Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary


April 2016

Chief Great Heart’s Last Dance

Chief Great Heart’s Last Dance

Chief Great Heart's Last Dance

I’m sitting here, still in my jammies, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon waiting for the world to end. It must be something like the sense of anticipation, or apprehension, that spawned that anachronistic old saying: “Waiting for the other shoe to drop.” It’s early spring and I should be seeing flowers bloom and buds burst forth as I harken to the delightful song of peepers in the pond. Instead I look out my window at piles of ice covered snow as the wind howls like the furies.

If climate change and all its unseasonable and unreasonable weather patterns, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, wildfires, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes aren’t enough to worry about, there are plenty of other boogeymen lurking under the bed to haunt my dreams in the wee, wee hours.

The American political landscape is a 3 ring circus, carnival freak show, Wrestlemania smack down, an episode of the Jerry Springer Show meets Family Feud. I knew this country wasn’t filled with happy campers from sea to shining sea, but I had no idea 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?

While the super wealthy and all powerful squirrel away their fortunes in shell corporations and off shore cookie jars, build bunkers designed to withstand the impact of Planet X striking the Earth, and attend secret meetings to plot the demise of the rest of us Godforsaken misfits, it makes me wonder how far the spare change in my sock drawer and that extra can of Spagettios in the pantry will take me when it all hits the fan. At least I have jumper cables in my car.

Never mind that a deer tick smaller than a poppy seed lurking in my grass is capable of inflicting unspeakable mayhem upon the human body that can lead to an unholy host of neurological disorders. It almost makes me glad the lawn is still covered with snow in April.

I shouldn’t whine. I am grateful for all that I have. I have more of most anything that I really need. I have food, clothing, shelter, and access to medical care in a place where everything isn’t blowing up or blowing away. Really. What more could I ask for? Well maybe a little more legroom 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?

What does one do to prepare for anything that might happen at any time? Some people find comfort in religion. Others watch American Idol. Is that even on anymore? It won’t do any good just to squat down in my back yard and cover my ass with my hat while I scan the skies for the apocalypse. Maybe six pack abs would help? It’s times like these that it’s good to remember: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

Book Review:Tables Without Chairs

Literature by Bud Smith and Brian Alan Ellis

Illustrations by Waylon Thornton

Publisher: House of Vlad Productions

First edition (February 3, 2016)

166 pages

Tables Without Chairs Cover

It’s a snow day for me. Snowed in. On April 5th. More snow than we had all winter. More winter than we’ve had all spring. And I’m snowed in. Well, kinda, sorta, or at least pretending to be. It gives me an excuse to spit in Monday’s eye. Just lay around like a fat, lazy slob and read weird, cool books like Tables Without Chairs, a collaborative literary/visual arts mash-up in a mosh pit featuring the verbal musings and pyrotechnics of Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith, with quirky illustrations by Waylon Thornton poured like hot sauce over the entire frittata.

The authors describe this lovable little hybrid beast as “totally punk rock DIY” and “basically a mix of prose/tweets/flash fiction/reviews of corner bodegas/instructions for self destruction, etc. etc.” I’d say that sums it up beautifully. It’s a book that defies conventional commentary with conventional language and methods because there is very little about it that is conventional. Throw Waylon Thornton’s twisted monster cartoons into the mix and you have a recipe for literary Jambalaya.

It reminds me of students I’ve had in my classes during my tenure as a public school art teacher (Yeah. I did that) cutting up, pulling pranks, breaking rules, not following directions, but making art that is totally original and better than anything I could do. Those were the kind of kids that kept me in stitches and who could not, should not be constrained and usually really blossomed when allowed to sit together at their own table, as long as I kept an eye on the Exacto knives and anything else that might start a fire or blow up the art room. Coincidentally, all three of these literary miscreants have been, or still are, rock musicians. In many ways, this collaboration is a little like guys wailing away in a garage band with amps cranked to 11, and end by smashing their shit as the jam comes to a screaming, smoking climax.

You can label it anything you like. Some might even call it “Bizarro” or “Lowbrow Art,” which I would personally take as a compliment. Their approach to this collaboration is unstudied and off the cuff, and for me, totally authentic. Whether one chooses to label it as “experimental” or even “avant-garde,” there is no question that it breaks from tradition. It most certainly is a reflection of at least some portion of the American cultural landscape and zeitgeist, and a generation, and it’s not unlike the “artist” R. Mutt flipping the bird at the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 when he submitted his sculpture entitled “Fountain” for exhibition. In actuality, “Fountain” was simply a porcelain urinal and the artist was Marcel Duchamp. It caused an outrage, was rejected by the committee and ruffled the feathers of the art establishment. Isn’t it ironic that Marcel Duchamp and his infamous urinal may be what history has remembered most about that exhibition?

While the book is not thematically linked as such, all three artists share a similar sensibility and styles that are characterized by a sense of the absurd, playfulness, and a wickedly ironic sense of humor. I think Brian Alan Ellis’s portion of the book could be described as more reflective and introspective. Not in an emo sort of way, but in more of a good natured, self deprecating humor kind of way. Much of it is comprised of one liners that could be delivered as stand up comedy. There is a segment devoted to facetious advice for writers that is no less than hilarious. Bud Smith’s writing might be called more narrative. Reading Bud Smith’s pieces is like watching the video feed from a GoPro camera he’s wearing on his head as he goes about his life in New York City and New Jersey. Waylon Thornton’s drawings are inhabited by fantastical characters that are like a combination of the twisted line drawings of Ralph Steadman and Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.”

An interview with both authors conducted by Sam Slaughter via Facebook Messenger serves as a kind of stream-of-consciousness “Afterword” to the main text of the book. It’s a little like the freewheeling conversation that might take place in an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” or the improvised dialogue between the slacker/stoners in “Workaholics.”

Tables Without Chairs is raucous, rowdy and irreverent, but beneath its crunchy surface is a soft, chewy center full of sly wisdom and some pretty thought provoking deep shit. It’s a ride well worth taking.

About the Artists

 Brian Alan Ellis is the author of A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness, three novellas, two short-story collections, and a book of humorous non-fiction. His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Connotation Press, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Literary Orphans, Out of the Gutter, Heavy Feather Review, People Holding, The Next Best Book Blog, Revolution John, Lost in Thought, jmww, Hypertext, Electric Literature, and Atticus Review, among other places. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

Bud Smith is the author of the novels, F 250 (Piscataway House, 2015), Tollbooth (Piscataway House 2013), and the forthcoming I’m From Electric Peak (Artistically Declined, 2016), among others. Smith writes the column WORK SAFE OR DIE TRYING at Real Pants.

Waylon Thornton is an artist, musician and writer based in Florida. He is the illustrator of Brian Alan Ellis’s novella King Shit, and has been involved in musical projects including Strange lords, Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands, Damage Brain, Indian Teeth, Mean Moon and Cara Del Gato. He is currently writing a book with the working title Glue Baby.


Michael Gillan Maxwell is a garden gnome, drunken ukulele basher and visual artist in rural New York and author of The Part Time Shaman Handbook: An Introduction For Beginners.





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