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“Prick” by Marie Lecrivain

This is a piece from Lecrivain’s Grimm Conversations. Read the interview about the book here.


“Hello, my dear.”

“Hello M. Here’s your lunch.”

“Oh, thank you. And you included a pickle. How thoughtful you are.”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“No gold plate today?”

“No. I’m sorry, M. The royal dinnerware is being refurbished at the royal goldsmith’s. I brought you a sterling silver plate. “

“That’s all right, dear.”

“So, can we continue my lesson today?”

“Hmm… I’m not sure. I’m a little tired today.”

“Please? I want to be able to surprise my subjects.”

“Well, you know, it’s not expected of you.”

“I know, but I’m tired of having everything done for me and being watched all the time. I’m sick of rounded corners and padded walls. I’m tired of using chalk and worn pencils and safety scissors. I have no friends. I have handmaidens. My father won’t let me be seen by the court. How am I supposed to rule a kingdom if I can’t feel anything? Life isn’t supposed to be comfortable, is it?”

“No, my dear. It’s not. But remember: you are royalty.”

“I’m royalty who has never had a bruise, scab, or any kind of pain, short of menstrual cramps.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. I do.”

“All right. Take off your lovely gown while I finish this pickle.”

“What are we doing today?”

“Excuse me? You know that is not the way to address me.”

“Yes, Mistress. I’m sorry.” 

“That’s better.” 

“Thank you, Mistress.”

“I see that you are still wearing your corset. How did you like it?” 

“I love it, Mistress. I love how the stays press into my ribs when I try to bend over. The little breaths I have to take to keep the pain at bay… ohhh… it’s wonderful!”

“Now, bend over. Ahh… what a lovely bum you have.”

“Yes, Mistress. Oh! Ow! That smarts. Thank you, Mistress.”

“What do you say?”

“Thank you, Mistress. May I have another? Oh!… Oh!… Oh! …Thank you, Mistress!”

“That’s better.”

“Mistress, may I kiss your boots?”

“What is the magic word?”

“Please? Oh, please, Mistress. May I kiss your boots?”

“You may.”

“Mmm… Thank you, Mistress… Mwah… Mwah… Thank you.”

“That’s enough, my dear.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Sit up. Put your hands at your sides.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“You are such a pretty thing and so willing. How old are you, my dear?”

“Nineteen years today, Mistress.”

“Happy Birthday, my dear. I have a special present for you.”

“You do?”

“I do. It’s a gift fit for royalty. Would you like to see it? Close your eyes. Now, hold out your hands.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Here it is.”

“May I open my eyes?”

“Yes, dear, you may.”

“Thank you, Mistress. Oh… what is it?”

“It’s a scepter, my dear. Do you like it?”

“I’ve never seen one, except for Father’s. This one is so different. It’s so firm and soft at the same time.”

“This is a scepter for a queen. Would you like to know how to use it?”

“Oh, yes please, Mistress.”

“A scepter for a queen is not to be wielded like a club. A queen’s scepter is to be treated with love and devotion. It contains great power. Power that can be contained -within you.”

“How would I do that?”

“I will show you. You must do as I say.”

“Yes. Mistress.”

“Good girl.”

“Will I have to eat it?”

“No, not unless you want to.” 

“It’s a trifle large.”

“That’s only your imagination, dear.”

“How can I use it?”

“Just do as I say and let your instinct guide you.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Now, lay down… Good… Take the scepter in your hands. Stroke it, run your hands over it. Good… Slowly… slowly… make it feel like it’s a part of you.”

“Mistress, this feels nice.”

“Good, my dear, very good. Now, bring the scepter to your lovely lips. Give it a kiss, a gentle kiss. Good. Very good. Give it another kiss. And, another. Good. Open your mouth. Open wide. Let your tongue explore the tip. Good. Very good. Now, put a little bit of the scepter into your mouth. Enclose you lips over it. Good, my dear. Take in some more… a little more… a little more…”


“Yes, dear. That’s right. Take in as much as you can, but don’t swallow it. Now, slowly pull it out of your mouth, and suck in it in again… slowly… in… and… out… in… and… out… in… and… out… deeper… deeper… in… and… out… slowly… this is the source of your power… you love your power… in… and… out…”


“Yes, my dear. I can see you’re a natural. Now, remove the scepter from your mouth. It’s nice and wet, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Are you nice and wet in your other place?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Good. Now… take your scepter and rub it between your breasts. Such lovely breasts you have, my dear. Touch the scepter, roll the tip around the right breast… slowly… feel the power… Yes, that’s very nice… very good… now, the left breast… good, very good. Remember, my dear. Men rule with their fists. Women rule with their wiles.”

“Oh… Oh… Yes… Mistress.”

“My dear, you’re blushing.” 

“I’m sorry, Mistress. I don’t mean to.”

“Don’t apologize, my dear. You look lovely. How do you feel?”

“I feel so good, but I feel like I need to – ”

“Need to what, dear?”

“I don’t know. I feel like I need to… to… caress myself with the scepter, between my -”

“Ahh… I knew it. Good. Your lesson is done. Give me back the scepter.”

“No, please, Mistress. It’s mine! Please don’t take it from me.”

“You’re too impatient, my dear, too eager. I don’t think it’s the time for you to learn how to wield your scepter. Give it back. Right now!”

“Please, Mistress, please, let me keep it. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Hmm… I don’t know. I may have to tell your father about this. He wouldn’t be pleased.”

“Please, Mistress. Don’t tell him! He doesn’t need to know. I’ll be good; I will. Please don’t take away my scepter.”

“Let me think about it.”

“Please, Mistress. Please.”

“All right, my dear. But, you’ll do exactly as I tell you. No protests, no complaints, even if I decide to stop your lesson.”

“Oh, yes, Mistress. Thank you.”

“Now, lay back down. Good. You have such a lovely body, my dear. Pick up your scepter again. Hold it in your hands… stroke it… good… your scepter is warming up to you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Now, hold onto the scepter with your right hand. Tweak your nipples with your left hand… Quickly… just the tips… Good, just like I taught you. Good!”

“Oh! Oh! Oh! This feels so good, Mistress. Mmm… thank you! Oh…”

“Yes, my dear. Don’t forget the other breast.”

“Ooh… Ahh… Oh…”

“Excellent, my dear. Your nipples are at attention. Such lovely little rosebuds they are. Like mine used to be.”

“Thank you… mmm… Mistress! Ohhh… mmm…”

“Now, caress your torso. Run your hand up and down, gently, slowly… good… very good… such smooth skin you have my dear… lovely… now… spread your legs… wider… wider… good… Oh, my dear… how lovely you are.”

“Do you think so, Mistress?”

“Yes, my dear. Here, let me kiss you… mmm… You smell so fresh, so lovely… mmm…” 


“Do you like that, my dear?”

“Oh… yes… Mistress… that felt so wonderful… I’m so wet!”

“I know, my dear. Here, let me kiss you again… mmm…”

“Oh! Oh, gods! Oh!”

“Not so loud, my dear. You don’t want the royal handmaidens to hear.”

“Oh… I’m so sorry, Mistress… I just… it feels… so… good!”

“I know. Now, take your scepter and move it between your legs. Slowly… slowly… yes… that’s it… Stroke your secret place with the scepter… You’re getting wetter, aren’t you?”

“Y-yes, Mistress!” 

“Do you remember what I told you about how a queen must keep her scepter contained within her?”

“Y-Yes, Mistress.”

“Then, here is how you are going to – Wait. Stop. Stop that right now!”


“Stop. Did I tell you to do that?”

“No. B-but, Mistress. It feels so right. I can’t help myself.”

“Yes. You can. You are royalty. Don’t abuse the scepter’s power, or I’ll be forced to take it from you.”

“Oh, please, Mistress. I’m sorry.”

“This is your last warning. Do exactly as I tell you. Understand?”

“Y-Y-Yes, Mistress.”

“Fine. Now, take the scepter in your left hand… Yes, good girl. And now, with your right hand, find your nub… like I showed you… Good… take the scepter and press it against your nub… Yes! Exactly like that, yes! That’s exactly right. Good! Rub against it, meld against it… good… good… Spread your legs a little wider, my dear. I can’t see your glory… Excellent… Oh, my, how deliciously wet you are.”

“Oh… Mistress! I… I… I… want… I … want…”

“Arch your back… there you go… good… press… press harder… harder… harder… oh… my. It’s getting warm in here…”

“Mistress… Ahh… Ohh… Mmm… Ohh!”

“Good! Very good, my dear. You’re positively drenched. Good. Now, are you ready?”


“Good! Take your scepter… tease your opening… that’s it… Good, push it in a little… just a little… good… very good…. how does that feel?”

“It.. oh… it… hurts… oh… The pain… Ahh!”

“Good. You love the pain, right?”

“Y-y-yess… M-m-mistress…”

“Arch your back a little more… good… push the scepter in a little farther… good… good… let your body adjust… oh, my dear… you face… you look so beautiful…  Now push it all the way in… Push!”

“But… Mistress, it hurts! I – it hurts!”

“Now, do it! Do it Now!”

“Oww… Ahhh… Oww!”

“Wonderful, my dear! One prick of the spindle, I mean, the scepter, and my work here is done!”

Wayne Russell poetry

The Email

There it was in my email account, in 
the junk mail collecting cyber dust for
days on end.

The subject read only “Dear Beloved.”
Her name was exotic, like something from 
the islands of a far-flung nation that I never
knew existed, until now. 

She used the name of God, and quoted 
2 Corinthians 4:6-18 from the Bible.

She told me that her husband, when still
alive, had deposited $15.5 million into their
bank account.

