WALKING THE STONES

On Friday afternoon, I walked the stones. Some way out into the bay, I thought: It doesn’t matter where I am. I can live anywhere. I felt a disinterested calm. The stones go all the way across the water. You can get off on the other side. I had imagined they would end, like a pier, and that I would stand still for a while out there, looking, listening to the waves move. At about the halfway point, the sea was washing over my path. The tide was high, and pushing in. I had no way of knowing, should I proceed, would I get back. I decided to proceed.

On the other side, I crossed the dunes and felt my feet on this far shore of my Atlantic. It was windy and uncomfortable to stay, so I went back across the dunes and walked along the salt marshes to the lighthouse. I passed a middle-aged couple sitting together in silence. I took a photograph of a strange little building I could live in. I looked up at the lighthouse. “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your golden hair!” I called. Nothing happened, but I felt what it might be like to be a man.

Heading home, I was only a little reluctant to disturb what I took to be two snipe at the edge of the marshes. When they rose and wheeled and piped, I watched them in the sky and thought of the snipe at the dam at G—.

Karen Martin is a writer of short fiction and an editor. She originates from South Africa, where she has lived in the countryside outside Johannesburg for the past fifteen years. She is presently a Cornelia Carhart Ward Fellow in the creative writing MFA programme at Syracuse University. She is using her fellowship at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony this summer to complete her first collection of short fiction.

GIRLS GUIDE TO WAR

You’re not large enough
for a whale
and much too fat
to be a shark
said I to my love.
Porpoise
was her reply

Sleek pig
thought the mind
of my eye

Sleek pigs
are porpoises
said she
and began to cry.

I found this poem in Mailer’s book Cannibals and Christians. I would not have expected such tenderness from the boxer and knife wielder who, as Carolyn Forche told us, greeted young pretty girls (including her) on Provincetown’s streets with the flirtatious taunt: Are you a feminist? But then so much of my month at the colony was not expected—like the story of Mailer’s plaintive explanation to his last wife when she complained that all of his adulterous lovers were such ugly dogs: “Sometimes I need to be the pretty one.”

I arrived convinced I’d leave with a novel at least half finished. Each morning I dropped Nanoush at her favorite beach, “the norman mailer house beach,” as she called it, where she made her stories in the sand with scallop and mussel shells and hermit crabs and her new friend Jewel. And each morning I went to my kitchen table.

Monday. Chapter I. In a clipped voice. “I’m a professional Islamist, by accident, as most people’s lives tend to proceed. I had a crush on a long-haired biker whom I’d met one day on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, and turned out to be an Israeli and an Arabist. My life’s obsessions have always been conceived in the cradle of a crush.”

Tuesday. Chapter I. In a suspenseful voice. “I saw Ali’s form through the white slip curtain. I had his pistol. The berretta he couldn’t find two days ago. Don’t play games, he’d shouted. I denied playing games so vehemently that he began to worry—one of the hotel cleaners? Were they plotting something?”

Wednesday. Chapter I. In a breathy voice. “It was a warm night, a soft wind through the palms, the gunfire had receded. I wondered what it would be like to be with such a man. I took his arm, and washed my hand along its curves. Outside was the smell of dripping petrol and the generator exhaling and panting.”

Thursday. Chapter I. In a child’s voice. “Tahir bought me a saraj today, a little bird with an orange face and yellow wings. He put a string around its neck and though I’d like to let it go, I’m going to keep it.”

Friday, Chapter I. No more voice. “You see a narrative was forming. It was a good one. And the Afghans began sticking to it. If you were a Tajik commander you could be smug about the narrative. Like Baba Jan the old communist. When the two Arabs posing as journalists (the ones who would kill Massoud) showed up to film his ammunition sites he told his guard to send them away. ‘Tell them that Allah has sent many messengers to the Arab people, but the Arabs still haven’t got the message.’ Everyone blamed the Arabs for infecting their land with terrorism, for occupying Afghanistan, for their pan-Islamic designs, for stealing their women. Some blame the Arabs for bringing Islam to Afghanistan 1400 years ago. But those are rare. And have short hair.

