Category Archives: PCFH

So It Begins

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

At a coffee shop not far from my house, to the right of the cash register, a small clipping from, I believe, The New York Post has been taped to the back of the espresso machine. It’s not an original article, but rather a wire service feed from Reuters; the headline reads: “KILLER CHIMPS ATTACK TOURISTS.” Someone—the coffee shop employee who must have originally cut out and taped up the article, perhaps, or a coffee shop customer?—has scrawled on the clipping with what appears to have been a ballpoint pen, to the left of the headline, the following words—which, like the headline, are all in capital letters:

SO
IT
BEGINS

On the bottom edge of the clipping, also in all caps, and in what appears to be a different hand, someone has also written these words, all forced together as if it might be a domain name rather than the title of a film:

BATTLEFORTHEPLANETOFTHEAPES

Further complicating the understanding of this marginalia, this palimpsest, is the matter of punctuation. To the left of the letter “B” there are symbols that look like two exclamation marks, bending to the right in the wind, with two additional symmetrical vertical lines shooting down from the double periods, a mirror of the lines above them, twin masts reflected in a lake; to the right of the letter “S” are similar figures, except these look like two bars leaning to the left off the tops of two right-angled exclamation marks, or like two bangs, twice the usual length, that have been cleanly shot by an invisible bullet right through their middles. Perhaps these glyphs are meant to indicate exploding French quotation marks? Maybe they’re intended to be a fusion of Spanish and English and French, indicating exclamation, quotation, and bracketing all at once? I don’t know the answer to this, nor can I fully explain why the former graffito is so funny, but the latter is so completely not, other than to wonder if perhaps it is a matter of becoming something, rather than just pointing at something, which seems to be a more interesting variation of the old writing-workshop saw to show and not tell, a useless piece of advice if ever there was one; and it also might have to do with voice, perhaps specifically the commonplace of the ominous Lord of the Rings or Star Wars voice, intersecting culturally here with another Hollywood cliché, the random smattering of strange and foreboding isolated incidents seen occurring all over the world that always opens those wonderful movies about the apolcalypse; but even more than these, maybe that great little three-word tag wins because of punctuation, or lack thereof, because it could have so easily been followed by an ellipsis—such an abused mark!—one that ought to be reserved for a trailing off, a “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther” trailing off, or an actual elision, but all too often seems to be an incompetent conveyor of sense, of seriousness, or an inadequate stand-in for a full stop?

The Art(lessness) of Fiction

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

A number of years ago, I read a novel in manuscript form, one that had begun life as a screenplay. The novel had been written by a sibling of a celebrity, and it was, I believe, the worst thing I have ever read. The writing was abysmal at every level, from spelling to sentence construction, theme to stage directions, subject-verb agreement to plot—which, with names and details changed, went something like this:

The story opens with two men driving around the desert, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. The weather is lousy. The desert appears to be rather near New York City. One of the men, called Pigeon, is rather feminine; his companion, Hambone, is masculine. Pigeon and Hambone drive and drive and drive. While they are driving, they talk, for the most part—with occasional digressions regarding vegetarianism, hermaphroditism, and the apocalypse—about how they hate women, as women are all either lesbians or deceitful, if not both; the men also discuss how much they would like to have sex with numerous women, both simultaneously and also cumulatively. This dialogue is interspersed with flashbacks to episodes from their shared past of colorful, complex sexual escapades and drug use. After a while, Pigeon and Hambone find what appears, at first, to be an abandoned farm; they are then surprised to discover that the farm is actually inhabited by an ancient prophet, who tells them, angrily, that Hambone is the Antichrist. He begins to chase them. Pigeon and Hambone drive away from the prophet in haste. A rabid bunny appears in the front seat of their car; the bunny bites Hambone, who blacks out.

Hambone wakes up two years later. All women on the planet are dead, due to a viral infection that only affected women. Most men have turned gay. The world has become, as far as Hambone can determine, a nightmarish, dystopic gay sex paradise, a world full of sadness, pornography, and explosions. Many of the remaining straight men—those who, under these conditions, did not turn gay, or undergo sex changes, and subsequently become transsexual prostitutes—commit suicide. The preserved bodies of dead women are whored out by morgues.

Hambone encounters two gay men, Shakespeare and Listerine, who have hybridized Christianity and Islam into a new strain of millenarianism. The nihilistic practice of their amalgamated faith involves blowing things up. Hambone joins them in their quest; together, they blow up a number of important landmarks. During a shootout with the authorities, Listerine is killed; Hambone finds tickets to Argentina in the dead man’s shirt pocket. Hambone, alone, flies to Buenos Aires.