She told me that he had “met an unfortunate
end while doing humanitarian work in South 
Africa; he was murdered,” but did
not go into any further details.

Her husband, according to her, “was many 
things, a spreader of the gospel, a humanitarian,
and a wealthy timber exporter.”

She went on to say that she too was dying
and that she was “now in the final stages of
lung cancer.”

She said that her final wish was to “leave the
money in good hands,” and that is also what her
“husband would have wanted, God rest his soul.”

“As I have no living heirs, I have both selected
and trusted you with my fortune.”

“If you are willing to agree to the terms of this 
arrangement, please waste no time in sending me 
a prompt reply to this email.” 
All I need are your account details, and I will make
all your dreams come true, my dear beloved.”

The mysterious email was signed with an exotic
and beautiful name, and sealed with a kiss laced
with hemlock. 

donnarkevic poetry


Diorama, Carnegie Museum

Extinct, two Barbary lions exact
one last lashing out at man,
the camel’s wounds incidental
as suffering is
to a death by hanging.

Survival no longer exists
in the lexicon of the condemned,
except for the words
cowering in the courier’s satchel:
perhaps a peace treaty,
perhaps a letter of condolence,
perhaps a message of love
in dire need of response.

But the echo of footsteps
in an emptying museum
remind me I am a visitor
in the surreal crucible
of art and savagery.
And when the moon of silence
eclipses all language,
the only survivor may be the animal
incised on the ceiling
of some peopleless cave.

Kirby Wright poetry

The Bird Feeder

The man believes
He has spoiled the birds
By letting them gorge
On grains and oil-black seeds.
Now the feeder’s empty.
He knows the agony of expectation,
That he may be accused
Of starving his flock
For not re-filling their chalet
Mounted to the jacaranda.
Was it forgetfulness?
Or did the urge to control
Invade his subconscious,
A desire to flex
Power over dependents?
He hears ferocious flutters
And shrill calls of neglect.
He ignores these ravenous beaks.

Darkness slips under his skin.
He shivers and flops on the toilet.
The bamboo seat creaks.
Waves of alone
Pulse cold through his blood.

The man flushes and spies
Through his upstairs window.
A sparrow sees him
In this human cage, a prison
Without wind, steady sun, or rain.
A finch pecks the seed gate,
Rocking the chalet like a cradle.
This bird is a master of geography—
He leads his finch army
To a new feeder down the block.
Sparrows and doves dawdle
In the man’s backyard.
Sirens frighten them skyward.
They caress the sky with feathers,
Praying for a change of heart.

Kirby is the author of The Girl with the Green Violin and Houdini, a play that was selected for The Secret Theatre’s 2016 One Act Play n NYC.

David Herrle reviews Mathias B. Freese’s TESSERAE

Tesserae-front-cover-large-edit-689x1024published by Wheatmark


I am spent, I am wrung out. I need to be cared for. I need to be vulnerable, to relent, to surrender all my stiffened defenses and deliver myself over to the person who would love me as I am. I am something of a mortal shipwreck. – from Tesserae’s afterword

(Read an excerpt from the book.)

Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers
is “the remaining juice” of an “orange” quartered by two life-changing summers author Mathias Freese spent in Woodstock, New York in the late 1960s, and the interior of that “orange” is anything but clockwork. This memoirist turns himself inside-out and reveals biology and soul, the lost person in the persona, the ultra-subjective and exclusively human vehemence of memory.

After growing up “suppressing feelings and sexual urges,” young Freese “drank deeply at the well” of the summers of 1968 and 1969 and savored “an ineffable moment…of feeling at one with my disparate selves.” Tesserae was written, I assume, to somehow feel at one with countless disparate memories. Eventually, if given the luxury of lucidity and time to reminisce and inventory our pasts, we seek to encapsulate everything for epitaphic effect, and, no matter what, we live to die, and gravesites are never far from our introspective insights.

“It is in the telling of it that I catch now and then, here and there, like shagging a fly, a glimpse of what I was experiencing and what I was feeling then,” writes Freese. In a sense, similarly to how orgasms are called “little deaths,” clear but fleeting memories may be called little lives, sudden and evasive miniature lifetimes in themselves that spark long enough to prove that the past still exists and breathes. “The past is never dead,” as Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun. “It’s not even past.” Then again, Eugene in Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons blows that idea apart: “There aren’t any old times. When times are gone, they’re not old, they’re dead. There aren’t any times but new times.” So, which is it? Or are both views true? I can say this: In Tesserae there is a sense of simultaneous total loss and emotional resurrection through recollection and unsure evaluation.

W.S. Maugham was right in his memoir masterpiece The Summing Up when he claimed that “no one can tell the whole truth about himself,” so memoirs, of course, are always suspicious – and should be. In a chapter called “Et Al.,” Freese essentializes this autobiographical handicap, which is aptly analogized with the unsavory process of autopsy:

Autopsies are best performed by a dispassionate party. A self-autopsy of a relationship such as a love affair is vastly muddled, grossly misunderstood, lacking in nuance and subtlety, without perspective and basically without objectivity…All of us see through a glass darkly if that, make mine the bottom of a Coke bottle.

With shared self-analysis there’s always the danger of whitewashing, but notoriety also can be fabricated for shock or thrill, which is the case for, say, Errol Flynn’s My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Klaus Kinski’s Uncut. But perhaps that’s part of the fun of memoirs. Whether we admit it or not, we self-dramatize, since human existence is naturally dramatic. With Freese, however, there’s a sharper sense of trust for the reader, an assurance that there is a modicum of CGI and masks. There’s mostly effective design, editing and chiaroscuro, just like a Welles film. And, also like a Welles film, there is no real central point or graspable lesson, or even a plot that matters very much. Instead, it’s more about the sound and fury rather than the significance, poignant incidentals rather than dramatic universals.

Just as Nabokov control-freakily interviewed himself and planned all other interviews completely, we tend to prefer to be the ultimate last word on ourselves and our lives, whether we admit it or not. What is memoir if not a reflecting pool rather than a film projector? Autobiographical stuff is self-dialogic. It’s all about the person writing the book; readers are bystanders. And real-life cast members within are more means than ends. For instance, in “Matt’s Son” the first-person narration is given to Jordan, Freese’s actual son, recalling a father/son day back when he was only nine years old (the recollection happening after Freese’s death, curiously enough). “Jordan’s” observations and evaluations are undeniably Freese’s, broadcasting his own wishes for how the son might/should assess the father.

My late father was a philosophical ham, and he spoke as if what he imparted was to be inculcated in me for all time (it often was)…My father only asked the big questions, hoping, I imagine, that I would then pose them to myself in words I could manage. Art of all kinds was my father’s pleasure and at nine I knew that already.

This also is so for an earlier piece, “On Naomi,” in which the narration is done by the title character, a former lover. Again, her analyses of Freese are Freese’s analyses of Freese. It’s as if the author uses this biographical character as a mirror or, better yet, a therapeutic sounding board – or a living written statement, so to speak, composed by someone who is too embarrassed to face the crowd about certain topics. For example, the piece begins: “I’m Naomi, and this part will be mine as Matt is uncomfortable with it after all these decades…”

Again and again Freese returns to psychological motifs through reconstructions of past people, places and events. Those filtering elements don’t strain out the dirt, however, because his foibles and miserable failures of himself and others are never concealed or downplayed. In the case of Naomi, Freese reacts selfishly and neglectfully when she reveals that she was raped while he slept elsewhere in the house of a friend: “[W]hen I needed him most critically he was unreliable.” Insensitivity is perhaps his biggest regret, and it certainly is the cause of many negative chain reactions throughout his life. This is summed up perfectly near the end of the Tesserae: “Was I thoughtless about people over the years? (Most definitely. And hurtful.)”

You can take the therapist out of the psychotherapy, but psychotherapy can’t be removed from the ex-therapist, and Freese, who once worked in that very career, wouldn’t be able to take off his professional eyeglasses if he wanted to. Tesserae is primarily a therapy session, with the author doubled: one on the listener’s chair and one draped over the patient’s couch. Though psychotherapeutic style pervades the entire book, this situation is literally rendered in two therapist/client sessions, at the beginning of the book and one near the end. Amidst the free association and dredging of discontent there are stark statements of psychological symptoms’ why rather than what, and it is Freese himself who is both diagnosed and diagnosis giver:

I had not acquired, nor was I shown, the tools of exchange, of embrace and engagement. I was not open to the world…I will get to it quickly for after that is mostly commentary. I feel I was not cared for by my mother nor did she engage me as her son.

Also diagnosed is the recent dissolution of his last (third?) marriage: “I lost my wife Jane because I fled from myself. At moments repression turns us into cowards. I have been a coward in my time.” Such honesty about his folly and sins contradicts an uncharacteristically self-forgiving line in an earlier piece: “So I’ll say it to myself and you: I’ve matured into a good man.” The contrast between that line and the frequent self-damning lines is emphasized best in the most excruciating and affecting chapter of Tesserae, “A Father’s Confession to His Daughter,” in which Freese acts as his own spiritual executioner:

I destroyed something vital in my daughter, something unforgettably unforgivable. A father does not do this. And if he does strike out the soul of his child, may his heart forever shrivel, may his hand become biblically palsied and may he blame himself to the end of his days.