Saturday, Chapter 1. “The Italian doctor told me, Your blood pressure is really shit. But I was stuck in the Hindu Kush with no way out. I took medicine and moaned through the night. Occasionally I felt Alberto stroking my head with pity and I’d drift back into dreams of dragons, turbans, burkhas, bullets, and canaries. I was going to be sick again, and dragged myself to the walled in hole in the courtyard. I had nothing left to puke but something fluttered into the hole and I pinched my matchbook flashlight to see. Ten feet below was a mountain of shit. Years of it. And atop it all were the last of my crisp green Ben Franklins. A nasty metaphor of our enterprise in this forsaken land I thought, and went back to bed.”

Sunday, Chapter 1: “If my notebooks were better they could tell you exactly what it was like, they could tell you about Dunn’s screeching voice when we got hit, and the crackle of leaves under my palm, and the smell of Connecticut woods, though they couldn’t tell you what was going on in Dan’s head who was further up the Korengal mountain. If I had sat like a spider inside the head of the Colonel, of Razzaq the smuggler, Abdullah the Taliban, Clinard the soldier who watched his bestfriend die, 12-year-old Sweeta raped by the commanders, the kind nurse who thought I must be pregnant when I wretched in the hospital from the smell of burnt flesh, then maybe I could deliver a kaleidescope of what went on this past decade.”

Monday again, Chapter 1. “I’ve started a book about an American girl who went to Iraq to find out why another American girl was killed only to find out the American girl who was killed had fallen in love with an Iraqi and only to fall in love with an Iraqi killer herself. I’ve started a book about another American girl who fell in love with a warlord and was the object of affection of a Taliban commander and caused an assassination that changed the course of one province’s war. American innocence abroad. The story never ever changes. I may not finish this book either.”

Tuesday afternoon notes. “Everyone here is writing about war. Internal, external, foreign, familial, psychic.. There is always an enemy, a fight against dying and entropy or there is no writing.”

Nanoush asked me if she could bring the hermit crabs in her bucket from the norman mailer beach back to our house on Race Road. I told her they would die. One by one she let them crawl onto her hand and then into the ocean.

Elizabeth Rubin is a writer who lives in Brooklyn with her 3 year old daughter Nanoush. She has spent the last decade and a half covering conflicts around the world. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, and The New Yorker.

Elizabeth is also a Mailer Nonfiction Fellow. She is using the month of residency to work on…well, see above.

BREAKWATER

During my first week in Provincetown, I spent three afternoons at Breakwater, the path of broken stones that stretches for 1.2 miles, curving slightly, through the salt marshes towards a lighthouse on the distant shore. The Breakwater’s broken granite stones are

jared gruenwald via photosfordays

piled more than ten feet high (mice live in the spaces between the boulders. I heard and saw them scurrying and fighting when I walked partway across Breakwater at 11 PM one night and my flashlight shined on them) and the pathway is relatively flat and walk-easeful because the biggest, flattest faces of the boulders make the path.

Jumping from stone to stone is easy except for certain sections where the boulders are set at an angle, so I have to lean forward, grip the top of the boulder, stick my ass out, and tippy-toe up the rock. It is painful to watch middle-aged ladies climb those boulders (there was one black-haired lady who, when she bent a knee, would/could not unbend that knee until ten seconds later). The granite pathway is littered with broken clam shells and every now and then, a crab with all its meat satisfactorily sucked out. Overhead, sea gulls ride on the breeze. I haven’t seen a sea gull drop a clam on the path, so I cannot say from what height the clams fall, but I wonder which first sea gull it was that, millions of years ago, dropped that first clam for the first time on a rock.

When I arrive at the Breakwater at 1-ish during this week, it is low tide, so the tide is a half-mile out from the salt marshes and I can climb down from Breakwater and walk on the moist sands next to shallow streams and pools and large stands of wild grasses. It’s possible to walk barefoot in the salt marshes except in large areas where thousands of broken and unbroken mussel and clam shells dig into your feet. I’m horrified sometimes when I remember that I’m hiking through mussel and clam slaying grounds.

