Saturday, April 30, 2016

Elvis Costello / This much I know / ‘Believing you’re being watched or overheard is no longer a paranoid fantasy’

Elvis Costello
Photograph by Mary McCartney
Elvis Costello: ‘Believing you’re being watched or overheard is no longer a paranoid fantasy’

 ‘Growing up, I heard music a little differently from most people’: Elvis Costello
This much I know
The musician, 61, on social media, being British, and his love of curling

Killian Fox
Saturday 30 April 2016 14.00 BST

I don’t have any horror stories about the Catholic church. The nuns who taught me until I was 11 were very kind. I know plenty of people who had traumatic experiences, and I’d disagree with a lot of positions the church takes, but I’m glad that I went to that kind of school. I don’t think I suffered from it. It taught me to read; I can tie my shoelaces.
Growing up, I heard music a little differently from most people. If your parents are in music, it’s obviously going to affect you. For one thing, it made the boundaries that people erect between different styles of music invisible. My father [a singer and trumpet player] was obliged to play all sorts: it was his job to learn the songs of the day.
My wife [jazz musician Diana Krall] and I travel a lot. Juggling, spinning plates – all of those vaudevillian analogies apply. It’s a very fortunate job that we do, but sometimes it stretches our longing to be all together as a family [the couple have nine-year-old twin sons].
When you’re young and foolish, you tend to pursue the same mischief in every town. But as I got older I made better use of the opportunity to travel. Now, on tour, I see more of the daylight hours. My wife was just on a seven-week tour of Australia and Asia and I took our two sons out to see her. I’d never been to Australia before with nothing to do but just be in Australia.
Believing you’re being watched or overheard is no longer a paranoid fantasy. It’s actually the truth. We’d like to think it’s for our safety, but it isn’t always. There are other reasons why information is being gathered about us, whether by gangsters or by governments.
I try to stay off social media. When Taylor Swift stood up to Apple over royalties last year, I commented on it on Twitter. The next day what I said was quoted in the New York Times. I was shocked. I thought: I’d better not do that anymore. You could get into so much mischief.

I never had big ambitions for my career – things just sort of happened. I started out playing in pubs and clubs. Next thing you know, it was the Hammersmith Palais, where I’d watched my dad play as a little boy. Then I find myself at the Royal Albert Hall. I never imagined any of it.
You can’t right the wrongs you did in the past by living differently today, but you can learn from your mistakes. That would be the clearest thing that having children has taught me. When you’re 23 or 24 you think you’re immortal – and that can make you very selfish.

I love curling. I’m fascinated by it. People trying to propel a heavy stone across ice armed only with sweeping brushes – it’s poetry in motion. I’ve no idea how you win the game, but when it’s on TV I can’t stop watching.
I try to plot a different route through my songbook [on stage] from night to night. It keeps things alive.
I’m not particularly nationalistic. I find the closed-mindedness of xenophobes bewildering as well as upsetting. If asked I’ll say I’m British, because that’s what my passport says, but I’m not sure what I actually feel. I just feel like a human – on a good day.


Jan Jankowski / Lovers

Jo Jankowski

Jo Jankowski / Women

by Jo Jankowski

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Libby Flores / Legs


by Libby Flores

A couple sit on the floor in a short but intensely charged flash fiction instalment

Friday 29 January 2016

hey sat on the linoleum floor, the two of them. His watch was the only thing moving. Through the small window above the sink the rising sun was bleaching the room white. The sound of a garbage truck, a man calling his dog, newspapers hitting doorsteps. Her long, bare legs were out in front of her, knees like turned down saucers. He loved her legs. Something he’d miss. Their backs on the kitchen cabinets, his arm so close to hers. They were tired, but more thirsty. A glass of water would change things, she thought, if he would just get up and get a glass of water.

Libby Flores is a 2008 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Post Road Magazine,The Rattling Wall, CODA Quarterly, and FLASH: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. She is the program manager at PEN Center USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Laura Lampton Scott / What We Were Doing

Jiri Borsky
What We Were Doing 

by Laura Lampton Scott

In the third of a series of short stories, as featured in Tin House magazine’s Flash Fridays, a clifftop walk kindles an illicit attraction

Friday 6 November 2015

hink of what you were doing at his age,” Andrew said. His fourteen-year-old kid skateboarded a respectful distance ahead, up the dark winding path on the Santa Cruz cliffs, that steep drop into the invisible ocean, so that we could smoke a joint without feeling guilty. We’d all gathered for a friend’s wedding. Andrew was my husband’s best friend, and though I’d been married for seven years, I was just getting to know him. We all lived so far apart.

