Our new issue is by Carrie Brown, best known for her novels The Rope Walk, Lamb in Love, The Hatbox Baby and Rose’s Garden. Here she returns to short stories, which she last approached in her collection The House on Belle Isle. It makes sense that Carrie is primarily a novelist, because in “A Splendid Life,”she produces a story that has the scope and feel of a much longer work. I was only a few sentences in when I completely relaxed into the narrative voice and was compelled by the setting. When Peter faces his retirement from The Balm of Gilead, a home for the mentally disabled, he returns to his childhood lakeside home. It is not long before he is forced to face the memory of Mary Danger, a misfit girl whose attachment harassed him as a boy. The past and the present intertwine as Peter reminisces about their brief connection, and faces the waning years of his own life. Throughout the story is a larger theme of space and time, and how both shrink with age. This seems encapsulated by G.K. Chesterton quote: ” All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.” Carrie Brown has created her own frame with this short story; between the pages an expanse of character and place has opened, and its view is endless.
(This post is lovingly subtitled:
Ideas I think are brilliant on 2 hours of sleep. Don’t mess with Hannah Tinti during a DANCE-OFF. You can’t order a meal in Chicago that doesn’t come with curly fries, I’m moving to Chicago. I don’t believe anyone knows the difference between a short short and a prose poem so maybe there isn’t one. It is impossible to find cigarettes in Chicago, I’m canceling my move to Chicago.)
Chicago’s Hilton hosted the 500th annual AWP Conference (that number may not be right) on Valentine’s Day weekend. The Hilton was pumped with stale, dry air, no clocks and $15 coffees, so we New Yorkers felt oddly at home. AWP (Associated Writing Programs) is a three-day event held every year at a different locale for Masters programs, editors, writers, literary magazines, publishing houses, former male models and basically anyone who knows how to properly punctuate a parenthetical expression. (Like me.) This year’s AWP was heavy on the DANCE, which culminated in a hilarious DANCE-OFF I will explain in bone-chilling detail later in this post.
One Story decided to sell mad-lib Valentines for $1 that would be delivered in one of our issues by One Story “cupids” to any table at the Conference. Which meant before my drive to Chicago I was in Halloween Adventure asking bored sales clerks which wings looked more “Cupid-y.”
(Tanya Rey & Karen Friedman get ready to deliver One Story valentines)
Those of you who diligently use my recaps to line your parakeet cages remember my recap from last year, in which I discussed etiquette on approaching a literary magazine’s table soley to acquire a handful of chocolate. This year’s conference also contained a revelation. In the Hilton’s elevator at 4am, I decided the best way to answer the question “what do you write about?” was to perform a spirited Traveling Roger Rabbit. Crossing the floor and returning, finishing with a split and the pronouncement: ”THAT’S what I write about.” If you can’t do the Traveling Roger Rabbit (a hybrid of the popular dance move that allows you to move across the floor using your legs as “pumps”: see video), I decided the Regular Roger Rabbit would also be fine. Not only is it inventive, it also proves to the person who asked that the rhythm will, eventually, get you.
We Cupids spent most of the three-day conference consulting maps of the tables, informing people to mind the goddamned wings, and generally delivering sunshine. Our Valentines were printed as such: Dear (blank), (blank) thinks you’re (blank). Valentine buyers were able to fill in the blanks with special messages to their honeys. As we could have anticipated at a conference of writers, those blanks were sometimes filled with things that were hilarious and wrong. This created strange situations for We Cupids. For example, I spent five minutes at a lit mag’s table asking to speak to Chow-dog. Does Chow-dog work here? Because he thinks Honeypot is SMOKIN’.
Which brings me to my biggest disappointment of AWP: No one, while I was walking by in my wings, said what I thought would be the worst/best line ever: Heaven must be missing an angel. We did however get: Why are you people wearing wings? And, what are you weirdos doing?
One Story had a party on Friday night with the hearts at Open City, BOMB and Post Road. All were welcome and all came. There was little to no breathing room. Paul W. Morris from BOMB took these lovely pictures. We took turns wearing the wings, and at the end of the night, we looked like this. Then, we dragged our sorry selves to the AWP dance party, held every night in The Hilton. My friend Anne told me AWP dance parties in the past have not been well attended, but Chicago’s were, probably due to the fact that they opted not to charge for alcohol. Holding our glasses of wine, we air drummed, we running-manned, we played our legs like guitars. Some of us performed the Traveling Roger Rabbit, even though no one had asked what we wrote about.