I’m surprised that this particular horror wasn’t mediated by another narrator or the useful therapist. Also surprising is the fact that, despite the gravity and pain of this confession, Freese concludes that “the greatest pain I live and have is the loss of Rochelle,” his second wife (of almost 30 years), who died in a car accident in 1999. “When she died I died too,” he writes in the Afterword, which means that this memoir is told by a dead man, or a spiritually dead man at least, making the posthumous (post-Matt) telling of “Matt’s Son” more understandable. Appropriate that Freese wants this to appear on his gravestone: “HE LOVED ROCHELLE.” If a gravestone is analogous to a book or memoir of sorts, a tablet bearing final words or a “Rosebud”-like summing up, perhaps this inscription can be seen as the radically boiled down and truer draft of Tesserae.

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. People who haven’t the capacity or are too fearful to analyze themselves refuse to or don’t even think to notice themselves (their many selves) in surrounding mirrors, as is illustrated in the famous Citizen Kane scene of the title character walked obliviously down the mirrored hallway. “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, and fearlessness is necessary to face one’s own face, which is surely a dark abyss. Darkness persists in much of Freese’s literary output, but, despite that darkness, that tendency to descend into the psyche’s hell, there is some rejuvenating illumination. In contrast to a fundamental sense of shame and ominous Rorschach perceptions, there also are “non-maudlin memories”: childhood movies and radio shows, makeshift slingshots and scooters, esteem-affirming Surprise Lake Camp, the unintentional comedy of scolding adults, Coney Island (and its frankfurters, root beer, ice cream and cotton candy), good and liberating friends, Brother Theodore and his “Quadrupedism,” and “tumultuous sex” with “fantasy personified” Marlene (the lover of his life).

Though writing may be therapeutic for the author and serves as his or her purgation, there is an undeniable inadequacy in language, a basic falling short, an ephemerality. As usual with Freese’s work, there’s evident ambivalence and frustration in regard to both the power and powerlessness of the written word, literary communication’s simultaneous magic and futility, its being both gold and grass. “Maybe I write because it is in the word that we find our worth, we become,” writes Freese. This is all nice and good, but, as Freese realizes, “we must admit as writers that words cannot say it all. The best we can ask for is an approximation of the felt truth. Krishnamurti said it best: ‘The word is not the thing.’” And later: “Words fail me as I write, for I have to be sensible to you, and yet I feel tongue-tied about what words or expressions I can use.” Freese nails linguistic limitation most succinctly this way: “I cannot say what I need, but I feel it.”

I return to Maugham’s Summing Up for a key passage about the idealistic concept of genuine purgation in writing: “Nothing befalls [the author] that he cannot transmute into a stanza, a song or a story, and having done this be rid of it. The artist is the only free man.” At first this rings true and elevates a writer’s spirit with the belief in a salvational power in art and hippie-dippy visibility “thro’ narrow chinks of [her or his] cavern,” to evoke Blake, but implosions like the brutal ones excerpted above obliterate any lasting metaphysical peace. I’ll go far into corny territory to say that Tesserae sounds and looks like tears array, a basic lamentation. Yes, the Sixties were a “liberating” and magical time, and Freese owes so much to those two fateful summers, but no era and no special seasons can bury unsettled ghosts or prevent the ultimate imprisonment of mortality and the “not to be” inherent in being.

(Read an excerpt from the book.)

David Herrle interviews Megan Volpert on 1976

1976 cover 2published by Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016

Skip to interview

Illustrations ©Asher Haig

Annoying Introduction

Megan Volpert’s new book, 1976, is jam-packed and overflowing with allusions, anecdotes and parallels, making it both richly enjoyable and exhausting. Lukewarm readers won’t (and shouldn’t) have an easy time with it. There’s very little downtime – if at all, which is to be expected from such a fellow bricolagic brain or “a full head like mine,” as she herself puts it.

Including a famous and infamous cast of pols (George Wallace, JFK, Jerry Brown, Nixon, Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Carter, Reagan and so on), there’s a wide political focus that’s summarized and evaluated through rather liberal eyes, something that I don’t usually mind, though it’s tiresome that many folks (not necessarily this author) tend to be vigilant against the fascist under every bush while overlooking the commie in every tree. Perhaps Lester Bangs, who gets slapped around in 1976, put it best: “[T]hose hysterical paranoid Left-er New Left idiots are just as much to blame as anybody.”  However, 1976 doesn’t stack the deck too much, and many of her observations are worthy and careful, if not right on.

For some reason, one of the parts of the book that impressed and riled me most was Volpert’s excellent analysis and juxtaposition of Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Harry. I found myself getting somewhat defensive on Marilyn’s behalf, which is perhaps part of the whole problem of how people (men and women) tended to treat Marilyn: as something to be saved, from others and from herself.

What I like most about 1976 is the potpourri: Volpert’s deftness in orchestrating a shitload of historical and cultural episodes and tidbits, sometimes unexpectedly and refreshingly unpredictably. One minute she offers an aphoristic line such as “I feel strongly that every person should own a good hoodie,” and the next minute she admits to conflating Raymond Carver with John Cheever (at least it wasn’t Raymond Chandler or Garry Shandling or Chelsea Handler). She spiels about Ron Kovic’s well-known Born on the Fourth of July and even mentions undersung sci-fi author Samuel Delany. (For readers who are, as Volpert phrases it in the book, “into weird voodoo numerology shit,” Delany’s psychedelic and enthralling The Einstein Intersection was published in 1967, the last two numbers of which are 76 reversed). There are Pol Pot and Bob Dylan, Ayn Rand and George Wallace, The Ramones and Rush’s Geddy Lee, Francis Maloy, Jr. and the Son of Sam, Jane Curtin and John Belushi, racing greats Niki Lauda and James Hunt – and even the ghost of Carson McCullers. In other words, 1976 would be an indexer’s effing nightmare.

As usual, I let out my long winds full of devil’s advocates and contextual pedantry, and Volpert responded and rebutted with her usual deftness. And, as usual, she delivered some welcome bitch-slaps, one of them reminding me of a poignant, even affecting passage dedicated to her beloved grandfather (Bapa), which I neglected in a question about her seeming shortage of literary heartstrings. (Sorry, Bapa!) Anyway, I hope this strange exchange makes for a unique read that might result in some collateral knowledge. Knowledge without monumental confirmations or closure, that is. Interviews – like novels, like memoirs, like lectures, like drunken texts, like barbershop gossip – are really just a lot of gab, after all. Let Volpert say it better here: “The importance never arrives though. These things are really about process over product, which is symbolic of our collective human journeying throughout blah blah blah.”


David: Superior to the irritable-bowel 1960s, the tacky 1980s and the truly barf-worthy 1990s, the 1970s is, to me, a culturally brilliant decade (if not just for Columbo and Pink Floyd), so I quite welcomed a book on the era. From 1976’s prologue:

My bag is more about induction, analytics. You pour in the facts and the gumbo gets to simmering pretty quickly. So I’m not worried that these paragraphs will contain too many I-statements for a treatise on a time when I did not even exist. It can’t be a retrospective. It’s a retrospeculative.

In a way that can be taken as poking fun at your own egotism, Gore Vidal’s 1876 novel is evoked: “You have to have real cojones to title your book with just the year, to harpoon your personal human flag into the still-moving beast of time and claim your interpretation of that freeze-frame as the ultimate word on the subject.” Is this evocation self-deprecatory? What about that time before your time fascinates you? How does retrospeculative differ from restrospective?

Megan: Yes, the Vidal comparison is self-deprecatory on my head and straight deprecatory on his head. This whole book project actually began as a kind of joke. Books that are simply titled after the year that they are about tend to be huge hits in the marketplace. To care about that is, in the minds of many writers and readers, to cut against the current of authenticity that essayists are generally expected to maintain. But I’ve always had a fondness for Vidal’s minute hypocrisies, the showiness and almost character-acting implicit in much of his writing voice. Plus, his books end up next to mine on shelves a lot, so there is an odd spatial connection that has always drawn me.

The time before my time doesn’t necessarily fascinate me. I try to be forward-looking, but history interests me as far as the art of telling its story. When history is not written by the victors, it’s written by the rebels. As a teenager, I was keen on some mix of Dave Barry and Howard Zinn. As a young adult, I got into Thompson and Wolfe and gonzo journalism generally, beginning to see my own present as the history of the future. I can’t really go head-on with factual writing; that doesn’t interest me as a writerly pursuit. As a reader, I invest tons of time in straightforward non-fiction, like I’m a big fan of Rick Perlstein. But as a writer I enjoy that more speculative territory, recording snapshots of my own life in the stream of time as if at some future point it will have mattered alongside bands and elections and other things that are more self-evidently powerful in their moment than I am. I insert myself – unasked, full of ambition toward better futures. Like Vidal, I aim to hold it down mainly just by demonstrating I have the big balls to do so. Or more like Fran Lebowitz.


David: Your favorite movie is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (the 1990s’ American Graffiti), which is conveniently set in 1976. Though I prefer SubUrbia, his more psychoanalytical overnight saga (which elevates both Parker Posey’s and Nicky Katt’s roles), I think Dazed immortalizes an era as deftly as Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, and I like how it favors character over plot, as Linklater prefers. Your play-by-play annotation of the movie is quite remarkable, and I share your adulation of Parker Posey: “Kneel before the sound of every ultra-hot cheerleader queen you have ever met, whose first words are, ‘Wake up, bitch!’” Please spiel about the movie, Linklater, high-school – and the almighty Parker Posey.

Megan: I liked SubUrbia, but actually I don’t think of it as part of Linklater’s oeuvre because he didn’t write it; he directed it and it’s based on that play by Eric Bogosian. School of Rock, which I also loved, also seems categorically different from movies that Linklater wrote. Both those movies have great soundtracks though. There is so much Sonic Youth on the SubUrbia soundtrack. The “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused came out a few month ago, and I’ve written about that here.

