Teriyaki Sandwiches and the Girl with Sepia Hair
The girl runs through a field of lavender.
The weighted heads bend in sleepy rows. Their violent scent scours the space between my ear-bones.
The music. There is always music, the anguish of a clarinet − the finality of violins.
I wade towards the girl, but the flowers hold me back like a turning tide. The sound is close, so close it becomes clear the tones originate in my head. Flowers between flowers. Flesh between leaves.
She wears a calla lily in her hair; her hair is the colour of old photographs. There is something brittle about her.
She turns, smiles, and melts into the future.
Bees hum around my face, the crescendo beat of their wings sleek with urgency. Butterfly courtship borders on pornography. The orphan cry of a bellbird blends with the orchestra's wail. In sleep there are infinite octaves.
The daytime moon burns my eyes ...
Then I wake up.
That bloody dream again. A ghost refrain echoes through my mind. The girl slips − out − of − reach, like a bubble in a hurricane. The dream fades before I can tell anyone what it was.
There's no one to tell anyway.
There's a thump, thump in the distance, the semi-silent drone of plumbing from the flat next door, and the squirreling of wind through ill-fitting windows.
I rub crusts of sleep from my eyes, salt-laden and heavy, and reach for my laptop. No new e-mails. Something sinks inside. Bozo or Alain haven't replied. The Wi-Fi is useless in this place.
Maybe they’re busy.
Perhaps they think I'm a loser.
Kevin Napier. The guy who tries too hard.
There's nothing from Jonno in Colorado either. Bummer.
I thump the refresh key twice, hope something will appear, but it doesn't.
The TalkNZ chat-room is silent, but it's early, only five to six. I can stay cocooned in the warmth of my bed for a bit longer. Antarctic slivers of sky filter through the blinds. The occasional swish of early traffic through a layer of surface water reminds me I'm not alone. I'm not the only one awake at this hour. It's good to know there's something human near me, even if they're moving at 60 kph.
I tap into a Christian chat-room. There's a discussion about James 1.5 and a Mormon prophet in 1830. Some arsehole spouts bullshit about superior versions of the New Testament, and a chorus of sycophantic affirmation follows. I don't engage with them.
News sites report fatal road traffic accidents, revelling in the horror of it.
Click. Someone's trolled the guys who enthused about Humbucking pickups wired in parallel on the BassWizz site. Really? How can they get emotional about bass guitar components?
The girl in the lavender comes into my mind, but I make her disappear.
A million tweets from the randoms I follow: rock bands, radio stations. Jackie Turner (previously Sanders) from school has tweeted pictures of her kid, a bald-headed alien creature.
Die maker and manufacturers association.nz have links to a health and safety forum.
Christianity Today has posted about cutting ties with what they describe as a cult, following accusations of sexual abuse.
There are posts from people whom I follow because they followed me. I should stop doing that. I've had a barrage of offers to organise my finances, have three-way sex, or build me an extension. In my rental? Yeah right. There are no personal notifications.
I click onto a Buddhist discussion forum about the sanctity of life, but it becomes obtuse. They have started talking about bacteria.
The sanctity of a microbe.
Depressing posts on global warming.
Fifteen people 'like' my new profile picture. A yellow-bellied sea snake's features manipulated onto my shoulders. Snake-Kevin wearing my biking leathers. It's me, but it's not me.
And fifteen people like it. What does that mean? I'd make a good snake?
A clickjack promises me a chance to win an Audi R8. There's a picture of a dog that got burnt saving a family. One like equals a prayer. One share is ten. It's obviously a fake, but has thousands of likes. The dog has a piece of ham on its face. Irony or stupidity?
Someone's scanned a school photo from 2007 and tagged me. I'm with Jackie Turner (previously Sanders). There's Bozo, Jonno, Corey Blake and Jasmine West too. Something about our hair and the pixilation shows it's old. I wish I were back in that hedonistic world, a decade ago.
I was dating Jackie Sanders; about the only time I've had a steady girlfriend. Jackie and I lasted another month before she gave me the flick. It's not you Kevin. It's me.
Jackie never wore calla lilies in her hair.
The memory hurts. Was it the best time of my life, a time when people accepted me, at least for a while? There were parties and gigs. Drink and smokes. Cocaine if you had the cash. Sex. We were false idols, worshipping graven images of ourselves. I thought I'd seen the light until I watched it fade.
They saw through me, a no-hoper mummy's boy who liked flowers. A guy who tried too hard. A nerd who played piano and only picked up a bass to join a rock band to be cool.
I left school at the end of the year, with no idea of where I was going.
I was so alone.
I am so alone.
Fuck. I'll e-mail Jonno anyway. Had hoped he'd have replied by now.
I miss him.
I want to read him ranting about the bassist in his band not being able to keep time. He used to say the same about me, but I know I was tight. Jonno complains about how small the apartments in the States are compared with the ones in Auckland, about how his parents are demons, about the lack of marmite. Shit, I'd love to open another of his whining e-mails right now. Fuckwit.
Jonno sent me pictures of his flat when he moved in. Didn't look that small to me. The garage is nearly as large as my flat. He can park his station wagon in there, and have band practices in it. It's a town house, but he says the neighbours are deaf. I add another message to the chain, and notice there's one e-mail from him for every five or six of mine.
Click, tap, tap, click.
How's tricks? Done any gigs? Coming home for Christmas?
Nothing new here. Work's a pain. The tool room's noisy as fuck, and I can't hear shit. Alfred, the bastard, gives everyone crap. I wish he'd retire or die. There's Jan in the office who's not a dick, but that's about it.