In the streams and pools, especially in the ones at the bend of the sea grasses, there are baby crabs, hermit crabs, and schools of small pale gray fish. These were my first sightings of wild crabs in the wild (my only sighting being panicky crabs in Asian grocery store tanks that will be scrubbed off and popped into slowly boiling pots in a few hours) and I was delighted to see how easefully they can scurry sideways, backwards, and forwards, and finally quickly bury themselves. They are the most natural sideways scurries in the world, I am sure.

I did not notice the schools of small pale gray fish the first two days because these fishes are so much more darting shadows than fishes; they blend so well with the glinting of sunlight on the shallow waters and pale rocks. The most fun I had my first week in Provincetown was standing still and then stepping quickly into the shallow pools. The schools would dart trying to escape from me and at the same time trying to stay together.

By 4, the tide lazily rushes in, its edges gray with scum and pollution from the yachts and boats in the harbor a mile from the salt marsh. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to swim in these stinky waters (especially since I am a beginner swimmer and still swallow mouthfuls when I panic and forget I am in three feet of water), but someone desperate to swim will swim anywhere (but not in sewers of course). I swim in the rising tide, moving with it as it moves further inland, until we arrive at the Breakwater path and it’s time for me to scramble up, sit on the boulders for awhile to dry off, and then go home.

Minh Phuong Nguyen holds undergraduate degrees in English and Nutritional Sciences and is a current MA candidate in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of Missouri, where he holds the David R Francis Fellowship.

Minh is also the winner of the Norman Mailer Center – National Council of Teachers of English College Student Writing Contest. The Mailer Nonfiction Fellowship is part of his award. He is using the month of residency to work on a book project encompassing the themes in his winning entry, “Suffering Self,” an excerpt of which is forthcoming in the next issue of Creative Nonfiction.

ON AMBIVALENCE, guest author Mary Gaitskill

I was moved to be staying at the Norman Mailer house because of what he meant to me early in life, by which I don’t mean to say that I was a Mailer fan early on; in fact I was not. My response to him was in a way deeper than simple admiration or enjoyment. He was perhaps the first author, certainly the first socially engaged author who made me aware of my own ambivalence, and, by extention, the ambivalent nature of truth. The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote about Norman Mailer which was published in A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, and published by Harvard Press:

I first encountered Mailer at the age of 15 when I read Kate Millet’s feminist polemic Sexual Politics. In a special sexism-in-literature section, Millet quoted at length from Mailer’s novel An American Dream, a luscious comic-book story of society, magic, music, murder, love and sodomy which in Millet’s censorious context seemed even more thrillingly dirty than it actually is. At fifteen I had a complex streak of practicality which was both cheerful and dour, and which allowed me to retreat into my private cave to thoroughly enjoy Mailer’s fantasy as presented by Millet, only to momentarily emerge full of righteous outrage at it; I saw nothing questionable about this.

When I heard that Mailer would be appearing on The Dick Cavett Show to discuss feminism with Gore Vidal, I watched, anticipating a full complement of outrage and enjoyment. To my surprise, I was surprised: watching Gore Vidal was like watching a snake in a suit, all piety and fine manners, standing up on its hind tail to recite against the evils of sexism. Before this fancy creature, Mailer was nearly helpless, lunging and swiping like a bear trying to fight a snake on the snake’s terms. At one point he spluttered “You know very well I’m the gentlest person here,” which made the audience laugh while Cavett and guests made ironic faces—but (horribly enough) I sensed that this was quite possibly true, even if Mailer did head-butt Vidal in the dressing room, even if yes, he did stab his wife in the dim past of a drunken party. For a gentle person who has been stung by clever, socially armored people adept at emotional cruelty may respond with oafish brutality; it is precisely because he is gentle that he can’t modulate his rage or disguise it the way a naturally cruel person can. I watched the bear-baiting spectacle with a painful sense of cognitive dissonance dawning in me, both sides of my peculiarly American schizophrenic self finally present and blinking confusedly. The only other person who had aroused such feelings in me before was Lyndon Johnson, whose ugly, profound, helplessly emotional face had made me feel like crying for reasons I could not understand….