When we were thirteen, my best friend Jackie first did it. Not it it, but gave a blowjob. She and the boy hid under my Esprit comforter, not on my bed, but on the floor. They lay on the carpet. My mom was rarely home.
My husband, sufficiently stoned, had picked up his pace and gotten ahead of us, up near Andrew’s kid.
“He always walks too fast,” I said to Andrew, who was taking a drag off the joint. “Like he’s so excited.”
Andrew laughed.
“He’s like that. You’re right,” he said and looked down at me as if I was a sage, interpreting the great mysteries of his friend.
He passed the joint to me and watched while I dried my lips and filled my lungs. I didn’t smoke much pot, and he did, so I tried to smoke like a pro.
My scope of perception shrank down to Andrew, me, and a sense of my husband ahead. The boy’s skateboard wheels on the paved path. Andrew’s eyes were green. The ocean was blue. Despite the dark, I remembered their colors.
Even at the time, twelve years old seemed too young for sex. Even though our bodies sent us barreling toward it, it was strange.
It took a long time, well into my marriage, for sex to feel as natural to me as it had seemed to be for Jackie. I hadn’t seen her since high school, but I’d looked Jackie up. The internet. She’d married a preacher and had five girls. Still lived in our hometown. I felt that I’d escaped whatever had trapped her, the dutiful mother and wife, but maybe she was doing fine. I was smoking pot atop the cliffs of Santa Cruz, still a kid on vacation flirting with boys.
I left the path and walked to the edge of the cliff, leaning over to look into the dark. The wind off the ocean felt as if it was sloughing off my skin.
Andrew dropped next to me and watched me watch the ocean, as if he was trying to figure me out. Before marriage, I might have huddled in close to him, let my hip brush his, laughed loudly at his jokes, ended up under a blanket on someone’s floor with my mouth around his dick, excited and terrified by what I could do.
“Come back,” Andrew said. “Away from the edge.” He gave directives, a thing my husband never did. He scooped his long arm around my waist and pulled me into him, back to the path, where his arm dropped away.
My husband and Andrew’s son were waiting. Andrew’s son was telling stories to my husband as if he were a friend.
“I hate it when they’re too young. I was dating this girl once. She texted me, ‘Babe, you know I’m only 12, right?’”
We adults fell into giggles and snorts. Andrew with those eyes, as if he and I had another, separate joke.
My husband came and leaned into me, looking down at me, smiling, thinking of our future children, watching them become themselves. His eyes were blue. I reached to squeeze his elbow, to reassure myself of him.
“Quit laughing at me,” Andrew’s son said. He pulled himself into a ball, sitting on his skateboard.
“You have to understand how it sounds,” I said, but stopped myself from attempting to explain. He felt as Jackie had, as Jackie probably still did: prepared, like a grownup.
We found out the next day that Andrew was getting a divorce. It was the day of our friend’s wedding, a new marriage not yet spoiled by years, high up in the hills. As I put on a dress and heels, I considered Andrew and me. Sometime after dark, we could find a place, drive a car up the road from the wedding or walk into the surrounding forest. I told myself that I imagined these things to keep them from happening. At the wedding, when we crossed paths, Andrew would look away. I would turn my back.
The night was lit by strings of lights. Andrew’s son snuck too many drinks, got too drunk, and told me he thought I was smart. The older couple hosting the event, family friends of the bride, made out in various conspicuous places. I got too stoned. The groom crawled into the hot tub with a bunch of naked women, one of whom was his wife. I burrowed my face into my husband’s shoulder, as if to fight the chill blowing up off the Pacific. With my eyes closed, the glow of the tiny lights bloomed behind my eyelids, and I was on the edge of a cliff, white tips of the ocean waves moving through the dark below.
  • Laura Lampton Scott‘s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Okey-Panky, No Tokens, and Monkeybicycle. She’s a MacDowell Colony fellow and is working on a novel. She will be teaching a Writing Flash Fiction workshop as part of this year’sWordstock programming. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

The 100 best nonfiction books / No 13 / The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)

The 100 best nonfiction books: No 13 – The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)