Later that same day, Hambone takes a bus tour of the pampas for fun. At a rest area, he leaves the bus and wanders out into the plains by himself for a while. Jetpack-clad policemen appear, hovering on the horizon; Hambone runs; the flying cops give chase. A sculptor named Rocky appears, pulling Hambone into a secret cave in the ground, saving him. Hambone and Rocky drive to New York on Rocky’s motorcycle; there they cross paths with Pigeon, who has become a transsexual prostitute. Feeling ashamed, Pigeon commits suicide. Hambone and Rocky return to Argentina. Hambone confesses to Rocky that he loves him, even though he, Hambone, is straight. The two men fight each other with spears for some time; Rocky, after both men are exhausted from their spear fight, reveals a number of things to Hambone: that he is actually a she, the last woman alive on Earth; that she loves him; and that she is the second coming of the Christ.

Off in the distance, Hambone and Rocky can hear the sound of approaching jetpacks.

(The novel, to the best of my knowledge, has never been published.)

Instructions for Reading Your Work in Public

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

First, schedule your reading somewhere, anywhere, that is extremely not easy to find. An alley behind a derelict girdle factory. A fallow field along a disused state highway. A hidden alcove on one of the upper floors of the condemned records building of an abandoned steel town. This is the critical first step to making sure you will have an unsuccessful reading. Next, remember to never tell anyone about the event, especially not your relatives or closest friends. If a mention of your upcoming reading accidentally slips out, deny what you have just said. If denial fails, plead drunken confusion. If you are clearly sober, sabotage the friendship. If your friends turn out to be social masochists and your bridge-burning attempts only increase their desire to hear you read, change the venue, making sure to move it by a distance of at least ten miles; also change the time of day by at least six hours, the date by at least three months. If you become worried that you might slip again, consider keeping the details of your reading a secret even from yourself.

No matter where you end up having your reading, make sure it is nowhere near a bookstore. Ideally, your reading should likewise be in a dry county, in a state that has no truck with literary culture. Sobriety and willful ignorance will be vital to the failure of your event. Next, get a job you hate, one where you are worked to the bone, drained dry at the end of every shift, with no energy remaining for creative endeavors. Make sure that the job has glimmerings of practicality, but only faintly so; your parents should be somewhat relieved, but still concerned. “The beef rendering industry isn’t going away anytime soon, that’s for sure,” they should say, smiling nervously, “but do assistant sluice managers have any room for advancement?” Whatever your vocation, make sure you have no time left over for writing: take extra shifts; bring work home with you; sign up for a correspondence course. If you have not done so already, develop a taste for alcohol. Let your love grow, but not like a well-tended flower, more like an ignored and sturdy vine, weedy and ferocious in its impulses, the tendrils of your habit entwining with the ramshackle chicken wire of your self-loathing. Lose money. Forget your passions. Forget, if you can, that you ever even wrote a word. Go to seed. Become pasty, disheveled, untucked. Be prone to haphazard spasms of knowing, disgusted laughter. Eat the leftovers of others from the break room refrigerator. Steal medicines you have no use for from the pharmacy. Begin a collection of old newspapers; keep them fastidiously folded in paper bags, hidden inside the Murphy bed in the basement apartment you call home.

When it comes time for your reading, let it take you completely by surprise. Frantically dig the manuscript of the first chapter of the novel you began as a sophomore out of storage. As you bang up the stairs and out through the screen door and across the crumbling pavement and eager dandelions, skim your pages, your eyes crusting over with nostalgia. Such early promise! Head out to your reading—in the far corner of the empty mimeograph repair shop, at the bottom of the dry quarry, under the neglected wharf—both horribly late and deeply satisfied at your own fragmentary genius. Drive into the early evening sun remembering that time you got into an argument with your ex—back in college, when you were still going out—about all the unpublished work Hemingway’s first wife lost in that Paris train station. Wasn’t it a damn shame? Wasn’t it a great loss to literature? “Oh, no,” you replied, smiling wistfully, “Don’t you see the beauty of it? That no words can ever be as good as those which can’t ever be read?”