My favorite Parker Posey movie is House of Yes. I’m working on an essay about that, for a book project with performance artist Craig Gingrich-Philbrook. The book is about why we have aborted certain ideas for shows over the years. When I was at LSU, I wanted to do a freaky black box adaptation of House of Yes and it didn’t pan out for many reasons. I actually dislike the scripts for many things Posey has been in, but I respect her overall commitment to mainly making independent films and when she nails it, she nails it. Nicky Katt hasn’t gotten as much traction, which I think is a shame. He’s always a great villain; there’s something in his face that says so and I admire anyone who gives off their own weird vibe so effortlessly.


David: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a film that’s emblematic of a nihilistic strain in 1970s cinema (countered by teleological Star Wars), also premiered in your pet year, and your observation that Travis Bickle “stands out by choice” is apt. Slavoj Zizek thinks Bickle, in pulling the trigger on himself literally and figuratively after the brothel massacre (a scene you highlight in the book), acts out the Lacanian mirror stage, signifying his basic realization that he also is part of the city’s scum. However, despite his hypocrisy and racism, isn’t Travis somewhat admirable in trying to “rescue” Iris? And isn’t he sympathetic in that he, like Shakespeare’s Lear, piteously can’t relate to females, and in his being a confused societal casualty exploited by the world’s Palatines? Are this film and the decade quintessentially linked? And have you seen this generation’s Taxi Driver: Nightcrawler?

Bonus point for Zizek reference. I instantly approved of my niece’s boyfriend based solely on the fact that he could talk to me about Zizek for ten minutes. Actually, I have a theory that Zizek is not one guy, but a collective of a dozen or so people all writing under the one pseudonym. He publishes on too many subjects too much too widely too quickly – and hey, for me to say that is really saying something because I’m a nightmare of proliferation according to anybody who ever went to grad school with me.

I haven’t seen Nightcrawler. My watch list is even more out of control than my listen list, and the listen list current has eighty-seven bullets on it. But your questions about my seeming lack of sympathy for Travis Bickle are pretty leading. You tipped me off with the scare quotes around “rescue.” I want to ask: what is rescue? To save someone from harm? To “save” is a tricky deliverable to evaluate; I know that as a high school teacher. I prefer something closer to tikkun olam, the idea that good deeds repair the world. Bickle himself does not appear to be invested in any notion of repair, even of the chauvinistic white knight variety. Also, I think it would do far more harm than good if we were to extend sympathy to everyone we might classify as “piteously can’t relate to females.” But Taxi Driver is part of the nihilistic strain in 1970s movies, as you say, and I have an endless sympathy for that as a human predicament.


David: Even Rush and their 2112 album get retrospeculated. Rush used to be my favorite band long ago – but no songs about sex? WTF? Their former Ayn Rand association being considered an unforgivable sin does bug me, and, though the uptight, prickly prig would snub me as a shoegazing decadent, I think Rand herself is often misestimated and the popular total denial of her worth as a philosophical writer sucks. (There is honey among the bees.) Regardless, not only was Neil Peart’s interest really Objectivism-lite, but a lot of Rush songs contradict Objectivist tenets. Despite your basic disdain for Rand, you give credit where you think it’s due in this passage about 2112‘s birth:

The band had released far too many concept tracks and nothing approaching commercial blockbuster viability, but they convinced [Mercury Records] to give them one last chance. Rather than deliver the mainstream album they had promised, Rush decided to double down on the things they loved and somehow it all gelled together perfectly in the nick of time. Thusly, 2112 was born through a basic unwillingness to follow the instructions of corporate overlords. It is the same feeling that threads throughout Ayn Rand’s work and in particular adheres closely to the plot of Anthem.

For me, Rush’s prime was from Permanent Waves to Roll the Bones, so I don’t really like 2112, but your analysis of the album is great. Why do you consider it to be “Rush’s greatest work?” And why do you think Peart is “a self-righteous jackass?”

Megan: Roll the Bones is a great album, and “Roll the Bones” is unquestionably more stable, more timeless philosophical ground than any of the lyrics on 2112. But Roll the Bones didn’t come out in 1976, so you see my problem. If I’m going to make substantial meaning out of every major album in any given year, there’s going to be a lot of bullshit transitions imparting a certain profundity to those subjects. I like the way 2112 hangs together as a concept and a complete story. I like that it’s so clearly adapted from a short novel and that it so substantially rewrites the ending of that novel. I don’t think it’s “Rush’s greatest work,” but I sure did say that in the book. Now you’re on to me – again. As well you already know, it’s never safe to assume that my entire narration is reliable, even where it hangs its hat on the factual or actual. A fat historical analysis like 1976 requires a certain quantity of pompous lead-ins, of which the Rush pronouncement is indeed one. I’m like Odysseus; tie me up, because I’ll say anything when the sirens are in striking distance.


David: Aside from being an iconic percussionist, Neil Peart is a motorcycle enthusiast and author of some thoughtful motorcycle travelogues, which provides me with this kickass segue to one of the book‘s lovely motorcycle passages, which rings like something out of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels:

The aerometry, the experience of air pressure when riding a motorcycle is the thing about the experience that makes it unlike any other thing you can do. We forget that we live constantly submerged in atoms, because most of those particles are invisible. When I’m driving a bike, those tiny pieces gather themselves into a wall, and I can tell the difference between forty and eighty by the amount of force that ghost substance applies to my breastplate.

Your exuberance for being “the lucky bastard sitting on that iron horse” (as you put it in Only Ride) is almost infectious enough to convince me to helmet up. Please tell us how you decided to break your youthful promise to your mother and hit the slab as a “flesh and steel android creature.”

Megan: Thank you! Yes, I very much enjoy Peart’s thoughts on motorcycles. He beats the pants off Robert Pirsig, though that’s a low bar to set. When I was growing up in Chicago, public transportation was enough. In Baton Rouge, I just mooched rides everywhere for a couple of years. Once I settled in Atlanta, where public transport sucks and most people move more slowly than I want to, some form of wheels became a necessity. Picking a bike over a car was super easy; my early negative experiences with cars appear in 1976 also. Breaking the promise to my mother that I’d never drive a bike was just gravy. Hey, promises to one’s parents are made to be broken. That’s evolution. Like it is for Peart, the motorcycle has long been my best stab at religion.

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David: ZZ Top gets great praise in 1976. I love that those tres hombres can jam about “tube snakes” and “pearl necklaces,” and then belt out something as tender as “Rough Boy.” Those guys are certainly dyed-in-the-beard horndogs, “just cars and pussy,” as you put it, and such straightforwardness is appreciated:

Whatever his personal political convictions, Billy Gibbons sticks to the script at a ZZ Top show. It’s just cars and pussy…If it’s any more serious than that, then shut the hell up. I went to fucking graduate school, you know, so I do comprehend completely how the personal is necessarily also the political, but I just do not believe that rock and roll must be personal. Sometimes the tighter you rock, the emptier you get, and with a full head like mine, sometimes that’s a blessing.

Right on! I love Jello Biafra, The Clash, the Minutemen and Midnight Oil, but I prefer politics-free music, cringing with Johnny Ramone at Joey Ramone’s politicism and cheering Kurt Cobain’s stated hope “to come across more personal than political.” What do you mean by “the personal is necessarily also the political?” (Isn’t dictatorship the ultimate personal politics?) How did you come to love ZZ Top?

Megan: Johnny Ramone voted for Nixon and was a lifelong NRA supporter. Nirvana played many benefit concerts that supported fundraising and local ballot initiatives against rape and homophobia. Kurt Cobain’s humanitarian politics were constantly on display, as well as his more ambivalent anti-corporate stance. “Cars and pussy” is a matter of distancing. I’m sure Billy Gibbons has a lot of deep thoughts on numerous subjects. But the key phrase from the passage you excerpt is really “sticks to the script.” Political bands, a la Tom Morello, just for example, have one kind of script. Apolitical bands have a different script. This goes back to what I said about Gore Vidal earlier; there’s a kind of acting involved, whether you want to keep to alleged lowly topics like hotrods or you want to talk about alleged elevated topics like an AIDS epidemic.

I don’t remember how I came to love ZZ Top. I was born in 1981, so probably I first encountered them through MTV’s music videos. Also, not to let your parenthetical question slip by: this is rhetorical sleight of hand accomplished by a small change in syntax. I don’t know what the hell “personal politics” is. I guess if one person only cares about himself and that person is in charge, for example Donald Trump, that’s a personal politics that is also a dictatorship. But I said, “the personal is necessarily the political,” which simply means that the things I do every day have a wider impact on the world that I should perhaps take time to consider. For example, if as a teacher I decide I am bored with teaching subject-verb agreement every year and I want to stop teaching it, then in a generation, there will be several hundred fewer people who achieve subject-verb agreement. There might be consequences if subject-verb agreement is no longer a thing, so I should think about how my selfish avoidance of the topic may have wider negative results.


David: Billy Gibbons was two-hand tapping on the guitar strings before Eddie Van Halen popularized it, which reminds me to ask: Do you dig Van Halen, ZZ Top’s fellow cock-rockers? If so: Roth or Hagar? (I swing both ways.)

Megan: Under no circumstances would I put Van Halen in the same category as ZZ Top. The three guys that signed ZZ Top’s first recording contract in 1970 are the same three guys who have toured continuously as ZZ Top for nearly forty years. I don’t care whatsoever about Roth versus Hagar; the whole feud is ruinous and sets a bad example for younger bands. Eddie Van Halen is a very talented guitarist, but Billy Gibbons just smokes him. I prefer blues and slide, sorry. Gene Simmons of KISS actually produced Van Halen’s demo in 1976, so I had the chance to talk about the band extensively, but I passed.