Such “cognitive dissonance” is for me a precursor to union and watching Norman Mailer at that moment was more powerful for me than watching/hearing any number of people I might more naturally have agreed with at the time. That experience deepened as I read his work later in life. It was of great value to me and I am honored to stay at his house.

Mary Gaitskill is an author of fiction. Read her full bio on our Visitors and Guest Speakers page.

RED BOAT

A little red boat
            In Cape Cod Bay
A lightness at its core
            As the wind blows.
Where does it go
            When night comes?
No one knows.

c Meena Alexander, all rights reserved

Meena Alexander is the author of numerous collections of poetry, literary memoirs, essays, works of fiction and literary criticism. Among her best known works are the volumes of poetry Illiterate Heart and Raw Silk. Visit her website.

Meena is also the mentor for the Mailer Poetry Fellows. This is her first year mentoring the Mailer Fellowship.

I’D LIKE TO WRITE….

I’d like to write, but can’t find the words.

Even though I know a lot of them, they hide.

Webster’s Dictionary is there to help, but will I use it? Will I consult Thesaurus.com?

Words like

discombobulated, unctuous, scintillating, castigate, discountenance, extrapolate, obsequiously

do come to mind, but I don’t use them.

I choose

confused, sucky, witty, criticize, embarrass, estimate, dutiful.

On a good day (cliché) I might move beyond pretty, bad, human, thrill and job to lovely with blue eyes, mean streak, animal with two legs, dizzy with excitement and career.

Honestly, that’s the best I can do.

A paragraph about pine trees described in three-syllable words flowing together without pretention brings tears to my eyes (other cliché) and I wonder why I can’t muster the depth, craft or insight to write about pine trees any way other than towering green things that stand like soldiers.

Poetry and profound works on nature, torture, death and emotional devastation impress me. I cringe at the drunk cowboy I’ve chosen as the protagonist of my book. Surely I am missing the essential qualities and skills of a writer.

But… the story must be told. The desire to tell it, the inability to tell it and the commitment to figure the damn thing out consume just about every minute of every day. My discombobulated mind refuses the scintillating words that I castigate regularly, and with much discountenance, extrapolate to be obsequious. Scribbling common everyday gibberish, I slog on. The words aren’t enough, but they’re all I’ve got and despite their simplicity, the only ones that sound right.

Today, they will have to do.

Norman, I wrote on your porch, in your bar, your living room and at your dining room table and your spirit did seem to hover and dare me to break out, bust loose (oh, dear) and use some big words to express some big ideas.

I did try.

Bev Magennis is from New Mexico. She stared writing late, after 35 years as a visual artist. She received the Pen USA Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2010 and was selected for the Iowa Writers Workshop Summer Graduate Class in 2009. Her work has appeared in two anthologies and will be published in the October issue of r.kv.r.y.

Bev is also a Mailer Fiction Fellow. She is using the month of residency to work on a novel, getting further acquainted with a tricky protagonist.

WE SHALL NOT ALL DAYDREAM WAVES, BUT WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED

I have set myself up at Norman Mailer’s bar to write this. There were pigeons that allegedly gathered around Mailer’s house, and he is alleged to have claimed they were the reincarnated souls of WWII fighter pilots, as they flew in formation. Such a take on metempsychosis could only be formulated at a bar, so that’s where I sit. (Since the bar is currently without spirituous drinks these days, I don’t imagine I’ll be doing any such theorizing.) It is high tide, so the water comes almost to the edge of the deck on the other side of the window, and much bobs in it: pelagic birds, humans, buoys, boats tethered to buoys. I try not to drift into the vista, but this proves difficult, the middle distance being so serenely enrapturing here: it protracts into abstracted gazes my casual glances. But this is to the good: after staring at the wall of the next building over in San Francisco for many months, the bay is an ongoing epiphany. I spend the hours staring out across it from various vantage points: the local library, which has an entire schooner on its second floor, assembled there by a man who absolutely fulfills the stereotype of “sea captain”; the decks of cafés and restaurants; the beaches; this bar. Contra Joyce, it is a grayblue, thoughtloosening sea I find each time I look up from my handwriting, a typeset page, this screen.