The Future of the Book of the Future

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

The first to go will be the editors, although this won’t happen immediately; the end will be a slow decay, not unlike the legend of the frog ignorant of its own boiling. Editors will, with all the best intentions, stop making it to the ends of manuscripts; then they’ll drop the skimming of sample first chapters; and then, finally, realizing that it is not only possible, but preferable, to conduct their business without the distraction of print at all, the editors will no longer even bother with pitch letters. The only employees remaining at the publishing houses who actually consider the words contained inside the objects those houses produce will be the typesetters, who will no longer be native speakers, necessarily, but rather the cheapest purveyors of this service, depending on the strength of the dollar and other sundry global market forces: one day the typesetters of diet books in English may be Bangladeshi, vice versa the next; Argentinians will typeset Danish poetry; Ethiopians, Mexican political tracts; and so on. Once the agents realize that the editors are no longer reading, they shall follow suit, and instead will only pitch the works of their most attractive clients with the sexiest-sounding ideas. Hard on the heels of the agents will be the writers, who never much liked the grunt work of stringing sentences together anyway, greatly preferring to lounge around fashionable saloons, or their own living rooms, complaining to friends and strangers and colleagues and pets alike about the monumental and laborious difficulties of their chosen trade. Writers shall, instead, simply cobble together documents as random collages of appropriated texts, cribbed willy-nilly from their own correspondence, the stories they wrote in graduate school, the essays they wrote in college, various novels of yesteryear that may or may not have entered the public domain, maps, weather reports, stock tickers, and the Bible. Soon the only professionals remaining in the publishing world who still read books—actual, physical books; books from beginning to middle to end—will be the critics. They will rant and rail, vent and brickbat, sputter and spleen at these paper gallimaufries, but the newspaper and magazine owners of the world will discover, through scientific polls, that not a soul cares for the book reviews anymore, preferring, instead, to spend their valuable time ingesting interesting new facts, such as how fighting crime can aid the shedding of pounds, how renouncing freedom can lead to a pointier chin, a more savage nose. The critics will throw up their hands in submission and willingly dance on the grave of literature, but no one will notice, because their employers will have long since moved on to more promising schemes, like investment real estate and amateur pornography. The interesting facts still printed in the newspapers and magazines will blur around the edges, fray at the seams, then finally explode in a colorful, lusty, mouthwatering display of mixed metaphors. Without fiction still extant as its natural counterpoint, the word “fact” will come to mean “something extremely delicious that maybe you can buy right now with money.” The word “truth,” lacking novels to tell deeper versions of it, will evolve until it means “attentive ladies offering extraordinary special massages for discerning gentlemen.” Dictionaries—the books still referred to as “dictionaries”—will entirely consist of advertisements for call girls; grammar will slink off to the dusty cemetery where propriety, etiquette, socially progressive taxation, high-fiber diets, spelling, and whalebone foundation garments lie waiting for its arrival; and the streets and alleys of the cities of the world will be full of joyous humanity and all the naked alphabets and ideographic systems of all the human languages, rutting continuously and without shame, letters and fluids and ink strokes and dead skin shedding into the gutter like so much unnecessary baggage, like the struggle to find the right word, leaving only, in its place, a magnificent collage.

(See also: “End of the World of the End,” Cronopios and Famas, Julio Cortázar.)

Are the Stories Still Very Short Sometimes Where You Are?

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

“It’s like,” he said, tapping the end of his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray, “it feels like there was this whole world, see? I mean, what I mean is, a whole world of stories. Geez, I don’t know if I’m making any sense.” He stubbed out his cigarette, got up from the couch, and walked to the kitchen. “You want another beer, honey?” he asked. She nodded at him from the couch. “Okay. Okay, I’ll get us both a couple beers,” he said. “I’d like a beer,” she said. He got the beers from the refrigerator and walked back to the couch. “What do you mean when you say it’s like it was a whole world?” she asked, grinning at him. “You’re not going cuckoo on me, are you?” He pulled the tabs off both beers and dropped them in the ashtray with the dead cigarettes. “Hey, I’m no loon,” he said, gently punching her in the chin as he handed her one of the beers. “It’s just, it’s like all these old stories, see, it’s like they were supposed to be these mirrors, but it’s more like they were windows, you know?” He sipped his beer. “Windows on this world where all these gents and dames talked alike and all, all natural-sounding and such, all in this crazy mixed-up world that wasn’t real, even though it was supposed to be real. You know, a world where it’s like all they do is smoke and drink and the dames are made of cardboard! And nothing ever happens! Ah, nuts,” he said. “See what happens when I try to go and make sense? I get all, what’s that word, I get all cockeyed.” He took two cigarettes from the pack in his pocket, lit them both, and handed her one. “Screwy, is all it is,” he said. They both took drags on their newly lit cigarettes at the same time. She turned in her seat and slid down, resting her head in his lap. She balanced her beer on her belly. “What’s wrong with smoking and drinking all the time?” she asked. “That’s like, well, I mean, that sounds pretty swell to me.” He stroked her hair with his cigarette hand. Her hair caught fire. “Geez,” he said. “Honey,” she said. The flame quickly spread to the couch, the area rug, to her body and to his. They both tried to put it out with their beers, but the beer did not extinguish it, but rather fed the fire. “What the,” he said. He held up his burning arm. “How come,” he said, inspecting it. “How come it doesn’t hurt?” She sat up. “I’ve never been on fire before,” she said. “It’s kind of, it’s kind of nice, I think. Don’t you think?” They looked at each other. They looked at the room, now completely engulfed in flame. “Well now, I don’t know what I think,” he said. “I mean. Not exactly, is what I mean.”