David: A fascinating passage in 1976 reveals an unflattering assessment of Marilyn Monroe:

The other day, I found myself embroiled in an argument with my father-in-law concerning the intellectual abilities of Marilyn Monroe. He said she was above average in the smarts department and I said she probably wasn’t. At first, his main warrant for this absurd claim was that we should take a look at her husband because Arthur Miller wouldn’t marry a dummy.

Though I’m a Garbolator rather than a Monroebot, I think both underestimation and overestimation of Marilyn are bad. Sure, Saul Bellow said she “conduct[ed] herself like a philosopher,” but undermining terms such as “childlike sex goddess” (Gloria Steinem), “child-girl” (Norman Mailer), “beautiful child” (Capote) and even “baby whore” (Pauline Kael) have been dominant since her demise. Not that Marilyn was a deferred Atwood or Streep, but I trust Sarah Churchwell when she calls her “a greater Gatsby” and pierces the Dumb Blonde perception: “The biggest myth is that she was dumb. The second is that she was fragile. The third is that she couldn’t act.” Contrarily, you perceptively ask: “[I]f she was the total package and couldn’t maintain, what chance do the rest of us schmucks have?” This happens to echo Steinem on Marilyn: “How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt?” Basically, Marilyn offends you for not taking advantage of her advantage:

So if I give her the benefit of the doubt, I’m trapped with a version of history where a woman who was empowered by both her body and her mind could’ve had all the success of which she dreamed so ambitiously, but instead allowed herself to be subjugated to the position of sex symbol until coping with the emptiness inside herself required so many drugs that she torched her own rise to stardom and died in the weakest way at the least opportune moment…I’d rather believe she was a little too dumb to handle it and she just lost control over her own trajectory. I don’t want to believe that Marilyn Monroe was a picture of the consummate professional, full of intellect and common sense, who nevertheless cracked.

Might both “greater Gatsby” and Dumb Blonde be true? As for Marilyn’s (questionable) suicide, Sexton and Plath also killed themselves, so were they “too dumb” to deal?

Megan: I really like Churchwell’s metatextual projects, and though I ultimately didn’t read most of her book on Marilyn Monroe, the way she went at the subject – the nature of apocrypha itself – was very inspirational to me when I was waist-deep in Warhol research. Monroe died long before I was born, so all I ever have to work with will be under or overestimation, even out of the mouths of people who did actually know her. But I enjoy the second-handedness of most information, the way it mutates over time. We’re left with a kind of Pascal’s wager, where I prefer to gamble that she was sort of dumb so that I don’t live in fear of the implications for myself. Because I’m not dumb.

Nor do I think Plath or Sexton were dumb. I admire Sexton’s work particularly. You might argue that they were rather too smart to deal, not too dumb. That’s a perk of being a writer instead of an actor: you’re writing your own history in your own words. There is a cornucopia of archival material for both writers to convey with constancy and consistency how they felt about life, whereas there is comparatively little material directly out of Monroe’s own mouth, and she is not as articulate as those two writers. The chapter on Monroe doesn’t argue that you’d simply have to be dumb to kill yourself. There are some suicides that I would condone, though they tend to be more in the line of euthanization for physical pain than solely for emotional suffering, for example Hunter Thompson’s suicide.

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David: In Making Tracks Debbie Harry said that she “always thought [she] was Marilyn Monroe’s kid.” Even dubbed the “punk Marilyn” (Mick Rock saw more Marilyn than punk), Debbie brought “the whole Hollywood/Marilyn sensibility to [rock],” according to Chris Stein (the Lindsay Buckingham to her Stevie Nicks), and she wanted to be “a mysterious figure that’ll never be able to be truly defined,” echoing Marilyn’s stated desire “to stay just in the fantasy of Everyman.” 1976 presents a fundamental contrast between Marilyn and Debbie: the latter is “in charge of herself” and “campily capitaliz[ing] on her own sex appeal to drive [Blondie’s] image into record sales,” has “actual brains” and excels at puckish duping of fawning males. Later in life Debbie stated the obvious: “Certainly, 50% of my success is based on my looks, maybe more, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.” Well, duh. As Janet Radcliffe Richards wrote, “Beauty is not a matter of what you are, it is a matter of what you look like.” Might physical beauty be its own sort of genius, as Wilde said? Isn’t love of foxiness more than acumen understandable?

Megan: I’ve wanted to talk about Monroe and Harry side by side since the Warhol book, where I could not find a way to do it to my own satisfaction. So much of that chapter of 1976 is a kind of deleted scene from that other project. In fact, the surplus of thoughts and residual understandings I had during that Warhol project in some sense made 1976 easy pickings among all the other years I could have chosen. It’s no secret that I’m working on a book about Bruce Springsteen right now, and in many ways these books are three of a kind, though they are in no way a proper trilogy.

But you asked me about physical beauty. Warhol, having none himself, sought ceaselessly to collect and then reproduce the foxiness he found in others. Where 1976 openly discusses physical beauty, it’s often as an absence, for example in the chapter on Richard Avedon’s political portraits. I understand that many people think of Springsteen as super hot, but I’m not one of them, and most of those people would likely agree with me anyway that his unusual voice has an ugliness that is the real seat of his rise to celebrity. It’s easy to agree with Wilde because physical beauty on a natural level can be a straightforwardly evolutionary prospect. I also admire people working in fashion, photography, or other arts fields where one is expected to be gorgeous, for the upkeep that maintaining gorgeousness obviously requires – foxiness as a kind of acumen. It’s a skill set, and I do love drag queens. But then eating disorders, expensive cosmetic surgery, and so on. I get through life mainly by displaying acumen, but I’d be foolish and not very feminist to disapprove of Debbie Harry’s good looks or how she used them.


David: Finally we come to the genius Lester Bangs: the virtuoso of disgust, rock ‘n’ roll’s John Ruskin. 1976 brings up his controversial Blondie book, which Chris Stein called simultaneous “condemnation and affection” and you describe as an “angry misogynist rant.” Here’s your stab at Bangs’ underlying psychology:

It was supposed to be an authorized biography, but ended up like an ex-boyfriend’s crazed public service announcement about the bitch that dumped him…He was jilted to discover that [Debbie Harry] was her own boss, and in misconstruing the emotive capacities of her singing as earnest and serious, he was shamed by the sudden realization that she had a tricky sense of humor…He fell for the joke! She was therefore smarter than him and he was threatened.

But Bangs was too smart to fear smart women. Rather, he perceived a vampiric, blues-anemic Blondie, coldly embodied in the glib, irony-clad lead vocalist so unlike “flesh and blood” Patti Smith. This statement of yours really strikes me: “Debbie Harry is smiling at you, only for you to understand a moment later that she’s actually laughing at you.” Well, isn’t that akin to Roger Waters, hot in his hypocrite-socialist narcissism, spitting at his own fan? A superior mind deserves respect, but someone laughing at you? Fuck that. Besides, Bangs hated everything that was out at the time (Rod Stewart also got skewered) – and he was smarter than Debbie. Isn’t divergent but well-written criticism just fun to read? Shouldn’t celebrities’ hearts be hardier than glass to endure sharp-penned Lesters? And doesn’t affection often verge on condemnation?

Megan: I love this question because, I swear to you, every person I’ve ever met who’s even heard of Lester Bangs instantly talks to me from the perspective of being a Bangs apologist. Look, I think he wrote many excellent essays (especially on Lou Reed and Patti Smith) and I even agree with some of his more marginal negative reviews. But he was also such an unthinking asshole who could be put on tilt pretty easily and often unproductively, and then there’s the drugs. Yes, divergent but well-written criticism is super fun to read. And yes, I believe that affection not only often but always verges on condemnation. If those two things are untrue, a lot of what I’ve published is going into the trash bin and even my hypocrisy has limits. There’s a chapter in 1976 where I expound on this belief concerning my opinion of Raymond Carver. These are cautionary tales to me personally; 1976 takes no position on whether Harry herself should have been sad, flattered or pissed about Bangs’ book. For most people, Lester Bangs just didn’t make it onto the reading list. I may be taking him down a peg in the book, but hey, he made the cut. Even Van Halen didn’t make the cut.


David: Debbie Harry once likened her persona to “a wizard’s screen,” and, thanks to Toto, we know to question such screens. In your work you wax ironic but seem to omit metaphysical/emotional blues, let alone existential terror, and, related to Rush avoiding songs about sex, I don’t think you’ve ever spieled about, say, playing on your phrase about ZZ Top, motorcycles and pussy. Your libido-perking gush on Joan Jett is a whet that could’ve been wetter: “She was a fucking cherry bomb of kid. Hello, daddy! Tons of girls, perhaps all girls, feel these feels. We run around in the dark, human and wild, the same as boys.” Call me perv, but I want to feel more of those feels. Do you consciously avoid sexual confessionalism, or is Melville’s Ishmael right that “wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable?” Might a future book reveal a Pascalian shiver at indifferent outer space, spill some tears, skinnydip?

Megan: The book emits existential laughter, not terror. I am a human at peace with the human predicament. But I do think 1976 is very blues-based; it’s a deliberate echo of the gonzo free-styling and the uppity hippie indignation of days of yore, regularly shot through with the anthemic power chords of youthful rebellion. Did you read the letter to my last surviving grandparent in there? Did you read the three pages devoted to Halston’s cologne? The passage about peeing in public? I know you loved the motorcycling parts. That is all some very poignant shit, is it not? The sex is in there, but the explicit stuff you’re after has long faded from my writing.