Michael Rutherglen is originally from Charlottesville, VA. He is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Amy Clampitt fellowhsip and 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work (sample here and here) has been published in Poetry, The Antioch Review, and 9th Letter. Visit The Winter Anthology, a nascent collection of 21st century international literature of which Michael is a founding editor.

Michael is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work slowly and steadily on his current manuscript.

tide is up

PRESENTIMENT OF A PLOT

Hours before a storm arrives in Provincetown, there are signs of it approaching.  The air softens and gains heft.  A chill nips on the underside of the wind.  The sky, a catalog of gradually-graying blues, settles in at the shade appropriate to whichever atmospheric disturbance Mother Nature has planned—“Constant Drizzle,” “60% Chance and Not a Drop,” “Hail Do You Do.”

Sometimes, clouds blindfold a docile blue sky from behind with dirty wool.  Not as an entrée for a round of Pin the Tale on the Donkey, but violently.

On rain days, the bedroom window of the neighboring rental never opens.  Blinds buttoned to the lip of a sill not eight feet from my own prevent glimpses of the naked to-ings and fro-ings I catch on occasion, buffer strains of music and conversation.

“Hello?  Hello?  Hey! Hey, Tom! Yes! Yes, we just got here . . .”

—an aria, maybe Donizetti—no, no definitely Il trovatore, Azucena’s promise of revenge—

“. . . well, she is GOING to hear about it, because I am PISSED.” 

Absent, even the blue jay—no aubade of screams and hawk mimicry from his post on the chain link fence dividing the canal of pebbles and patchy beach grass between our properties.

No, on rain days, blankness multiplies—Cape Cod Colonials, a study in whites and grays, perhaps a faded red windbreaker scurrying out of sight.  As innocuous as a Hopper painting.

Is that why I accepted the ride?

My bike tire had blown a tube, and besides, it was raining. 

Is that a better excuse?  Or is this what prompts people to tsk while watching the evening news?  “Woman found dead on Cape Cod, last seen loading bicycle into the back of a black pick-up truck on Route Six.”

Except no one would have seen my bicycle being loaded into the back of the black truck, because I’m not the one who made it that far.  I only made half of a mistake.

*          *          *

I’m obsessed with Law & Order.  With the BBC’s Prime Suspect and Wallander.  Dexter and CSI: All Four Hundred Versions.  Yet, I wouldn’t say I actually like crime or violence, despite the categories dominating my Netflix account—Visually Striking Crime Dramas, Thrillers, Dark Suspenseful Psychological Dramas, Violent Movies.  I cover my eyes during fight scenes and suffer from nightmares after watching certain movies too close to bed.  Don’t even talk to me about what watching Twin Peaks, even a full decade after its appearance on network television, is doing to my REM cycle.

And yet, I can’t stop.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to figure out why I am compelled to finish watching an episode or movie or finish a book even when the conventions of the genre pretty much guarantee I can guess what’s going to happen.  Even when I know that ending will not bring me anything but the weakest shadow of mimetic relief—whether it’s because the process of reaching an ending involves a slew of violent murders where women’s bodies figure too prominently and too sexually, or because I distrust the closure offered by handcuffs.

And yet, I crave that ending.

People have told me that in Provincetown, I don’t need to lock my door.  But I do, after my husband warns me about a string of break-ins happening in the Lake George area.  Apparently his mother had told him a woman was alone in her home when one of the break-ins occurred.

If I need to explain the logic at work here—why I would be afraid to leave my door unlocked in Provincetown when a woman in a different town (state, even!) was the victim of a burglary in her own home—well, I would be happy to know I am in the minority. However, I suspect many people—especially women—understand this fear.  Understand what makes a woman tell her son, who tells his wife: “Make sure you lock the doors.”