(AWP Dance Party at the Hilton)
Now, about that DANCE-OFF.
Five minutes before the close of the last day of AWP, when a robotic voice repeatedly informed vendors that AWP was closing and that 5pm wasn’t a suggestion, the amiable gentlemen and lady of Barrelhouse came over to our table and challenged us to a DANCE-OFF at that night’s AWP dance party. They told us to bring Kleenex because they were going to wipe the floor with us. They cartwheeled and did karate moves to show us how serious they were. They said after they were done making us dead meat we were going to have to change the name of our magazine because we would have way more than one story. We asked: shouldn’t they be the ones to bring Kleenex? It didn’t seem right we would have to provide what would be used to wipe us up. They said the Kleenex could also be used to dry up our tears which didn’t answer our question and we all got confused and backed away. After we left, their editor placed his heel on the edge of their table, flipped it over with one kick and said: Barrelhouse OUT!
Sure enough that night at the dance party, the Barrelhouse gents and lady approached us on the dance floor cheetah-like, pumping their shoulders, making gestures with their hands that signalled they were hot stuff and we were dead meat. We pumped our shoulders, we made similar gestures. One of us was wearing the Cupid wings. Then, the main players advanced; on their side Aaron Pease and on our side editor Hannah Tinti. There were some spirited back and forths, pelvic chops, reiterations on who ruled and who consequently drooled, then in an explosion of awesomeness, Hannah fireworked onto the ground to do a backward flip, yelling how they didn’t want any of this but were going to get it anyway, how she had tried to hold back but now it was ON. Arms pumping, epithets streaming, Hannah Tinti brought it home for One Story.
What Barrelhouse and, admittedly, some One Story staffers didn’t know was before she wrote her award-winning stories, the illustrious Hannah Tinti worked as a DJ’s assistant. Her job was to get people dancing at clubs. So, she was kind of a ringer. And because of her outstanding moves, we do not have to change the name of our magazine. But, maybe Barrelhouse should change its name. To Barrel of People who lose dance contests.
Or, House of People Who Talk About Other People Not Being As Good As Them But When It Comes Down To It Can’t Do Back Hand Springs Or Like, Dance Well.
Or, House of Barrels who…I’m tired.
Driving home from AWP, my friends and I reminisced about great moments from AWP panels. At the panel on short shorts with Deb Olin Unferth, Ron Carlson and Robert Olen Butler, I was blown away by the variety of each writer’s take on the form. Selected Short’s performance on Saturday night, though woefully underattended, contained an outstanding reading of “Cathedral” by SS’s veteran B.D. Wong. My friend Dave went to a famous writer’s reading attended solely by people who had apparently been told no matter what said famous writer pretends to be interested in, ask nothing but questions about cover letters. In case any of these people still don’t know what should be included in a cover letter, here is the short list: publications, felonies, whether you thought the series finale of Will and Grace was a cop-out, and favorite Monkee. Tip: Poetry editors are crackers for Davy Jones.
Before I sign off, allow me to share with you an uncomfortable situation I Cupid encountered whilst delivering happiness to the Southwest Room of AWP. I found myself in conversation with a venerable editor of a magazine that is older than most Ivy League schools. He was wearing a suit. I was wearing Victoria Secret wings, fake heart tattoos and a softball t-shirt emblazoned with my last name in a shade of pink that could kill cattle. If the cattle had extremely fragile nerves and, like, DESPISED pink. I realized the events of my life had added up to me talking to the editor of the magazine I kissed goodnight in my little girl bedroom while dressed as Cupid, annoyed passerby hitting my wings and turning me ever so slightly around with every hit. But, he was a kind, patient man. He asked me how I liked working for One Story and who my favorite Monkee was. Then he smiled and said: What do you write about?
(Marie prepares to fly)
I sighed. Adjusted my wings.
And performed a flawless Roger Rabbit, Travel-Style.
See you next year, in Denver. One Story OUT!
One Story will be posting its own recap complete with photos (god) of, among other things (help), our dance-off with the hilarious folks from BarrelHouse (us), a dance-off that was won handily and single handily we hear by Miss Hannah Tinti. We’ll let the pictures decide. Until our livers heal, check out this posting from TheRumpus.net.