The Australian feminist’s famous polemic remains a masterpiece of passionate free expression 

Robert McCrum
Mon 25 Apr 2016

ome of the outstanding books in this series will be polemical and rhetorical as much as revolutionary. In the literature of gender identity, The Female Eunuch is already a classic, a bestselling masterpiece of passionate free expression by a writer steeped in the English literary tradition. Australia’s Germaine Greer, the woman who has described herself as “an anarchist, basically”, was captured in an Observer profile of 2003: “She has been in the business of shaking up a complacent establishment for nearly 40 years now, and was employing the most elemental shock tactic of getting naked in public both long before and long after it ever crossed Madonna’s mind. Indeed, she has never shied away from exposing herself; whether photographically, in counterculture periodicals such as Oz and the unambiguously titled Suck, or in memoirs such as her 1990 book Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. She has repeatedly written about her own experiences of lesbian sex, rape, abortion, infertility, failed marriage (in the 1960s she was married to a construction worker for three weeks) and the menopause, thereby leaving herself open to claims that she shamelessly extrapolates from her own condition to the rest of womankind and calls it a theory. She is the original mother of reinvention.”

 A point to prove: Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

Greer is always her own best material. It’s her voice that sets her work apart, and her inimitable tone – earthy erudition spliced with abrasive advocacy – that gives The Female Eunuch its unique narrative power. When he reviewed The Female Eunuch in the Observer, Kenneth Tynan recognised this. He wrote that Greer “has converted me to women’s lib, as much by her bawdy sense of humour as by the bite of her polemic”.
From first publication, this liberating, sometimes intimidating, book soon became mythologised. As a revolutionary manifesto, there are many things it’s not: principally, it’s not about sexual equality for women of the world, though that may have been a message her readers took away. Greer’s explicit liberation struggle focuses on the self, not the collective. She wants a new society in which women write their own script, set their own agenda, and make their own deep personal choices. The “women” Greer addresses are not the majority of womenkind – she concedes that she does not “know” poor people – but people like herself, university graduates, the comparatively privileged members of the western democracies. The books her work complements are Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, both of which are less accessible, and more earnestly part of the women’s movement in its early days. From that springboard Greer, the self-confessed “anarchist” (elsewhere, a “privileged escapee”), was able to vault over a lot of tedious barricade-building before establishing her own risky and raucous front line in the sex wars of the late 20th century.

Greer herself was under no illusions about her place in the maelstrom of socio-cultural change that exploded around her in the late 1960s. Her work, she declared on the first page of The Female Eunuch, was just “part of the second feminist wave”. This, for some, was about the forging of a classless society and the withering away of the state. Not Greer. Where once, in suffragette days, genteel middle-class ladies had clamoured for reform, the Greer of circa 1970 wanted one thing: freedom. “Freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, and pride that constitute personhood. Freedom to run, shout, to talk loudly and sit with your knees apart.”
In retrospect, perhaps disingenuously, she hoped her book would “quickly date and disappear” as the feminist revolution swept all before it. The movement, of course, did no such thing, and Greer’s bright hopes for “a new breed of women” for whom her analysis of “sex oppression in the developed world in the second half of the 20th century would be utterly irrelevant” still remain unfulfilled. But the temptation now to read The Female Eunuch as outmoded, suffering the fate of all polemical literature, would be to overlook its staying power as an inspiring beacon amid a hurricane of social change.
The incandescent energy that promoted The Female Eunuch’s ecstatic iconoclasm, especially to the new generation of the 1970s, came from a young woman who was just 31 on publication, craving freedom from the suffocations and cruelties of patriarchy, freedom from condescension, casual humiliation and abuse. Greer’s was a manifesto for a showdown with the opposite sex. “Most of the women in the world,” she writes, “are still afraid, still hungry, still mute and loaded by religion with all kinds of fetters, masked, muzzled, mutilated and beaten”. However, the argument she makes about female submission in a patriarchal society is framed in terms of “liberation”, not “equality”. Despite occasional references to the new left, there is a striking absence of class war in The Female Eunuch.