I’m thinking even more heavily on this subject after hearing Mary Gaitskill read her short story, “The Other Place,” here at the Mailer Colony.  I was struck not only by the story, but also by her explanation of its inspiration.  How her fear of staying alone in a house on a college campus, aware of her vulnerability, led to a story about a father and his son who both deal with potentially psychopathic tendencies.  Though not a piece of genre fiction, Gaitskill’s story plays with the conventions of the psychological thriller/crime drama.  By turning the proverbial lens toward the question of the cultural production of violent sexual predators, she interrogates her fear while disrupting a genre reader’s expectations with a twist at the end that can be described both as chilling and hopeful.

Yet the story could hardly be called comforting, reiterating as it does the sheer mundanity of our cultural narratives of sexual violence against women.

A man who claims he is writing a book about “men and women” accosts a friend at the Provincetown Library.  Would she like to get a drink later?  She says no, refuses to return to the library to work.  We decided to label this a smart decision based on unfortunate circumstances.  The town is small and it’s hard to know whether the guy is a local or on vacation.  We decide it’s not worth the risk, though she has not seen him again.

A few nights later, a group discusses the murder of a young woman in NYC a few years ago over dinner.  A tragedy, of course, though a few of us wonder whether she could have prevented her own death by deciding not to go out drinking alone.  I sit with the suggestion of the limits of our ability to feel compassion when it means challenging our notions of our own security.  I sit with the worldly “realities” that fence a woman’s existence.

Later, we list all the risks we took that we would never take again, knowing what we supposedly know now.  Sleeping on a beach.  Accepting an invitation to a stranger’s home.  Walking home alone late at night.  We grudgingly acknowledge that any of us could have been a murder victim.

*          *          *

Half a mistake.  Trudging up a steep hill against traffic, I squint in the distance for headlights.  Parked cars sit silently on both sides of Provincetown’s busiest street.  City logic—numbers mean safety.

In the corner of my left eye, something dark flies out suddenly.  A dull clang.  Hello, pavement.

My bike’s good tire is wedged under my right calf.  How did that happen?  I think of skid-marks, traffic.  Reach to pull the bike out of the way, realize I’ve lost perspective—no idea how far I’ve fallen, where exactly I lay.  A childhood fear wells up within—Come on, let’s play the game.  A neighborhood version of Chicken.  Don’t get up until you see the car tires coming.  Sweat pricks hot under my soaked jacket.  If the other person can’t see you, it’s not really Chicken.

Get up.  Get up.  No one can see you lying in the street.

Two hands reach down.

“Hey . . . hey . . .”

I’m not alone.  Someone will see me.  Everything’s going to be—tires’ soft screech—another voice, sneakers squishing in the rain—okay.

Half a mistake.  Not paying attention.  Standing, I’m a little woozy, but everything appears to be working.

“Had the wind knocked out of you, poor thing!” 

“I’m so sorry, miss, I didn’t see you walking by.”

“It’s okay . . . I’m okay.”  Embarrassed, I try to laugh it off while the middle-aged woman who pulled over rights my bike.  The man standing next to the black truck has the hood of his jacket pulled over his head.  His hands are in his pockets. His shoulders slump forward protectively.  Doored while walking.  I’m too surprised to summon any anger.  Later I’ll be angry.  For now I’m just breathing.  It rains harder.

An awkward silence, then the woman offers me a ride.  I accept gratefully as the man slides into the cab of his truck.  Lock my bike to a tree.  Slide into the dry car seat.  Watch his taillights get smaller in the side-view mirror.

Two days later, I hear on the news that a young woman is missing.  The news anchor is my age, maybe a few years younger, though her hair looks like a confection out of the 1960s—shiny chestnut, sprayed into shape.  It looks as though it might lift off in one piece.  She mentions the young woman was last seen loading her bike into the back of a black truck. Tells me if I have any information I should call the police.  Blinks.  Reads the next story.