The Neuroscience of the Dead

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

There’s an advertisement in the back of the current issue of Poets & Writers (on page 97, to be precise) for a new book called Against Workshopping Manuscripts. The ad is, to be generous, homemade-looking. The copy, in part, reads as follows: “Shall we admit that workshopping stymies the imagination? —Resulting in leathery thought and actual harm.”

The passive-aggressive quality of the first question makes me want to hurl the magazine across the room (Shall we admit that your copy jumps to conclusions about our opinions on the matter, and has the gall to presume that we are simply hiding them from the world, cowering in fear of conventional wisdom?); that odd and amateurish em dash makes me feel—how shall I put this?—more charitable, say; but the marvelously appealing image of thought being leathery (I want my thinking to be tough and waterproof, like tanned animal flesh!), and the idea that writing—poor, neglected writing!—could ever actually cause harm, in this bright and glaring universe of amphibious space tanks and night-vision sonar guns and street-legal off-road military transport vehicles and the kids, the kids, they’re killing each other every day with their poisoned school uniforms and samizdat mobile phones—and yet, looking at the website of this two-lady publishing operation, and seeing that this book (with its strangely generic ocean waves on the cover!) purports to challenge the hegemony of the workshop with “upper cortical re-entry” and “plucking wounded young people from the herd,” well, I am as charmed as I was when I first heard about the book People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves To Unsuspecting bystanders and what to do about it. Whether their conclusions involve wearing a tinfoil hat or not, I look forward to the neuroscience of us all becoming better writers, and getting this damn dead person off my back.

Searching for a Fax Machine in the Air Conditioner Factory

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

I wanted to find out if a particular phrase a friend made use of the other day had actually originated with a particular artist or not. The following is a loose sampling of the results Google returned to me:

Sometimes I’m reminded of a postcard I saw long ago. It was a sort of Lichtenstein, pop-comic-book style card. There was a woman talking on the phone, and she was saying, “Oh my God, I forgot to have children.” When I was twenty, a friend gave me a T-shirt bearing a comic strip frame of a glamorous woman weeping dramatically, over the caption “I can’t believe I forgot to have children.” You know that illustration with a stylish woman talking on the phone, saying, “Oh my God, I forgot to have children”? There is a funny cartoon of a middle-aged woman, hand to head, exclaiming, “Oops, I forgot to have children.” It was one of those 1950s cartoons of a glamorous brunette, with a speech bubble saying: “I can’t believe I forgot to have children.” It is kind of like the Roy Lichtenstein cartoon-style painting, which is of a woman on a bus, and she says in a balloon over her head: “Oh no, I forgot to have children!” And one day I suddenly realized that T-shirt where the woman says “Oh my God, I forgot to have children” was me. Headlines like “Hey, I forgot to have children!” cause some of our listeners to hyperventilate. Others have seen the cartoon of the woman exclaiming, “Oops, I forgot to have children,” and decided it wasn’t such a joke. The cartoon of a crying woman saying “Oh my God, I forgot to have children” is more applicable than ever. Charlotte: But we’re 38! These are the years. Carrie: Yes, I know, I’ve heard. I’m running out of time. I don’t even have time to eat this cookie. Charlotte: How is it? Carrie: It’s so good I forgot to have children.

