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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

Drive-By Self Interview Book Review “So Sad Today” Melissa Broder

MGM’s Drive-By Self Interview Book Review of “So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder

front-cover

Q.     How much did you love this book?

A.     I loved it with the intensity of a thousand blazing suns.

 Q.     To whom would you recommend it?

A.     Curious readers with a capacity for self examination, an appreciation for existential absurdity, willingness to experience things from a deeply personal perspective other than their own and any reader who loves poetic prose and damn good writing.

 Q.     What did you learn from reading “So Sad Today?”

A.     How everyone we meet is fighting their own personal battles, inner demons and hidden insecurities, no matter how much it appears they may have their shit together. Also how little I know about Twitter and that I’m a really lame tweeter. I also learned some texting shorthand, although I had to Google some of it. I also realized that I am sexually repressed Catholic schoolboy.

Q.     Would you compare Melissa Broder’s style as an essayist to any other authors whose work you enjoy reading?

A.     I like David Sedaris and Jenny Lawson (“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened”) for similar reasons. I think Melissa Broder is a brilliant humorist and a keen observer of human nature and commentator on social norms with a stunning command of the English language. She pulls no punches and writes with astonishing candor.   

Q.     You’ve been described as a gushing fanboy. How do you feel about that?

A.     I am absolutely, without a doubt, 100% a gushing fanboy. I totally OWN that shit. As a middle-aged, mediocre monogamous white male, I might be a bit of an outlier from the rest of her fan base, but that’s never stopped me before from going out on a limb. A limb that may snap at any moment, and send me crashing to the cold, hard ground.

Q.     Why are YOU so sad today?

A.     Because I finished reading “So Sad Today.” NOW what the Hell am I supposed to do?     

Q.     How would you describe “So Sad Today”?

A.     I am a raging adjective/adverb abuser in recovery, with a touch of OCD, but here are a few descriptors off the top of my head. I had listed one for each year of my life in alphabetical order in two columns, but WordPress doesn’t DO that kind of formatting, and now I’m REALLY so sad today! Damn it Jim! I’m a DOCTOR not a code writer!

acerbic       addictive          beautiful          brilliant            brutally honest   candor     compassionate      compelling       courageous      creative     dead on      dead serious       delightful   erotic   excavation       excoriation       existential     exorcism    experimental extraordinary   fascinating  funny  genius  happy  heartbreaking  hilarious    hot      humanistic       humane   humble    humorous   hungry    imaginative  in-your-face     insightful     inspiring          instructive       intense    interesting      off -beat    off -kilter   painful   playful    poetic      poignant           provocative     redeeming        resilient      revealing      sad   seductive   self-effacing     sexy     spiritual  straight-up  strong  thought-provoking     titillating   trenchant  truthful  uncommon  unflinching   unique  uplifting  voyeuristic   witty

Q.     We’re just about out of time. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

A.     Yeah. What are you doing just sitting there? Go out and get this book and read the Hell out of it. Then, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll go out and buy any and all of her four poetry books you can get your hands on because  that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to do.

About the Author:

Melissa Broder is the author of four poetry collections:  LAST SEXT (Tin House, 2016), and MEAT HEARTWHEN YOU SAY ONE THING BUT MEAN YOUR MOTHER. She is also the author of the essay collection, SO SAD TODAY (Grand Central, March 2016). Poems appear in POETRY, The Iowa ReviewTin House, Guernica, FenceThe Missouri Review, Denver Quarterly, Washington Square ReviewRedivider, Court GreenThe Awl, Drunken Boat, et al. You can read the online ones HERE. Broder received her BA from Tufts University and her MFA from City College of New York.  By day, she is Director of Media and Special Projects at NewHive. She lives in Venice, CA.

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About the Drive-By Reviewer:

Michael Gillan Maxwell is a visual artist, author, and teacher. The Part Time Shaman Handbook: An Introduction For Beginners, a hybrid book of images and prose, was published by Unknown Press in 2015. Prone to random outbursts, Maxwell can be found ranting and raving on his website: michaelgillanmaxwell.com

 

Book Review “Cinnamon Girl” by Lawrence Kessenich

Book Review  Cinnamon Girl by Lawrence Kessenich

North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.  Fiction 233 pages

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Cinnamon Girl, the debut novel from award winning poet and playwright, Lawrence Kessenich, is a poignant and compelling story about a young man and his group of friends as they come of age in the American midwest during the height of the Vietnam War era.

John Meyer, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is fighting his own war on an asymmetrical front. He is in the process of leaving the halcyon days and secure cocoon of his conservative suburban family. Meyer questions his entire belief system, as he finds himself drawn into the radical politics of the anti-war movement, new friends, a love affair, experimentation with drugs and a new lifestyle. He struggles to come to terms with the plethora of choices he must make in the face of events that occur at a dizzying pace.