Here’s an exclusive: I’ve never skinny dipped and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. It can’t be better than doing seventy on a bike with a monsoon pelting your chest. Yes, I do occasionally spill tears (see that letter to my grandpa in the November chapter), though not as often as most people think I should. I cry more often at car commercials than I do at funerals, because one might be art and the other is just death. When I look at outer space, I don’t see indifference; I see infinity and possibility. Look, I do consciously avoid what you’re calling sexual confessionalism, because I make a living as a public school teacher and there is a ridiculous amount of stuff that passes for “moral turpitude” these days. My readership includes some teenagers now, so I go easy on the drug references, too. Have you noticed me even cutting way back on the cursing? Although that is a major fucking bummer. I have also been in a monogamous marriage to my lovely wife, Mindy, for more than a decade – which is to say that our sex life or my fantasy life is no one’s business anymore but Mindy’s.

To return to a previous topic, the focal point of my foxiness is acumen. As a writer and a person, I have been out of the closet as a queer for nearly twenty years. My very existence as such is a public service and one that I am gleefully honored to provide. I don’t think you’re a perv; I just think you’re being a particular type of man at this moment. More on this on your Joan Jett question immediately following…


David: Continuing with cherry bomb Joan Jett, here’s quite a provocative line from the book: “Asking a girl to play guitar is a lot like asking a horse to talk.” More gold:

To be a girl on the boys’ stage, to be playing their instruments and making their noises, and to do it with the same technical proficiency and charisma with which they do it, is vulgar…Asking a girl to play guitar is a lot like asking a horse to talk…Maybe Planet of the Apes is a better metaphor, because the horse that could talk was still confined to his stable, whereas the girl who could play guitar was free, independent. Something can only be vulgar if it is also at least somewhat mesmerizing, and inside that feeling of enthrallment is a quick little drop-off into a pit of willing subjection. The damn dirty apes are running the show. Joan Jett is a king.

You also point out the dearth of recognized female guitar giants and cite Jett’s inclusion on Rolling Stone’s male-majority Top 100 Guitarists list. Why is guitar godhood so testicular? Is it just a fish/bicycle situation? Also, if you had your own rock band, what would be its name?

Megan: I’m super glad you quoted this whole passage and not just the line, because the line alone is likely going down in history as one of the most offensive things I’ll ever write. Guitar godhood is not the only thing that’s so testicular. Fish do not ride bicycles; there is no reason a woman can’t play guitar as well as a man. A lot of life is male-majority best-of lists. In 1977, the Runaways released the Live in Japan album, and there’s a track on there that I think about all the time: “I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are.” The song was written for them by their manager, Kim Fowley, and his seventeen years younger girlfriend, Roni Lee. Lee also performed the song in another more short-lived Fowley band, Venus and the Razorblades. Joan Jett is one of the few women who are (now) where they boys are. She’s an inspiration. I want to get into that space, coasting on enough borrowed privilege to pull the next one up. This is related to Zizek’s musings on Antigone, right? Just knock on the door they told you to knock on, and claim what they tell you is yours if you claim it.

When I parrot some of the most antifeminist rhetoric about her, it’s because I’m in search of strategies for defeating it. There’s an irony embedded in there. In many places throughout 1976, I’m doing an at times sickeningly convincing impression of what I called in the December chapter the language of the “standard American male.” 1976 is really my effort to “communicate like a man.” Hilarious, right? There have been mixed receptions to this concept. Some people are misreading the book and assuming I really do harbor the objectionable sentiments of the standard American male. Most people are reading it as a more nuanced type of butch dyke machismo and crediting me with largely the same ugly opinions but from a somewhat more feminist place. That’s alright by me. More people are figuring out the joke now; I hope I haven’t spoiled it by explaining it. Maybe I will send a copy to Zizek, or the collective masquerading as Zizek, and ask for an essay examining to what extent 1976 constitutes a proper pastiche.


David: From the Ramones section of 1976:

The Ramones did not evolve, ever. They personally grew old and gray and sick and cantankerous, but did not condone or experiment with adulthood in the image they presented to their rabid public…This continuous performance of the Ramones as a coadunation of grizzled teenage soul is so unimpeachable, so thoroughly curated, so perfectly glossy, that I even feel a little bad discussing it in the past tense.

There’s a thread of sameness for sure, but their trademark lowbrow songs seem obligatory (brand rather than band) by, say, Halfway to Sanity or Brain Drain, and certainly by Mondo Bizarro, which includes the world-torn, affecting “Poison Heart.” Joey’s vocals certainly evolved over the years, and his deeper, denser voice seemed to coincide with increased lyrical gravity. Your thoughts?

Megan: Obligatory, brand before band, archaic…look at your word choice. You agree with me. The Ramones did not evolve, ever.

David: “If I’m being honest, Tom Petty saved my life.” That’s how you start your digressive spiel on Tom Petty and George Harrison (with particular focus on Petty’s debut album and Harrison’s Thirty Three & 1/3), which also appears as an essay (with slight differences) in PopMatters: “Tom Petty and George Harrison Were Two Sides of the Same Bicentennial Coin.” You also discuss your gastrointenstinal curse of ulcerative colitis (an affliction Marilyn Monroe probably had, very coincidentally). How do Tom, George and GI disease go together, and how was your life was saved by that lead Heartbreaker?

Megan: Tom and George were the best of pals. I have many more words on both of them, but of course had to stay focused on the two albums they happen to have launched in ’76. I’ve got more than one Tom Petty book proposal rejection under my belt, in fact. I think of Tom and George as my personal spirit guides. One of the greatest and longest challenges of my life will be living with ulcerative colitis. There are times when it causes me unimaginable physical pain – the GI tract has its own nervous system, so when I say the pain is unimaginable, I mean it quite literally. I have an exceedingly high pain threshold, and sometimes the pain still just topples me. It’s completely incapacitating, even blinding (again, literally).

During prolonged bouts with this type of pain, I have sometimes considered suicide. My wife, bless her, has pulled me out of that. On the brief occasions where Mindy has not been able to snap me out of it, the music of Tom Petty has been my salvation. That’s it, no fun story to tell, just a statement of faith. Something in that music speaks to me like no other music can, and for that I’m eternally grateful to him and the Heartbreakers. I suppose I could explain it more vividly or emotively, but I find it more valuable to detach from this type of suffering when I’m not directly experiencing it. Otherwise, as they say in Baton Rouge, it haunts you down.

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David: 1976 is jam-packed with coincidental historical timelines and lightning-quick political analyses that star a vast cast of pols: George Wallace, Jerry Brown, Nixon, Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Carter. In one of my favorite passages, you write “Lord knows all roads through politics lead to a Kennedy,” a rif on an earlier golden line: “Sometimes I get mad about the fact that all roads lead to a Kennedy.” Fuck, if that ain’t the truth! You also admirably admire the admirable Ron Kovic, perhaps America’s most popular wounded warrior and author of 1976’s Born on the Fourth of July. Why/how have Kovic and his autobiography affected you? What do you think of Oliver Stone’s film adaptation? In general, how the hell did you research and cohere all of the historical/political stuff in the book?

Megan: Before we talk about Kovic, I have to give credit where it is due as far as that thought on the Kennedys. That is my really obvious salute to Eileen Myles. My favorite book of hers will always be Not Me. It opens with “An American Poem,” which is for me personally one of the greatest poems ever written. In it, she asserts that she is a Kennedy and then asks whether we shouldn’t all be Kennedys. Just go read the poem. Every line of it feels attached to my personal missions in life, and I just wanted to put a little ghost of Eileen into this book. We have to propagate our species.

OK, Ron Kovic. I haven’t seen the movie, except in pieces in the background in the living room as a kid. Some of my friends are librarians, and so for a long while now, based on the things they have told me, I’ve wanted to write the history of one copy of one book. I just like thinking about a book bouncing from hand to hand, house to house, human to human. There’s an element of chance, but an opportunity for unusual synchronicities, and we make meaning out of the life we’re living regardless of how deliberately we’re living it. Kovic’s book is a memoir, so I figured if I could inject myself as I’d been doing with all the other artifacts of ’76, to do a history of a copy of the book would add a third layer of complexity and also keep the book as a whole more grounded in the lives of regular citizens. So I specifically sought out a used library copy with the seller’s assurance that the library stamps were still on the inside pocket. I had not ever read the book before, and I would say the process of researching the town history of this one copy’s origin affected me more deeply than Kovic’s own narrative. I’ve thought about phoning up those people who checked out this particular copy and asking what they felt about reading it.

As for the totality of the book, my research strategy had grown pretty robust thanks to the work I did on the Warhol book. That was a similar matter of basically: gather a reading list, make a spreadsheet, break it into assignment chunks, read a few things, write something, read a few things, write something. I laid out a spreadsheet with one page for every month in 1976. Then I listed all the dates in each month down the left column and got deep into the internet for a day or two on each month. I filled every date of the entire year with artifacts that were color-coded according to their subject area, like music or the election. Then I tried to find patterns through which to thread a theme for each chapter. Once I selected all my artifacts, it was cut and dried. Soak up all the stuff for one month, then craft all the chunks in the chapter. I’d let it sit for a week, then go back to smooth the transitions between chunks and sprinkle in a healthy additional dose of adjectives or make other voice-related edits. It was written chronologically start to finish. Glad you think it coheres pretty nicely. Thanks.


