDown to a Sunless Sea, This Mobius Strip of Ifs I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust and Tesserae: A Memoir of Two SummersVisit his blogHis major works are now available in Kindle format.

More Claudio Parentela visual art

Claudio lives and works in Catanzaro, Italy. Visit his official website.







Hascy Tarbox art

Born in St. Paul, Minneapolis in 1918, Hascy O. Tarbox attended the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois in 1929.  He married Joanne Hill, daughter of Todd headmaster Roger “Skipper” Hill in 1939, while he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. After several years of working as an artist and designer for several magazines, Hascy returned to Todd with Joanne so that they both could teach there. Both remained at Todd until the school closed in 1954. Shortly before he died, Hascy was asked to reflect on his past and the role art in his life.

His response: 
While attending the Art Institute of Chicago, I realized I couldn’t afford to be a painter, but needed to earn a living. I began working as an illustrator at Esquire magazine. During the War, I was seduced by Roger to return to Todd. While there, I abandoned professional artwork and helped run the school. When the school closed in 1954, I returned to the advertising, illustrating and art directing. Now, long-in-the-tooth and seared and yellowed with age, I’ve returned to painting. I have been doing a lot of wildlife illustration.  I don’t have a thing to look back to and try to do better today than I did yesterday. 

One of the wonderful things about being a painter is that you are all by yourself. You don’t need crews, writers, and script people. You are wallowing in your own ignorance. There is some sort of goal you work toward, and if you’re lucky you might just get there. Of course, you never will. But that isn’t the point. It is the chase, the hunt that is the spur, the impetus. I have piled up a lot of paintings, some of them relatively good, most of them very ho-hum. There are a couple of galleries in Tucson who are handling my paintings, but I am still reluctant – I think it has something to do with giving up a part of oneself if I sell my work.

a-few-more-passing-suns-chief-plenty-coups-of-the-mountain-crow-tribe-bChief Plenty Coups of the Mountain Crow Tribe

treat-all-men-alike-bChief Joseph of the Nez Perce speaking in Washington, D.C. in 1879

wonderYoung Chief of the Cayuse Nation at the 1855 Walla Walla Treaty Council, expressing the importance of the Earth to the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla peoples

hascy-1-chief-crowfoot-of-the-canadian-blackfoot-tribe-bChief Crowfoot of the Canadian Blackfoot Tribe

David Herrle interviews Bunny Goodjohn, author of THE BEGINNING THINGS

thebegthingscoverMore details


David: Your sense of and knack for character depth is excellent, enough to make me wonder if your cast is composited autobiographically, particularly in the case of Elaine – and even Tot’s, Elaine’s daughter’s, case. Please tell us about your characterization process. Where did this book come from?

It came from unfinished business, from the questions raised by alcoholism and recovery, and from, shall we say, my own somewhat premature entry into the world of sex-masquerading-as-love. And I was lucky: I already had a cast of characters just begging to be given some new lines and situations. My first novel, Sticklebacks and Snow Globes, opened up the lives of the Thompson family, and its final chapter, while offering a resolution of sorts, seemed to leave a door open for deeper examination of family dynamics. So I handed Tot a box full of secrets and had her alcoholic grandfather move into the dining room. Then I just wrote what happened. I think I’m Elaine at heart.


David: The Beginning Things contains a good number of clever similes, which is obviously owed to your basic nature as a poet. (Or am I wrong about that?) Favorite examples: “[S]he gobbled up his sweet interest like a diabetic,” “she felt cold and pathetic, like an iceberg about to lose a chunk of itself,” “the smoke like a canopy of crows against the roof of her mouth,” and (one that belongs in the land of comedic author Tom Robbins or Douglas Adams) “the living room looked embarrassed, like a fat woman wearing a bikini and wishing she had packed her one-piece.” Does prose come to you more easily than poetry, or vice versa?

And I can’t answer this without going back to metaphor. Both forms terrify me in too many ways. But it’s terror that forces me to the page, and it’s terror that makes me go to the spaces in my imagination that have to be explored. Poetry is the benevolent straitjacket. It’s the idea pinned down by form and wrapped up so tight in language it can’t help but confess. Prose is the padded room, a host of ideas bouncing off fiction’s walls: they collide, shatter and then heal into some kind of new cohesion. Neither come easily. But sometimes the experience of the padded room is heightened by slipping on a strait jacket.