Kessenich skillfully and accurately depicts a thoroughly engaging, nuanced and multi-layered story of a classic love triangle. the overwhelming rush of first love and an impossible relationship all set against the backdrop of social unrest, political upheaval and the tumultuous events of the times.

He writes through a lens of adult wisdom about a much younger version of himself and the dynamics of Meyer’s family life, and his relationships with parents and siblings while they all struggle to maintain balance as the once secure ground is shifting underfoot.

Kessenich’s skill as a story teller is bolstered by his ability to vividly describe events and carefully develop multidimensional characters with the keen eye of a realist. I became so enamored of the characters and so engrossed in what was going on in their lives, that I did not want the book to end.

I connected with Cinnamon Girl on a deeply personal level because of my own life experiences and familiarity with the history of that specific time and the location of the events depicted in Kessenich’s novel. However, given the current political climate and the societal divisions that exist, protagonist John Meyer serves as an Everyman whose story could just as well be happening right now. I think Cinnamon Girl is a story for the ages that examines universal questions about growing up and awakening, adult decisions where nothing is black and white, the responsibilities that come with freedom; and the insecurities, moral conundrums, and choices a young person faces as they move into adulthood. Cinnamon Girl guides the reader through a twisting, turning, up and down journey of self discovery, triumph and defeat, and ultimately redemption. It’s a thought provoking and emotional read; a trip down a rabbit hole that eventually leads back out into the warm sunshine.

About the author:

Lawrence Kessenich has written in a variety of genres, including poetry, plays, short stories, novels, screenplays and essays. He won the Strokestown International Poetry Prize in Ireland in 2010. Other books include Age of Wonders, (Big Table Publishing, January 2016) Before Whose Glory, FutureCycle Press, 2013) and Strange News, (Pudding House Publications, 2008) Lawrence Kessenich lives and writes in Boston MA.

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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping

It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, two days before the Winter Solstice. There are no flowers blooming, no buds bursting forth, no harkening to the delightful song of peepers in the pond. Instead, wind howls like the furies over piles of icy snow. At this very moment, members of the Electoral College are casting their votes for the 45th president of the United States and I sit here, still in my jammies, “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” This anachronistic expression has its roots in urban tenement life and alludes to a person waiting for the second shoe to drop after being awakened by an upstairs neighbor loudly dropping a shoe on the floor. In this case,I think it’s safe to say the other shoe has already dropped and it’s all over but the crying.

If climate change with its unseasonable and unreasonable weather patterns, polar vortexes, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, super volcanoes and solar flares aren’t enough to worry about, there are plenty of other boogeymen and evil clowns lurking under the bed to haunt my dreams in the wee, wee hours. At least one of them has a tragic hairstyle with an extreme comb-over. Never mind that a deer tick smaller than a poppy seed lurking in the grass is capable of inflicting an unholy host of autoimmune disorders. It almost makes me glad the lawn will be covered by a sheet of tundra ice until April.

The American political landscape is a 3 ring circus, a carnival freak show, a Wrestlemania smack down, an episode of the Jerry Springer Show meets Family Feud. While I had no illusions that the country was filled with happy campers from sea to shining sea, I had no idea that so many people were so pissed off about so many things, all at the same time. It’s kind of harshing my mellow. Why can’t we all just get along?

The super wealthy and all-powerful squirrel away fortunes in shell corporations and off-shore cookie jars. They buy up abandoned nuclear missile silos and build bunkers designed to withstand the impact of Planet X striking the Earth. It makes me wonder how far the spare change in my sock drawer and that extra can of Spaghettios in the pantry will take me when it all hits the fan.

I shouldn’t whine. When I think about it, I have so much to be grateful for. I’ve got my health, my demure figure, and more of most anything that I really need. I have food, clothing, shelter, modest resources and access to medical care and a social network in a place where everything isn’t blowing up or blowing away. Really. What more could I ask for? Well, maybe a little more leg room in Economy on commercial flights and tequila that is actually good for me. But still, I can’t seem to shake this sense of existential dread. Although maybe existential dread is itself a luxury? Who has time for existential dread when you’re trying to outrun a hungry lion, hide out from killer robots, or work two minimum wage jobs just trying to eke out an existence? What’s it all about Alfie?