She opens with a section on the body, because it is impossible, she declares, “to argue a case for female liberation if there is no certainty about the degree of inferiority or natural dependence which is unalterably female... We know what we are, but know not what we may be, or what we might have been.”
Juxtaposed with the body is not the mind, as one might expect, but the soul, which is enslaved to the subtle tyranny of all-pervasive male fantasies, anatomised in a passionate sequence entitled “the stereotype”. It’s here that the narrative and many of its more fervent declarations (“I am sick of the Powder Room”) now read like a first draft for its author’s autobiography, and sometimes even like a fragment of literary criticism.
The second half of The Female Eunuch delves first into love (and its paradoxes), and then segues, with the decibels rising, into hate (“women have very little idea of how much men hate them”). Greer’s chapter on abuse is prescient and literary, devolving into a brilliant passage of linguistic analysis leavened with quotations from King Lear, Frank Zappa and Schopenhauer. This, unequivocally, is a book of its time and its place, a book whose subject young Dr Greer would have debated in many Cambridge postgraduate seminars during the 1960s.
The Female Eunuch closes with a call to arms, a passionate but vague appeal for revolution, a rhetorical flourish which must, to any committed 21st century feminist, seem almost comically thin. “The surest guide to the correctness of the path that women must take,” instructs Greer in her closing pages, “is joy in the struggle”. What might that be ? “Revolution,” she declares, “is the festival of the oppressed. For a long time there may be no perceptible reward for women other than their new sense of purpose and integrity. Joy does not mean riotous glee, but it does mean the purposive employment of energy in a self-chosen enterprise.” These words might almost be a definition of Germaine Greer’s subsequent career path.
Social earthquakes of any consequence have their absurdities and confusions. Going over the top is part of every revolutionary’s job description. The radical feminism of the 1970s has worn about as well as the radical socialism that preceded the Thatcher counter-revolution, which is to say: quite badly. Nevertheless women’s lib, combined with the new left, did achieve lasting social and cultural change. The Female Eunuch was one of many catalysts in that ferment, with Germaine Greer its merry, and dazzling provocateur, a mischievous hybrid of lab assistant and sorcerer’s apprentice. Nearly 50 years on, who could not find it in their hearts to salute the queen of such revels?

A signature sentence

“The first significant discovery we shall make as we racket along our female road to freedom is that men are not free, and they will seek to make this an argument why nobody should be free.”

Three to compare



Mai Nardone / My Faher Brought Me to Watch

My father thinking of me (2013)
by Richard Burger

My Father Brought Me to Watch 

by Mai Nardone

In a new instalment of Flash Fridays, Mai Nardone tells the story of a young girl forced to witness her father’s terrible actions

Friday 30 October 2015

First-born, a girl, but anyway his first-born so he brought me to watch when he touched the other woman.
He started his fingers at her lips. And the woman bracing her hips off the car seat, wanting him lower, where she was swollen.
She interrupted herself with clipped breaths. “How—how old are you?”
At home I was old enough to take turns holding my new sister. The baby grasping, leaving spittle. While at the window my mother burned holes through the screen with her cigarette.
But here in the parking lot? In the back seat? I looked down.
Father, hand lower, said, “Old enough to be responsible.”
Between my legs were four sets of noodles in ballooned bags, the broth hot on my thighs. I squeezed and released my knees, timed my breathing with the woman’s.
When she left the car he called me into the front: “First-born, it’s your responsibility to know. She’s pregnant. You’ll have a brother finally.”
“Half-brother,” I said.
“That,” he said, “is why I put you in charge.”
I told him that responsibility is knowing when you’re too drunk to drive. I cranked down the window. “I can wake you in thirty-minutes.”
So he fell asleep with his hand twined through the steering wheel. I turned on the cabin light to look at him. His skin was red. The alcohol seemed to burn from its surface. I took the whisky bottle and dipped my finger into it, ran the hot liquor down the middle of my tongue. I dipped again. By the dashboard clock I counted thirty and gouged the leather seat for every time Father had called her his ‘girl.’
At home I kicked the sisters awake as Father laid out bowls.
“Number one,” he said, hands coming gently down on my shoulders. He touched his daughters only at the round table, assigning seats.
“Number two, what will it be?” My sisters nodding, sleeping still. Father worked the revolving table. “Pork broth? Fish? Three sit here. All the way from Khlong Toey,” he gloated. “I want you to eat while it’s fresh.”
And my noosed mother didn’t ask was why Khlong Toey, why nighttime. She looked at me with drawn eyes and handed over the baby.
“Can you keep a secret?” I whispered. I slipped my whisky finger into her mouth, scratched her tongue with it. The burn reached her cheeks and she began to cry.
“Brother. Boy. First-born,” I said. “First-born boy. Now you know.” And I pushed my finger deep into her throat.
  • Mai Nardone was raised in Bangkok, Thailand, by an American father and a Thai mother. He has received scholarships from the Tin House Writer’s Workshop and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. His recent fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, and Slice. He lives in Bangkok.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Kristen Arnett / How to eat chicken wings

