This is probably my favorite episode yet! First some chit chat about when “slogging through” parts of books is worth it, then a fantastic short story about a broke pot grower internet boyfriend with a flaccid dick at a Buddhist hot springs, then Leslie Fucking Jamison, newly minted New York Times Bestseller!
“You meet your hero. You meet your heroes. You do shows with them. You realize they are people, that they haven’t figured it all out, that they are still moving forward. That makes you happy, to know they are real, and that makes you sad, to know that there isn’t an end point.”—
This realization, from Cameron Esposito about comedy, is applicable to everything really. No one’s ever done becoming, and it’s horrifying and relieving.
If you haven’t listened to The Catapult, give it a try this Sunday. Here’s what people are saying:
Washing my hair to ep. 3… I have not managed to listen to The Catapult clothed even once.
Leslie Jamison’s book, The Empathy Exams, is a New York Times bestseller!
That second quote is me, but it’s a fact. Leslie reads an essay from the book on this episode, and Rebecca Schiff reads a very awesome story. Click play and give your ears and spirit a little treat today.
““I want to simplify my life,” you said. “I really don’t need all of this stuff. Oatmeal, banana and peanut butter, I can live off that easily.”
“That sounds terrible,” I probably responded, because I was always sarcastic and sometimes your commitment to balance and emptiness scared me because I’ve always been overly grounded in this false reality.”—
“Sometimes it feels like the more violent choice — I don’t know if I want to say “violent,” but certainly more intentional or aggressive — is to keep journalism and memoir separate. Every time a journalist reports a piece, she’s having a really intense experience; every time you have a conversation with another person — whether you’re doing it as a journalist or a friend — all these moments of your own past are rising up to haunt you.”—
“This was also what dating was for, to see the penis at rest. It rested out of politeness to the naked strangers, so as not to disturb their patented water massage techniques, or maybe it rested out of guilt. I didn’t understand the mechanism of control behind the penis, though I respected it. I didn’t understand the mechanism of control behind Catholicism either, or behind any of the Eastern religions mentioned in the hot springs course packet the guy had given us at the front desk.”—
Rebecca Schiff, “It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal”
“The southern part of the state is quaking and shaking, heavy rain lashes the northern coast, and snow piles up in the Sierra. Every now and then California reminds you that it’s alive, not just the plants and creatures but the rock itself, even that dry old sky that goes whole seasons without much change.”—Quaking and Stormy, California Reminds Us That It’s Alive - Greenfriar
Starting tomorrow I’ll be attempting NaPoWriMo again, that inhuman task that poets invented to inspire/hurt themselves. This means that during the month of April, I’ll once again pen one poem draft each day and post it here. This year, though, I’ll be deleting each draft after it’s up for a week….
Now is the time to get in and follow Nicole. I mean, the time was ages ago, she’s brilliant, but you do not want to miss this month.
“According to the wedding-trend reporters at the Knot, donkeys at weddings are literal walking icebreakers, beasts that will lighten the burden of socializing. An Arizona company called Haul N Ass Productions has trained them to walk around, distributing beer from saddlebags. They also carry their own carrot snacks.”—
Ziegler is the prefect editor for this anthology. He is the author of several books of short prose (including The Swan Song of Vaudeville: Tales and Takes, and Love At First Sight: An Alan Ziegler Reader), and for many years he has taught short prose at Columbia University. I was fortunate enough to take his Short Prose Forms class at Columbia and his understanding of the genre was encyclopedic, enlightening, and infectious. Shortly after his class, I co-founded Gigantic, a literary magazine devoted to short prose.
In the years since I took his class, short prose has taken over. Every print literary magazine seems to publish prose poems and flash fiction, and the world of online writing—from Twitter and Tumblr to the blogs of glossy magazines—is dominated by short prose. As such, 2014 feels like the perfect time for Short to appear and remind us of the long literary history and potential future of the short prose form.
LINCOLN MICHEL: Short collects works of short prose (prose poems, flash fictions, mini-essays, etc.) stretching from Michel de Montaigne to Ben Marcus. Were there specific times and places where the form really caught on? And how has the form changed over the centuries?
ALAN ZIEGLER: Establishing the geographical, chronological, and word-count parameters for the anthology was difficult but essential to keep the book wieldy. So, Short leaps to the starting line in the 16th Century (for the Precursors section) and focuses on Western literature, sidestepping the great traditions of short prose in China and Japan. Things really heat up in mid-19th Century France with Louis “Aloysius” Bertrand and Edgar Allan Poe influencing Baudelaire and Mallarme, and with Rimbaud acting like a one-man pop-up store for prose poems (then taking himself out of the business forever). The prose poem continued to thrive in France (among other places), but didn’t really catch on in the U.S. until the 1960s and 70s with the likes of Robert Bly, David Ignatow, James Wright, and Russell Edson. After that it’s unstoppable, and of course short-short stories got into the mix under various names (I tend to prefer flash fiction) with the likes of Jayne Anne Phillips, Lydia Davis, Diane Williams, and Barry Yourgrau.
As for how the form has changed over the centuries—I think remarkably little. There is so much that feels contemporary in such precursors as Joubert (“the soul paints itself in our machines” and Leopardi (“He put on eyeglasses made of half the meridian connecting the two polar circles”). But such pieces remained in notebooks during the authors’ lives. The main changes may be in legitimization and categorization. Michael Benedikt’s 1976 prose poem anthology—among others—spurred the creation of countless pieces. For me, having a prose poem published by Benedikt in The Paris Review and being invited to contribute to a special prose poem edition of Poetry Now helped me to realize that forgoing line breaks did not mean I was also forgoing the joy of being considered a poet. Likewise, the option to call pieces flash fiction meant that writers of short prose weren’t required to operate in the arena of poetry if they chose not to meet all the demands usually made of short stories; it’s long been accepted that a fragment can be a poem; now that also goes for a story. As I point out in the Introduction: Who knows how many earlier prose poems might have entered literary society under different names, had they been widely available?
“You can pretend you’re in a tunnel. You can make believe you have on blinders. You can stare 100 yards in the distance at a random point. You can walk with urgency or purpose. You can look prickly or preoccupied. You can wear an iPod. You can make a cell phone call. You can fake a cell phone call. You can write a text message to no one.
These are the ways foreign women get down the street in Cairo. These are the tricks they share, the ways they teach me to “beige out,” as one woman put it, to fog up the glasses, whenever outside. Outside is the sphere of Egyptian men. Men run markets, crowd alleys, fill every subway car but the very middle one, marked by a huddle of headscarves. Females are scarce on Cairo’s streets, and those who do appear seem hurried, like mice suddenly exposed in the middle of a room, rushing for cover.”—
Setting a dangerous precedent here, with a Ryan on every show. The streak will end now, though, so enjoy while you can. In this episode, Colleen Kinder takes us under cover to Cairo, and Ryan Chang reads a story about shame, a plague, and a dog…
“There’s this internet myth that you have to make this low-hanging cheap fruit in order to subsidize the “real” reporting/writing that no one reads, and that those “real” writers should never have to worry about the fact that no one reads them. Annie is the antithesis of that: she writes smart pieces about things that people care about, in a way that is accessible to a broad audience. Her Jennifer Lawrence piece got over a million views, almost all from people sharing on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s been gratifying to have such a perfect example of what we’re striving for at BuzzFeed.”—