But what truly effective action can one take to prepare for just about anything that might happen at any time? Some people become hardcore preppers and stockpile enough ammo and supplies to arm a militia and survive for years in a bunker. Some people count on being rescued by aliens, while others find solace in religion and await the Second Coming and the Rapture. Still others turn on, drop out and tune in to America’s Got Talent which really is just a 21st century version of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. This, and The Lawrence Welk Show ruled the airwaves during the infancy of television. Even as a young child, those shows evoked in me profound feelings of existential ennui with so much cognitive dissonance that I thought I must be witnessing an alien invasion. Although, seeing an Amateur Hour contestant enthusiastically play The Star Spangled Banner on his dentures as if they were a xylophone, did leave an indelible impression on my unformed psyche.

Anyway, what does one do as it appears that the human race may be sliding irrevocably into dystopia? Squat down in the back yard, covering our collective asses with our hats and scan the skies for the apocalypse? Maybe six pack abs would help, although a six pack of IPA would be better. Perhaps positive affirmations or motivational phrases might be the ticket. Something like “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Hunter S. Thompson’s version of that was: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Maybe he meant when things get weird, people who have always been weird really come into their own or get even weirder. That certainly seems to be the case in what is evolving into a collective TV reality show.

But seriously, how does an ordinary Joe like myself respond to the threats we now face? What can artists do in the face of such madness? The artistic community in Europe, responded to the horror and brutality of World War I with the Dada movement, a clarion call to awaken modern art from its slumber. It was a call to renewed awareness and a new kind of social action as paradigms shifted and the old ways of doing things fell away. We are at a similar juncture at this point in history. Perhaps one of my responsibilities as an artist in these times is to persist in the face of adversity, and continue to try to make art that matters; art that helps elevate the human spirit and brings light and levity to the darkness. Be vigilant. Remain aware. Stay awake. Stay connected. Model civility. Perform random acts of kindness. Offer moral, emotional and economic support to each other. Be kind, but remain fierce. Keep your chin up and your eyes fixed on the horizon.

These thoughts do make me feel a little better. There are things I can do, even if it’s a little bit each day. Although, to begin, it wouldn’t hurt to actually put on some real clothes before 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Get out there. DO something. Even if it’s to go shopping, because when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Even though going to the store in one’s pajamas has somehow become the new normal, the least I can do is to go shopping in something resembling a civilized dress code.

 

 

 

Kind of a jaded, postmodern Charles Dickens riff

A Christmas Story

Slogging through the semi-frozen slush in the parking lot I hear a jingling bell and off tune singing from just inside the doorway.

Ah shit! SHE’S here again. Where do they find these people?

Automatic door swings open and I’m greeted by a short, chubby, gnome-like woman, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a pair of bent wire holiday reindeer antlers jammed down on top of her head. Dancing the boogaloo near the Salvation Army donation kettle, ringing the bell in some kind of cadence to whatever music blasts through ear buds. She’s sings along in the key of whatever, twirls like a back up singer in a soul band, swings her left arm in a circle and points at me.

I’m ready for this. I’m prepared. I take the crumpled up dollar bill and try to stuff it into the donation kettle. It’s not like the old days where you just tossed money into an open pail. This is a locked steel box with an opening so tiny I can hardly stuff a dollar bill in there. You can put money in, but you can’t take it out. It also has serrated edges, so if you are stupid enough, or desperate enough to actually stick your finger in that hole, good luck trying to get it back out. Kind of like driving over those spiky things in a parking garage.

God save the queen, I mutter.

Merry Christmas to you too! she yells back.

She looks a hell of a lot like my old college friend who started the Jews for Jesus group on campus. Only he’s about 50 years older and Wonder Bread white. Whatever happened to that guy anyway? Disappeared into the void like most of the people I knew back then. Seems like everyone either started shooting heroin, became a born again something or other or a corporate lawyer living in some dystopian suburban purgatory.

Me? I’m just trying to get some last minute Christmas shopping done. You know. Put Christ back into Christmas. By shopping at Dollar General. The place where class and style go to die.

Hello. What have we here? A Trump Troll doll. Naked as the day I was born. The perfect stocking stuffer for the person who has everything they want but nothing they need. I envision myself, basking in the cozy glow of the living room tannenbaum as I turn this into a voodoo doll on Christmas Eve. Although this could have been so much better with tiny hands and an even tinier penis. And flatulent! Yes flatulent! One of those dolls that farts. They make those, don’t they?

I pay for 3 Trump Troll Dolls and a package red licorice twizzlers and head back toward the door. Dancing Gnome Girl is there to greet me. I stick a twizzler in the teeth of the donation pail.

Long live the king! I grumble.

 Merry Christmas to you too.

 

 

Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship (1)
Ghost Ship

Semaphore

Marker

From A Far Shore

From A Far shore (1)
From A Far Shore

Tree On Sentinel Dome

Tree On Sentinal Dome
Tree On Sentinel Dome

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