And I have realized that the Web is only as reliable as our own memories, only as smart as our own minds, only as good as our own senses of responsibility and codes of ethics; and therefore, I have concluded that we are all doomed to hell.

Same as It Ever Was (Look Where My Hand Was)

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

The blogging revolution is the desktop publishing revolution is the photocopier revolution is the mimeo revolution is the typewriter-and-carbons is letterpress is surely some other democratizing technology of reproduction not lodged in my all-too-short historical memory (is the telephone? is the telegraph? is the Gutenberg?):

I’ve never liked mimeo. Sure, it’s fast and it’s cheap but it doesn’t look like a book. If you can do it yourself, why bother? […] Somebody once described mimeo publication as “punk publishing” and that made it work for me for a while. But not really. […] I like these shiny books: they look commercial, real, they look American. If only the stupid publishers and the brilliant poets could get together. Mimeo skirts all that so the publisher is the poet’s best friend or even the poet and that’s that. Your family won’t believe it’s a book but so what. They also are unable to read your poems. So I have only set my hand once to mimeo publishing but it was an act of revenge in my heart—we did an anthology of poems ourselves in response to another slicker inferior one. Mimeo was effective in this case—fast & cheap. It wasn’t like killing someone, it was like throwing a beer in their face.

—Eileen Myles, in The Poetry Project Newsletter, March 1982; from A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960 – 1980: A Sourcebook of Information, Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips.

Get off the Internet; I’ll Meet You in the Street

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

From “The Wide, Wide World of Chapbooks,” by Tim Kindseth, in American Book Review, March/April 2005 (Volume 26, Issue 3):

Reading Bob Dylan’s new memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), I was struck by Dylan’s obsessive curiosity as a young man, one that did not allow him to stop with the reading of tattered paperback copies of Balzac and Chekhov—and bound books in general—that were easily at his and anyone else’s disposal. Rather, he had an insatiable appetite for arcane knowledge that took him to the far corners of the New York Public Library, where in his early twenties he was scouring newspaper articles written during the Civil War and available on microfiche for song ideas and personal satisfaction. Had he been content with digesting what everybody else was busy poring over, I’m not so sure his songs would have bloomed.

Granted, most of what you’ll find in chapbooks written today probably won’t be as stimulating to the imagination as first-hand accounts of the battle for Lovejoy Station written with slang long-gone. But there’s always a needle in every haystack, and that’s reason enough to try to get your hands on any chapbook you can, whether you find it at some local reading, at some ruined pawn shop on the wrong side of the tracks, or through some focused browsing on the World Wide Web.

For me, though, this picture of the young Mr. Zimmerman exploring ignored arcana makes me want to turn off the World Wide Web altogether. Granted, this haystack we’ve all made is a marvelous thing, like a new layer of brain we’ve all evolved (ah, if only we could adapt at will, consciously evolve, the things I would do with my extra set of hands!), but I need to go do some browsing at that ruined pawnshop, see what bits and scraps have been left behind. Anyone care to join?

(Direct link to PDF of essay, here.)

The Slush Pile and the World

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

I recommend Sven Birkerts’s introductory essay, “Finding Traction,” in the new issue of AGNI, issue #63. He starts with the daily tackling of submissions to the magazine:

When I sit down with a huge stack of envelopes, each one containing some hard-won, deliberated expression, I am not the tabula rasa—the fantasied clean slate—that I perhaps ought to be. No, I am a man of my time, a besieged reader, creating a specific occasion within what is, day in and day out, for me as for most everyone, a near-constant agitation of stimuli, an enfolding environment of aggressively competing signs and meanings. And my attitude, when I remove a clump of print-covered pages from their envelope, is not “Send me more and more new information” but “Reach me, convince me that this news is different, that this is the news I need.”

And he somehow works his way from there, from the speed with which he’s able to make his way through the slush pile each morning, to a consideration of the enormous changes that have taken place in the culture in the past ten years, in which, if I understand him correctly, we have all become robots. Or maybe it’s that we’re all still human, but our flesh and blood has been mold-injected into the invisible husks of robots. No wait, it’s like we all now have little tiny microscopic robots that squat in our frontal lobes, dug in like a first assault, like a world-wide brain tissue Oklahoma land rush. Or maybe it’s just that AGNI refuses to publish stories and poems written by robots, even though robots pretending to be humans are submitting to the journal all the time, but they give themselves away, because robots always use Tyvek envelopes, and their manuscripts are covered in little metal shavings, the residue of their tears.