Thursday, August 19, 2010

Think Tank for Human Beings in General - Jordan Castro/Richard Wehrenberg Jr

Can someone please tell me the difference between a "chapbook" and a "zine?"

Jordan Castro sent me this chapbook after I commented on his prize-winning entry into Tao Lin's contest. My entry is here His is here In it, he reviewed my essay and gave it high marks and I thanked him. I think it was the first time anyone ever reviewed anything I wrote on the internet. He sent me a chapbook for explaining that Dakota Fanning was not in The Sixth Sense.

That movie came out in 1999, and I think he was about 7 then, and perhaps its "twist" has been ruined by everyone in the intervening 11 years so now it is no longer quite the "best picture" event that it was then. Plus, M. Night Shyamalan's cultural cache drops with each new film he makes (though everyone seems to think he "may turn it around with this one..."), though I assume that NYU is still proud to have him as one of their more successful recent graduates.

This is the grand finale, the electrifying conclusion if you will. Please note that Bob Pollard broke up GBV on 12/31/04, and now, no more than 5 1/2 years later, they are already doing reunion shows. Flying Houses will be silent for a while, but this is not the end.

In my essay on Tao Lin, I began by stating how I embarrassed myself by a certain comment on his blog made perhaps 4 1/2 years ago about all of the zines I published at NYU while we were both there. I first became aware of zines my freshman year and I put out my first zine my sophomore year. It was entitled "Xenophobia," which was probably not as original as I thought. It was about 16 pages long. There was a poem in it about "almost" getting mugged. There was an essay about meeting 3 celebrities in New York City (Thurston Moore, Carson Daly, and Janeane Garafalo, though I did not technically meet her). I think there was a poem about smoking a cigarette on bleachers in an empty schoolyard near my parent's house during one of my holiday breaks. I don't remember what else was in this zine. I sold these zines for $1.00 out of a milk crate in Washington Square Park and gave out a complimentary kiss to anyone that wanted it. I gave a copy to my creative writing teacher from the summer session of 2002, Paul Gacioch, who was an instructor that I think was about 24 then and obtaining his MFA and trying to get his first novel published. I am going to Google him now and see if he accomplished that. Here is what I found: I left him a copy in his faculty mailbox and I ran into him in Bobst Library and I asked him if he got it and what he thought of it. He said it was "short."

My second zine was a collaborative effort between me and several of my friends entitled "Honey I'm a Prize and You're a Catch and We're a Perfect Match," which is a line from a song by Pavement and in honor of the date it was published, February 14, 2003. I don't remember anything in it (except for a poem called "horse shoe crabs" by my friend Emily, which I think she later published online) but more people read it due to the nature of the contribution process.

My third zine could probably be called a "chapbook." It was entitled "Autointoxication" and it was the best thing I had done up to that point. Arguably it is still the best thing I have done because it was published. I went to a printer in Greenwich Village and asked for 100 copies. I tried to sell them for $1.00 and probably sold about 3 or 4, which is about the total of "Xenophobia." Had I a blog at the time, who knows what might have come.

There were several others but none as important as those first three (except for "Uck Ar" but I played too minor a role in that for consideration). I include this autobiography because, this is a highly symbolic gesture. Jordan and Richard are young, and they probably know what they are doing way better than I did (or do, for that matter) but I am here to warn them about the dangers of literature. But a review first.

I have never reviewed poetry on Flying Houses before, which is another reason I wanted to do this as my last post. I wanted to do something audacious. Each writer contributes 9-10 poems of 1-2 pages in length. Jordan's are slightly more experimental and Richard's are slightly more typical of poems popular over the last 20 years. Both are talented, and while their chapbook may be "short," it deserves commendation.

My favorite poems of Jordan's are "a list of things I am going to do," which I didn't like that much until the last few lines; "weak," which is the first poem I have ever read about the dilemma of autofellatio, thus worthwhile; "haiku" which is certainly topical and formal; and "last poem," which is about achieving inner-peace. Four out of ten is not bad. The other ones have moments but overall seem too "cheeky" or "cute" or "silly" to fully praise.

My favorite poems of Richard's are "excuse me," which is a lament for internet culture, "dumpster dive alone," which I don't really understand but references Scottie Pippen, so I like it; "snow-people easily identify the sun as their enemy," which is pretty original and may be the single best poem in the chapbook; and the so-called title track, "think tanks for human beings in general," which, like most title tracks in music, I usually feel are better than the majority of other songs on the album--but is the best way to end the chapbook.

I like the idea of chapbooks and zines because they are not too time-consuming. They are like regular magazines except they are not filled with useless trash about celebrities and reality stars. They are filled with serious writing by mostly unknown people, reaching out and trying to establish themselves. There is something noble about them. For some reason I do not think self-publishing a novel is as noble as self-publishing a zine.

Do I really have anything else I want to add? When I was 17 I wrote a one-act play for my high school and after my classmates told me how much they liked it (though I was unsure of its quality), I made it my life's mission to write, until every MFA program I applied to rejected me in February of 2007. I did not stop writing after that, obviously, but my confidence was shot. Here is my advice to Jordan and Richard: if you are going to get your MFA eventually, apply to a safety school. I applied to U Chicago's MAPH program, UT-Austin's Michener Center for Writers, Iowa's Writer's Workshop, University of Oregon, Columbia University's esteemed program producing writers like Rick Moody and Wells Tower and James Franco and offering zero aid in general and a $50,000 price tag (and you thought law school was expensive, and didn't offer enough career security). Every single one rejected me. Apply to a safety school. Or don't. Maybe I just suck at writing, and at life.

Do I really want to be at law school, and quitting my blog, and quitting my creative endeavors? No. I intend to work on my 3rd novel whenever appropriate over these next three years. I am 28,000 words into it. It is the best thing I have done, no doubt, but still unpublishable. Too many "fatal flaws." Everybody in or associated with law school says you have no free time and if you have free time you should be studying. Well, now I am going to start doing that and stop blogging. And I have serious doubts about my career in general. I waited too long to do this.

More advice to Jordan and Richard: never move to a random city (like say Los Angeles) because it seems fun and you have enough savings in your account-----unless you have a job there waiting for you. Had I not done that, had I applied to law school 3 years ago, or now without that stint, I'd be having a blast, not pinching every penny, not failing to leave tips for take-out orders, not feeling guilty about an endless reliance upon my parents and not feeling that I have a dubious future in general. I would feel much more confident.

Finally, that is very far in the future for them. They will be at college soon and probably have the time of their lives. I would recommend NYU but I feel as if it is changing. It is expanding, somehow, despite already having been the largest private university in the country 9 years ago. John Sexton is really emphasizing how important it is to study abroad so they can get as many students as possible out of the Village and into their other, expensive international branches in Paris, Florence, Buenos Aires and other places of which I am unaware. They are putting up students in hotels, because the new dorms they have opened since I have graduated still don't provide enough space. Faculty members would complain about their salaries. Still, I wouldn't have rather been anywhere else. Except UT-Austin or maybe Oberlin if I had gotten in there. Liz Phair and I have the same birthday and she is exactly seventeen years older than me and she went there.

Thanks to Jordan for sending me this chapbook. I apologize for using this as an opportunity to explain why this blog will be slipping into a coma and writing so many other random things. I wish him and Richard the best of luck, and hope that their method of e-publishing will work out okay for them. They are on the first-wave of this stuff, and they should ride it out and see where it takes them.

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