Mandy Malloy, an Army brat who calls Florida her native home, is a writer and graphic designer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of Hunter College’s MFA Poetry program, her poems have appeared most recently in The Portland Review and Hot Metal Bridge. Visit her blog here.

Mandy is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow.  She is using the month of residency to work on her first collection of poems and to explore her fascination with the intersection of crime fiction and feminism.

GOOD TIMES BAD TIMES

Saturday, July 2nd, I spent the night in Providence, RI.
The next day, I drove the last hours up the Cape’s curl,
Mind burning with the Waterfires I’d seen lit
In braziers where College Hill sloped to the river.
At the Mailer Home I received my key, was oriented
And escorted, with smiles, to my home for the next month.
My roommate and I found common ground in favorite writers
And fell quickly to the task of lolling about the different rooms
Of the generous, pastel Rubix Cube we’d been appointed,
Filling it with our scent: marking it our own.

An Opening Reception at the Mailer Center,
A savage blitz on the Stop And Shop, drinks,
More drinks, and innumerable pool matches—
In near dark—beneath Governor Bradford’s Tavern,
The floorboards above our heads sagging
Under the weight of drag-karaoke.
I slept, woke, drank, woke,
Sun through the skylight casting a rainbow
Off me in the shower. I climbed
The hills behind our condo, collecting scratches
In those same woods an earlier generation
Ascended to find love and pick fights
In the dark, after the bars had closed.
Where I thought I’d see the Atlantic, and clear my head,
I saw only more hills, rank upon rank.

God help you when you wake up after days like that:
When nothing you’ve written was worth waking up for,
And your body treats with you suspicion.
When the high school’s been shipped to Eastham,
The fisheries and saltworks shrinking to a footnote,
The Portuguese packing up their language and slipping away,
The bartender at Old Colony seems overly familiar,
And your feet hurt where you took your shoes off
To dance the fool,
Just pray you’ve enough hope and character
Saved away to redeem and outlast the stale day
When flat light on Commercial reveals it a studio backlot
—empty of all who hazard to love you.

Scott Dahlie holds an MFA from the New School where he was prose editor for LIT Magazine.  He was recently awarded the Hauser Prize for prose and is featured in Chautauqua Literary Journal.  He is thirty years old and will be moving to London after the summer.

Scott is also a Mailer Fiction Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work on his first novel.

WRITING SHOULDN’T BE A TORTURE

That’s Norman Mailer’s writing desk y’all—and more about where I was going with that in a minute. When the Guardian asked writers to provide “rules for writing,” several of them had bracing advice. For instance, Anne Enright: “The first twelve years are the worst.” But the rule for writing that seared itself into my brain was the following one from Jonathan Franzen: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” Which raises the immediate question: why am I doing this instead of writing my novel? Why am I writing a blog entry when I should be working in the quiet privacy of my page-in-progress? Franzen is of course famous for practicing a form of sensory deprivation so extreme that it was later imitated by CIA interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Indeed, so acute was his regimen that the writer’s permanent contribution to the English language has been the use of the phrase “to pull a Franzen,” as in stripping your equipment of anything extraneous, wearing earmuffs and, if possible, a blindfold, etc. But I’m really, really opposed to torture anywhere. So, I’m inclined to exchange the image of the dull study above with the view, below, available from Mailer’s bar. The two spaces are divided by two flights of stairs, but the latter opens to an incredible vista. No more the naked and the dead, no sir. If you were to sit at the bar, inspiration would come in unending waves. New ideas lapping against the edge of your imagination, a stray thought rising to kiss your page. Or so I think. I intend to find out for myself as soon as I have finished this blog, unplugged myself from the internet, and sat down at the bar with an empty page. Nothing between me and the blue ocean except for a short stretch of sand and a pleasant drink.

Amitava Kumar can be found rather easily on the internet: enjoy his blog and follow him on twitter @amitavakumar. He has written about real torture in his last book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm A Tiny Bomb.

Amitava has also written widely in nonfiction, fiction, and academic work. As a Mailer Fiction Fellow, he is using the month of residency to work on a second novel.