David: Asher Haig did 1976’s illustrations. His work reminds me slightly of stuff by painters Francis Bacon and Schiele, and even Joseph Schindelman (illustrator of Roald Dahl’s Charlie books). Haig says that he pays special attention to image distribution, the relation of images to each other and to what’s written in each chapter. He’s also an expert in artificial intelligence and psychoanalysis. How did you two hook up for the collaboration? What do you think of his work? Do you have any thoughts on AI?

Megan: Asher is amazing; I feel like I have my own Ralph Steadman. This is such a good story, too. He and I were on rival debate teams in college. Among the debate nerds, he was a minor deity and I was like a little earthbound chaos demon, occasionally knocking down the best-laid plans of my betters. Mostly he wiped the floor with me, as I recall it, and though we were certainly acquaintances who often orbited each other at times of late-night shenanigans, I wouldn’t say we were friends. We had a healthy competition and a mutual respect. At some point, each of us moved to Atlanta.

So Mindy and I are in line at our local liquor store one sunny weekend afternoon, and she was holding too much stuff. A very nice gentleman let her cut in front of him in the line so she could put down the bottles. I only glanced at him briefly in saying thank you, but as soon as I left the store, something clicked. I just felt sure it was Asher, though we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. So then Facebook, where I discovered that not only was it him, but he does illustration work as something in between a hobby and a job. He was working on illustrating all of Kafka’s aphorisms, which reminded me of how much Asher and I always had in common in our ways of thinking. So then coffee, and I offered him the project, which he was psyched to do. We have a natural language between us, with a lot of comfortable silence. He does beautifully precise, often hilarious work. We’ve already batted around one or two ideas for future collaboration.

Do I have any thoughts on AI? Yeah, sure. I think a lot of intelligence is artificial and I think artifice is a good offensive maneuver.

Cover - Eternal Return PDFC

Illustrations ©Asher Haig

David Herrle interviews Marie C. Lecrivain on GRIMM CONVERSATIONS

61YhYMVT29Lpublished by Sybaritic Press, 2015


Fairy tales and myths continue to fascinate scholars, philosophers, teachers, theologians, mystics and the general literati, thanks to their fundamental power and sublime mirroring of ourselves. Every culture on Earth is imbued with them. TV watchers have been and are bombarded with derivative shows (the campy but popular Grimm and Once Upon a Time most recently), and it would take monkeys typing for infinity to list all of the Snow White-based movies alone. Also, of course, there are countless comic books: Alan Moore’s and Melinda Gebbie’s sexually explicit Lost Girls, Alan Moore’s Promethea, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Bill Willingham’s Fables and Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + the Divine, to name only a few.

Humorous, weird, clever, silly and explicit, Marie Lecrivain’s Grimm Conversations is a smooth-flowing, entertaining retelling – better yet: fracturing – of familiar fairy tales. Rapunzel is a nymphomaniac, Rose Red advises Snow White to bleach her butthole, “the seven dwarves are gay and polyamorous,” the cannibalistic but diet-conscious witch tries to fatten Hansel with wholesome foods, the fish recommends the Chaldean Oracles to the fisherman, it’s revealed that Noah was an animal-rights activist who saved animals from abusive humans, the wolf declines Red Riding Hood’s offer of hummus instead of her body because of the androgens in its ingredients, and astral plane-visiting Pinocchio (“a chip off Yggdrasil”) longs to have “a flesh-and-blood penis” so that he can penetrate girls without “giv[ing] them splinters.” Some readers might remember the Fractured Fairy Tales segment of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Well, this stuff is Fractured Fairy Tales with an R rating. Needless to say, don’t let Mommy or Daddy catch you reading this book under the covers.

The following interview focuses on Grimm Conversations and uses the book to veer into contemporary hot topics, from spirituality to transsexuality. Enjoy!



David: The medieval and Elizabethan literary traditions accepted and expected emulous plagiarism: Chaucer’s building on predecessors Ovid and Boccaccio, for example. Much later Shakespeare did the same, even borrowing from contemporaries Kyd and Marlowe. Likewise, you tinkered with the standard fairy tales of Will and Jake Grimm, radically innovating time-honored favorites such as Rapunzel, Pinocchio, the Frog Prince and Snow White. What made you even bother to rewrite fairy tales? What do you think you’ve brought to those tales with your creative contemporization?

Marie C. Lecrivain: I grew up reading fairy tales, and the retelling of those tales from some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors. Also, Disney’s animated films (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Pinocchio) had an overreaching and negative effect on my imagination, so much so that it became my mission to read the source material, which, as we all know – those of us who actually READ – are radically different from the “safe spaces” demanded from today’s audience. When the Brothers Grimm started to collect the stories that would make up the massive collection of lore that is Grimms’ Fairy Tales, they either didn’t know or patently ignored the fact that the stories they wrote down and published came from much older oral sources, straight out of the ancient world.

I wrote Grimm Conversations because 1) I wanted to explore my own take on these stories, as many writers have done before me (that desire is nothing new), b) I want to remind the reader about the value of real-life face-to-face conversations, which is being devoured by the abyss that is the Internet of Things. Most of my adult life has been spent working in sales (thank you, Great Recession, for shifting my career back to that path). I spend my days in conversation with other people. Increasingly, I hear “Can’t you email me?” or “Text me the information” or “I’m not used to having to talk this long”. The demands – intellectual/emotional/psychological/spiritual – the investments required to power a real-time conversation are being marginalized, and this makes me fearful of the future. In the beginning was the Word. I don’t believe there should ever be an ending to the art of conversation.


David: In the book’s introduction you cite your childhood encounter with “Puss in Boots” as the beginning of a lifelong love of fairy tales, and you emphasize those tales’ mirroring of humanity:

What’s timeless about Grimms’ Fairy Tales is how much of ourselves we find within them. I’ve been Red Riding Hood, faced with the overwhelming fear of change, and I’ve been the elf in the Shoemaker tale who took a stand against those who would bankrupt me for their personal gain. I’ve also been the witch in Hansel and Gretel who’s selfish to the point of destruction, and I’ve been the immortal salmon in the Fisherman’s Wife who’s tried to have an intelligent conversation about matters beyond all of man’s understanding.

In other words, rather than exotic, “fairy tales are part of our everyday existence,” as you put it. They certainly are mistaken as escapist, for they really open young eyes to the tale-likeness of real life, rather than the reverse. As G.K. Chesterton put it in Tremendous Trifles:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

This is similar to the “new hope” mentality of the George Lucas’ Star Wars, a movie that went against the grain of nihilistic 1970s cinema: dragons don’t always triumph, in other words. Share more about your appreciation for fairy stories and their pertinence. Is there a teleological essence to them?

MCL: If you are asking me if there is an “intelligent design” behind fairy tales, I would have to say no. If you are asking me if there is an evolutionary essence to fairy tales, then, yes, I would say so. As humankind becomes more sophisticated in its need to redefine its own mythology, new ways and new perceptions of fairy tales will present themselves.

Joseph Campbell explained this better than anyone. The Hero’s Journey is every person’s journey. Fairy tales give us all the opportunity to reframe that story in a way that we can easily digest, and then complete.


David: Chesterton also castigated the unbalanced seriousness and sadness of modern spiritualism, prescribing instead an undignified spiritualism of humor:

I wish the spirits were more farcical than they are. That they should make more jokes and better ones, would be my suggestion. For almost all the spiritualism of our time, in so far as it is new, is solemn and sad.

This certainly could indirectly endorse your Grimm Conversations, right? Tell us about your decision to inject irreverent humor into your innovated tales.

MCL: That humor came to me, undiluted, from my father. I grew up with dirty jokes being told at dinner time as de rigueur. Also, the original stories in Grimms’ Fairy Tales often have overbearing moralistic unhappy endings. No one likes an unhappy ending. Humor makes the reality of the misery of life more palatable. If you can’t laugh at yourself and your beliefs, then you have no business believing in anything, much less yourself.


David: How has your involvement in Ordo Templi Orientis and as a priestess in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica influenced your work? Many thinkers and artists osmose essential aspects of Judeo/Christian traditions, aspects that season and shape worldviews and artistic sensibilities. Do you agree? Do you happen to have a Christian background? If so, what of that, if any, has survived and been incorporated into your current belief system? Your thoughts on both sectarianism and syncretism? In your “Flounder” story the fish tells the fisherman that “the divine spark is the immortal part of you.” Can you expound that idea?

MCL: For me personally, my involvement in OTO, and as a relatively recent ordained priestess in the EGC, has fundamentally and positively influenced my writing from the first time I attended an ECG Gnostic Mass. I’ve had a lifelong interest in alchemy, particularly in the area of personal transformation. The initiatory process, as well as the gnosis I’ve experienced in my years as a member of OTO and in the EGC, has been infused in everything I’ve written over the last almost ten years, and will continue to do so. Everything I do, all my actions, are to me and in my universe, alchemical.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I attended private school, where I received an excellent education and was made to attend mass twice a week. My parents were Eucharistic ministers and CCD teachers. I was a lector in my teens, which gave me the opportunity to observe the Roman Catholic version of mass at a closer level. I quickly realized I would never be able to be a direct part of that mystery, because I’m female. Looking back at my years in Roman Catholicism, there was very little encouragement to intelligently dissent, to approach belief contextually, but to still come back to the same faith I was indoctrinated in. That came later, in high school, and I watched many of my peers falter and leave the church. It was only a matter of time before I left that which would not let me be My Self.

What did I take from my background into who I am now? My love of ritual. My understanding of mythos, sacred moments, an appreciation for the sacrifice clergy make for the greater good, and my mother’s assertion to fight for what you believe in. That’s about it.