How to eat chicken wings 

by Kristen Arnett

In the first of a series of short stories, as featured in Tin House magazine’s Flash Fridays, Kristen Arnett explores a love-hate relationship chicken wings

Friday 23 October 2015

here’s a map bred in the bones of the bird. Before you ingest the chicken wing, you must know the vertices of its hinge, that place where tendons and gristle connect and shake hands. It’s all very scientific.

Step One: The Origin

Find a likely tray of sacrifices at the church picnic. You’re in the fourth grade and according to your mother, you don’t know how to wear a dress without showing everyone your underwear. Chicken bones collect between your knees as you sit crossed legged on the ground beneath the lawn’s sole tree. Rub the mess from your hands on the smocked pink gingham of your skirt because you don’t believe in napkins. There’s already enough barbeque sauce coating your cheeks and chin to simulate war paint. Let the girls from your Sunday school class hover over you like a swarm of horseflies. Their wings will unfurl to note the red stain at your crotch and the matching stain at your lips. They’ll christen you menstrual bloodsucker; unholy dyke vampire. Optional: when you’re done crying, bury the chicken bones in the anthill you’ve been sitting on. Fashion a cross out of two Popsicle sticks.

Step Two: X and Y Axis

When you go to dinner with your parents on your first weekend home from college, let them know you’ve given up chicken wings. Your father will immediately drive the whole family to an all-you-can-eat barbeque restaurant. Straddle a bench at a long wooden table while sauce is ladled over slabs of pork and beef and crinkle cut fries. Eat a dry baked potato while your father points a wing at your face and says no daughter of mine. Let your mother squeeze your arm and whisper that you’d probably like chicken wings if you gave them half a chance. Wouldn’t your life be easier if you ate chicken wings? Your mother says she doesn’t particularly like them, either, but chicken wings have afforded her a stable lifestyle. How can you have children without chicken wings? Your father will pile some on your plate despite your protests, orange grease mingling with the mayonnaise from your coleslaw. Best-case scenario, your mother will eat the wings while your father’s in the bathroom. Worst-case scenario, you’ll feel guilty enough to keep eating chicken wings for the next three years.

Step Three: Fixed perpendicular lines

A friend of a friend will meet you at this New Year’s party. Overhead the fireworks will pop and spray like champagne and everyone will laugh at your jokes, even though you’ve never been very funny. Next to the buffet stands the only kid at the party; a one-year-old someone’s left to fend for himself. He’ll grip a chicken wing in each hand. When his chubby fist pushes a wing past his lips, he’ll gum around the flesh because he only has a few baby teeth. Pay attention: you’ll be the only one who notices when he chokes. Lie him down on the ground, surrounded by dirty napkins and plastic cups and the dregs of spilled beer. Root in his wet, red mouth with a single digit. The throat is a slippery cavern that chicken wings don’t ever want to leave, so you’ll have to do this more than once. More than twice. On the third try, you’ll shout the name “Christ,” though you haven’t spoken to him in years. Hook your finger and angle it toward the vee of bones, snagging upward and reeling. When the wing pops free, let it lie exposed between your legs. Let it die there in the grass while the boy sucks oxygen and his mother leans over him like a smothering blanket. If you’re lucky, the friend of a friend will help you up and dust the mud off the back of your pants. Sit together on the back deck as the numbers count down to midnight and watch her eat chicken wings. She’ll give you the meatiest parts, closest to the bone. Eat every bite. When you finally kiss, mouths sliding together, covered in barbeque sauce, you’ll fall in love with chicken wings all over again.

Kristen Arnett is a fiction and essay writer who has held fellowships at Tin House, Kenyon Review, and Lambda Literary Foundation. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction and was named an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Ninth Letter, Superstition Review, Blunderbuss Magazine, Joyland, Grist Journal, Pithead Chapel, The Rumpus, The Toast, and elsewhere.