David: Tot and Dan, who are granddaughter and grandfather, share a rather cute recurring inside joke of speaking in spoonerisms to each other. (“Tug of me” for mug of tea, “Dummy and Maddy” for Mummy and Daddy, “duddy bled” for bloody dead, “dittle larling” for little darling, “Dangrad” for Granddad – with the bonus of “Dan”.) While this gag by nature teeters on the line between clever and tedious, I think it’s part of the book’s charming abnormalcy and more proof of your own linguistic playfulness. Why the spoonerisms, and do they have a particular significance in Tot’s and Dan’s relationship?

They’re the author’s indulgence. My father harnessed spoonerisms as affection. He isn’t a hugely demonstrative man and back then in the 1970s, he was almost remote. It was as if he struggled to find a way of communicating with his daughters. He relied on humor…but he wasn’t very funny. So when he began to spoon, I leapt on it as a form of shared intimacy. We could talk without the fear of talking. I could say, “I Yuv Loo” and he could say it back. With Tot and Dan, we have two unlikelies struggling to make sense of love and life. Tot is isolated by secrets, and Dan is lonely and scared inside his alcoholism. They lack intimacy in their lives, and out of necessity, they lean on each other as they struggle towards new ways of being. Spoonerisms are tedious. I think everyone else in the family were bored to tears by them.


David: While 12-year-old Tot holds her grandmother’s (Dan’s dead wife Millicent’s) cremated remains in a tea caddy, Dan tells her that there’s a set of words that can’t be spoonerized: “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Some things just can’t spoon, and there’s no getting around it.” This causes Tot to ponder the logistics of cremation and how it’s possible for fire to “turn a damp body into dust and ashes.”

She could accept the crematorium’s fire turning old skin and hair – even bones – to dust, but what about the dampness of flesh, of blood? And what about those really big bones? Like the pelvis? What about Grandma’s gold tooth? What about the screws from Grandma’s hip replacement? And the hip itself? Would it have melted and smooshes pink all over the ashes like plastic bottles did in the garden incinerator?

Unlike Hamlet’s fixation on the personalities and social statuses of the dusty dead, Tot focuses on the radical alteration of the dead body itself, giving the passage a very materialistic vibe. I always say that the blunt corpse is the best argument for nihilism, but Moby-Dick’s Ishmael insists that “Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope,” contrasting Baudelaire’s final “the worm shall gnaw thy cheek.” Talk of corpses turned to dust, faith feeding in graveyards and hope in spite of gnawing worms.

We’re such liars when it comes to death. We keep kids from funerals and placate ourselves with images of Rainbow Bridges and Pearly Gates. The dead are wrapped in white shrouds and graduate to angelic robes and wings. I’m not sure where I stand on the idea of what comes next, but whatever comes next, it comes after the reality of death: hard-fleshed, black-and-blue death. The body falls down and unlike the animals who walk away from or feed upon it, we hide it in boxes and cover it in flowers. If we knew death, we might love life more.


David: Dan’s foot phobia makes the fourth chapter stand out for me. Even the feet of his late wife horrified him. In fact, his disgust for feet is wrapped up in her cruel nature and apparent sadism. Now, I doubt that such a specific and odd detail isn’t cut from whole cloth, so where did it come from? Your own aversion, perhaps? As an outspoken female-foot fetishist (only visually, mind you) who finds intense sexiness in a woman’s feet, has made pedal lust a central part of his latest book and considers the feet to be the hands of the legs, I need to know.

(Smile!) I hate all adult feet. Hate them with a vengeance. I bet I’d hate even Jude Law’s feet. My sister used to pin me down on the stairs with her feet. She would trap my skinny little neck between her big toe and the next one. I can see her with her pale legs and freckly calves. It makes me want to slap her – even today. I like paws and claws, and I even quite like little baby feet, but grownup feet make me heave. And we’re moving into summer and the season for flip-flops and cargo shorts and I just want to throw up. So, yes. My own aversion.