My thoughts on sectarianism: there’s a path for everyone to the Divine. “My” way, like the Buddha said, may or may not work for you, or, to be blunt, “your mileage may vary.” Sectarianism exists because of groupthink tendencies, and the need to dominate over what human beings fear, which is diversity, because diversity represents change, and humanity is not geared to like change, even change for the better. As for syncretism, it’s human nature, and smart politics to take the best bits of something that works to make your own version work better. The Catholic Church coopted local deities and reintroduced them to indigenous peoples under the guises of Mary and Jesus. That’s what Aleister Crowley did when he wrote the EGC Gnostic Mass. That’s what Zuckerberg did with Facebook. (Laugh! It’s funny!)

In “Flounder” I was exploring the idea of approaching gnosis in the way it happened for me, and how I try to respect that process. Judeo-Christian traditions do not emphasize direct access, or more importantly, the acknowledgement of a human as a divine being. It does say that its believers have a connection to their god through an immortal soul (one given to them by their creator), but that the relationship must be, first and foremost, external, and that access is granted through blind acceptance in a slave’s capacity, as well as total obedience. Gnosis removes the middle man, as it were. The work is hard, the process imperfect, and oftentimes will not lead to enlightenment. By the way, I am not an enlightened human being, but I do have a divine spark, which I am, ultimately, responsible for – and it didn’t come from some old bearded guy on high. Those who wake up to their divinity have a lot of questions, and that’s a good thing. However, the ones that ask the questions are usually one step ahead, or, more likely, a half-step ahead of the one asking the questions.


David: All of Grimm Conversations is in dialogic form. Was the unnecessariness of interspersed description, action and often monotonous speech tags liberating, or did you experience difficulty relying on only alternating quotations? Would these stories work as short stage plays?

MCL: I didn’t have too much difficulty writing these stories. They almost wrote themselves. It’s very easy to imagine a conversation with another person, and that’s how I approached writing Grimm Conversations, which, on a very real level, is a conversation with different parts of myself.

I did have a few editors ask me why I didn’t include any background in the stories, often receiving rejections based on that very reason. Sorry: not sorry. I’ve always loved stories that plunge you right in the middle of a situation that needs no explanation or a narrator holding your hand. Also, conversations happen quickly, and they always tell a story. The subtext is left to the reader’s imagination. Would these work as plays? Probably. I’ve thought about adapting one or two, but I haven’t had the time.


David: “Prick” (presented in full here) “Nympho” and “Kink” are my favorite pieces in the book. You’ve a masterful grasp of fetish and aberrant sexuality: Sade-lite, so to speak. In “Kink” the Prince of “The Princess and the Pea” wants to cancel his marriage and confesses to his would-be bride that he has an intense fetish for “the sight of bruises, hickeys, and red welts.” However, instead of offense, the Princess reveals a compatible masochistic proclivity:

“…and one more thing: I am bisexual. I’m a switch. And a voyeur. And an exhibitionist. We’re going to bring Madame Roquefort, the most beautiful ladies maid, and the most handsome captain of the guard with us on our honeymoon. Madame Roquefort can help us break them in.”

“Oh, Princess! How I love you!”

“Now, before we get back to our guests, let me help you get rid of that massive erection. And is there anything else I should know?”

“Mmm…well…Oh, your mouth…mmm…There is one more thing…”

“Mmm…you’re yummy…What?”

“I love to hear dirty bedtime stories.”

Speaking of sex, I do believe that many people today are, in some ways, more sexually repressed than the misestimated Victorians. Self-righteous and/or religious busybodies decry “whores” more out of ashamed attraction and disingenuousness than sincere moral indignation and drive for reform, and much uptight puritanism comes from Stalin-like secular “social justice warriors” and many chauvinistic feminists: assailants of affectionate and erotic interplay, of courtship and flirtation, and create a new kind of body politic, literally a politicized body. Tension between Jane Austen and Anais Nin is natural, but PC activism tends to produce only limp dicks and mute vaginas. Please share your views on erotica, politicized sexuality and repression.

MCL: I wrote “Prick” and most of Grimm Conversations, in part, because I realized that most of what polite society refers to as “aberrant behavior” is, in point of fact, just the opposite. This again, in my mind, is evolutionary diversity reasserting itself. It’s apparent we are no longer a sexually binary society. We live in the age of transition, as well as transformation. As long as these preferences, or what people like to term “fetishes,” don’t harm another person physically, and as long as they are consensual, as in between legal adults, then they belong in the mainstream lexicon of sex, with full awareness/acceptance/understanding. Will there ever be a day when this happens in real time? Maybe. Of course, that would put the porn/professional BDSM/sex toy industries out of business. 

David: In “Gurlz” you blow apart the story of Little Red Riding Hood, introducing not a wolf who preys on the flesh of human females strictly out of hunger and sustenance, but one with an ulterior motive: affordable ingestion of estrogen in support of a deep desire for a female-to-male sex change. A sample:

“You’re being so nice to me, considering I still want to eat you.”

“No, I get it, though I don’t understand why you want to be a woman.”

“Of course you don’t. You were born female.”

“But it’s such a bitch. I hate the crying, the periods, and the acne. The only part I like is the sex.”

“For Spirits, freed from mortal Laws, with ease/Assume what Sexes and what Shapes they please,” writes Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock, reminding me of the transgender issues that are in the American spotlight these days, and, though transfolk have been struggling for respectful recognition for decades, Bruce Jenner’s recent transformation into Caitlyn tends to hog the stage. This is due to both her fame and the fact that male-to-female transitions are much more palatable to the public. (A Candy Darling, Coccinelle, Laverne Cox or Paris Lees outglows a Chaz Bono, Thomas Beatie or Leslie Feinberg.) Are our spirits actually gender-free (truly pneuma)? Is there an alchemical interpretation of gender? Might both gender fluidity and the male/female binary be worthy? And how the hell did you come up with the idea for a he-to-she wolf?

MCL:  The wolf in “Gurlz” is transitioning from male to female. Alexander Pope was a bore, just like Polonius. BORING!

 Fairy tales and myths are full of instances where the symbolic art of transitioning from one sex to another is no big deal (read Heracles’ exploits in Bulfinch’s Mythology: he spent a night in drag, and so forth). We’re in an age of transition, transformation. Alchemy happening in real-time on a universal scale, and documented on both the micro/macro level for all to witness.

The idea of a he-to-she wolf came from my experiences with several of my friends who transitioned from male to female. One friend made the decision to live homeless for a year so she could afford the surgery. Another friend of mine wasn’t prepared for the pain that came with transition. I won’t give details, but it cost her a great deal, both personally and professionally. Then I see someone like Caitlyn Jenner who is able to transition – and not completely (by her own admission) – through wealth and privilege. These resources are not available to everyone, and they need to be. Transition/Transformation is a big deal, and the layers of transition, the ability of being able to occupy both sides of the binary, or even to eventually transform into something entirely new, is exciting! And these processes need to be encouraged, as well as supported, in real-time.

In the Western Alchemical Tradition, there is the archetype of the hermaphrodite. This is part of all of us: within us, the union of opposites, the hieros gamos, and the infinite layers of everything in between and what transcends that process. Why should it be a surprise that it’s happening now, on a global scale? At least in Western society.


David: In “Lunacy” the chocolate-craving Evil Queen of Snow White fame agonizes over retention of youth and good looks. “Why do we have to get old and still try to look young at the same time?” she asks the Magic Mirror. The reply: “Society, Mum…All those illuminated manuscripts that contain pictures of young, nubile flesh are really nothing more than the product of over-worked, horny monks.” When the consoling mirror says, “With age comes reason and wisdom,” the Queen replies, “So, you’re saying that being smart is beautiful.” The Rape of the Lock applies again: “How vain are all these Glories, all our Pains,/Unless good Sense preserve what Beauty gains.” Rejecting that notion, I think the concept of so-called inner beauty tends to abuse very worthy outer beauty. Isn’t the artifice involved in much beauty-making as valid as any other art, and isn’t brevity part of the beauty of beauty?

MCL:  Please stop quoting Pope. He’s an historic dufus (IMHO). Why does a woman become not beautiful when she is no longer able to propagate? You already know the answer to this question. And these women are NOT going to disappear. 

David: Artist Brian Grillo, who seems to be quite a curious and talented person, did the weird and fitting illustrations for Grimm Conversations. What’s the nature of your acquaintance, and how does Grillo’s work enhance the text?

MCL: Brian is a gifted artist, and more importantly, a gift to the world. I met him in the mid-1990s, when he was the lead singer in the band Extra Fancy (still one of my favorite bands ever). Fast forward to the 21st century, and I met Brian again through Facebook. He’s a gifted painter and photographer (both scenic and illustration). He started posting some of his illustrations, and I was impressed with his technique. He also started posting short mini-memoirs with his artwork and photos. I had the pleasure of publishing one of his stories, about growing up in San Pedro, California, in poeticdiversity. There’s a dark and humorous edge to Brian’s work, and there is also honesty, which I prize above all things. He will always remain one of my favorite artists.

When I was writing Grimm, I posted excerpts on my FB page. It’s not like me to do this. Writing for me is private, but I digress. Brian read “Kiss” (my take on “The Frog Prince”) and sent me an illustration he’d done based on that story. The illustration became the cover. I knew it would be as soon as I saw it. I sent Brian my completed stories, and he executed the illustrations. Frankly, Grimm wouldn’t be a book I’d be proud of without Brian’s art. Every time I open Grimm, and I see one of Brian’s illustrations,  it makes me smile. It also makes me grateful. There are not many artists who would work with me or my writing. I’ve tried to collaborate before and it never worked, until Brian. I’m so grateful and happy it succeeded.

Illustrations by Brian Grillo