David: In chapter 17 you reveal the reason behind the novel’s title, the concept of “The Beginning Things,” which refers to the evolutionary process of romantic human intimacy: Asking Questions about Unimportant Things, Paying of Compliments, Asker Pays, the 90-day Walking Away and Thinking About Everything (which Tot truncates to The Month of Walking Backwards) – and, finally, Walking Back. Tell us how you devised this relationship primer.

I’m ten years clean and sober and owe much of that to my following (obsessively, of course) a 12-step program. I was intrigued by the idea of clear directions and how they can be useful when we attempt to master new things. I mean, recipes have numbered steps; Google directions have numbered steps; in a way, each of our birthdays is a numbered step. And look at the havoc caused by assembly instructions for bookcases that rely on stupid exploded views and letters rather than on good old numbered steps. I knew Dan would be heading into the rooms of AA, and I wanted Tot’s “recovery” to mirror his experience somehow. So I had them both follow “steps.” Hence the dedication to “Bill” at the beginning of the book. Bill Wilson is a huge part of my own recovery.


David: Dan advises Tot to never “let [boys] know what you want up front” and to “never say ‘love’ to a boy.” I can’t help but link this to Elaine’s disgusted summation of men in the previous chapter, following Dan’s very inappropriate drunken sexual advances: “All of them fools, a waste of bloody space.” Often, a decent person’s fall from grace nauseates more than the predictable offenses of a jerk. That chapter ends with these telling lines: “It was easier this way. No arguments. No men in the game. No complications.” This contrasts the rather pleasant chemistry between Elaine and Simon, and, more starkly, your portrayal of kind, virginal, doting Keesal and his longing for Tot. For a long time Tot doesn’t reciprocate Keesal’s feelings: “[S]he had never thought of him as boyfriend material. Never. Never. Ever.” Oh, the agony of the world’s Keesals! Rakish Gareth Strands tend to be favored by Eros. In my experience, more men seek exclusive love, while more women tend to avoid monogamous – let alone matrimonial – situations. I found some validation for this insight when I read Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men a few years ago:

To put it crudely, now feminist progress is largely dependent on hook-up culture. To a surprising degree, it is women – not men – who are perpetuating the culture…Today’s college girl likens a serious suitor to an accidental pregnancy in the nineteenth century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it thwart a promising future.

Though the aversion for the “good guy” has always been a bane for good guys (just as bimbos and femmes fatales have always outshined girls next door), is the non-monogamous thing a matter of only perspective, or has there really been a table-turning in men’s and women’s romantic sensitivities?

I think this is just the natural swinging of the sexual pendulum. I was a teenager of the 1970s. I saw the pill not as a liberation from sexual repression but a liberation from potential pregnancy. I saw feminism and its fight for equal rights as a new and shiny possibility. I was sexually active because it was expected of me by men, and even with Germaine Greer in my corner, I couldn’t work out how to say no. “Seen and not heard”: that was the yoke placed upon me by family and working class sensibilities. As an educator in the early 2000s, I saw young women demanding equal billing with men on the sexual playbill. I think they got it. The pendulum swings. But it swings back, too: I fear feminism is now seen by young women as somehow unnecessary, an anachronism, an odd thing their grandmothers fought about back in the day. That scares me, that women might have sexual liberation today without the enduring benefits of equality.

I think I was a Bimbo Fatales. I knew nothing.


David: In A Short History of England G.K. Chesterton says “the past is not what it was,” and that line is the first thing I thought of after reading the following aphoristic line from the eleventh chapter of The Beginning Things: “Only those who have travelled too far from childhood define it as a place of simple innocence.” This is one of those statements that become more complex once they’re really considered. Is this similar to the still-popular myth of the 1950s as some golden and pure-snowy social era? Tell us more about this concept.

By the time I was ten, I had learned many things:

How to avoid being singled out in the school playground and beaten with sticks and fists.
How to beat others with sticks and fists in order to escape being beaten with sticks and fists.
That women have to force small human beings out from between their legs.
That women bleed every month.
That boys wanted to touch my body and that some would do so whether I wanted them to or not.
That “almost-men” wanted to touch my body and that some would do so whether I wanted them to or not.
That the people I loved most in the world would die horrible and tragic deaths.
That the answers to the questions I needed answering would be given to me only when I had “grown up” and that until then, I would have to soldier on in silence and ignorance.
There is precious little innocence in childhood. I think it resides in adulthood under the pseudonym Denial.