I had a dream last night. The one I told you about before where I'm running through a field horny as fuck. I've dreamt it so many times.
What does it mean eh? Probably sod all.
So, you still driving trucks, eh? Five to six hundred miles a day. What's that in k's? Sounds heavy.
Chat again soon.
I hit send and instantly regret it. Telling him my dreams? I sound like a fuckin' girl.
Shit. It's seven twenty. I soak a flannel and wipe my pits, and lather on antiperspirant. There are no clean shirts in the drawer, so I grab something out of the wash basket. Stinks. Sift through three or four until I find one that won't kill anyone. Yesterday's boxers will do.
It takes six goes to start my bike. The tyres cut a wide 'V' through the surface water, and I'm piss wet through because I didn't bring my waterproofs.
Someone's pinched my hardhat, so I have to borrow one. I'm fifteen minutes late starting.. Alfred, the prick, is on my case.
Put that on your timesheet, Kevin.
Don't do it like that, Kevin.
If you get up from that station once more Kevin, I'll tie you to your chair.
Jan sips on a coffee in her office at morning tea.
"Hey," she says. A vase of flowers sits on her desk. She runs her hand over the bell of a lily. There are sprigs of lavender. The scent hugs me like a blanket.
I point at the vase with my forehead. "They're nice. From himself?"
"Yeah." Her smile says more than her words. "Six years since Jason and I started dating."
"Sweet." I swallow hard. Look at the wall.
"Let's get out of here for lunch." This smile is different. Animated. Directed at me. "Walk by the river?"
"Cool." My t-shirt is damp and wrinkled. I pull it taut over my belly, and hope Jan can't smell the fungal vinegar. I cross my arms to hold the whiff in.
Jan is smartly turned out. She has a spiky tortoiseshell thing sticking out of her hair at an odd angle, like it's slipped.
"You busy today?" she asks.
I can't stop staring at the spiky thing. Jan's hair is the colour of charred wood.
"Yeah," I scratch my chin and wonder if the stubble's long enough for it to look like a proper beard. "Arsewipe's been at me again." I re-cross my arms.
"The man's a waste of skin. And he's − "
"Yes, and Coronation Street − " Jan rolls her eyes to the side, clicking away at her computer. Looking up, I see Alfred reflected in her window, standing behind me, arms akimbo.
I grab my empty cup and walk out of the office. I'm entitled to a break, but with that creep standing there, I feel like a criminal. I breathe hard and inhale the exhilaration of lavender, the sorrow of lilies.
I can talk to Jan.
Most women my age make me want to swallow my tongue and die, but it's easy with her. I guess it's because she's married. She won't think I'm a knob, like I'm trying to chat her up or something. Jan's the nearest thing I have to a friend, though we never see each other outside work. She's always doing something with Jason.
I don't talk to anyone else. Not in real life, anyway.
Most of my so-called friends are people from school, or personas I meet on-line. Personas, not persons. I've joined music forums; I comment on support groups for chronically shy men, and instantly regret it. I FaceTime my mum in Christchurch, but she holds a wooden smile and her eyes flit from side to side as we speak. I get drawn into the comments section of stuff.co.nz and get fucked off if someone takes the piss out of my KevtheSnake1 posts.
I write to God about how I'm the only person in the world who feels this way, so isolated, so alone in a sea of people.
I don't have His e-mail address, so I delete the messages.
A flash of sun bursts through the clouds, illuminating gobbets of rain on the glass as I pass wall length windows on my way back to my station.
The girl from my dream is in my head again. Running. Running around my mind. She takes the lily from her hair, holds it out to me, and drops it. I almost reach her, when she turns into a shadow.
Lilies. I used to grow lilies with my mother. They had names like purple reign and arabesque. When Dad died we moved to Otahuhu. She dug up the rotting heap of a garden in our state house. I was nine. She bought me gardening gloves, and a trowel. We planted bulbs in the beds she'd made. As spring warmed through to summer, I'd fill the watering can, careful not to slosh water on the tiny kitchen floor, and I'd give the plants a drink, urge them to bloom. The lawn needed scarifying, there were rose bushes to prune, and lavender to trim.
I hated my new school. Big kids called me gay and kicked me when I walked past because I was different. I learnt how to talk like the others, walk like them, care less like them, so I'd survive. But at home, I'd play piano.
Mum struggled to send me for lessons, but she found a way. Greensleeves, Bach's minuet in G, Pachelbel's Canon in D. The piano hefted from our old place, and squeezed up against a wall, almost touching the dining table.
We'd go to church on Sundays. No one from my new school ever went, so I was safe. I'd hold Mum's hand, proud to walk with her. She'd wear a mauve hat with silk flowers in the band. The scent of her English lavender eau de Cologne made me want to breathe harder and deeper. I stood on tiptoe, the leather of my shoes creaking when we stood to sing the hymns. I wanted to be tall, a man beside my mother, someone to look after her because Dad was gone.
I still went to church with my mother when I grew older and cynical. I towered over her by the age of fifteen.
My, my, you're a grown man now Kevin, the ladies from her flower arranging group would fuss over me.
Then I stopped going, because there was something new in my life.
I'd found a friend for the first time in Jonno Watkins. Someone who'd hang out with me at break time, so I wasn't the saddo loser skulking about, hands in pockets, talking to no one; someone who wanted to cruise the streets with me on weekends.
Jonno and I got talking one afternoon. He was lying back on the grass in the searing sun.
"Hey Napier," he called as I walked past.
My hackles rose, preparing for a torrent of abuse. I ignored him at first.
Kevin? No one at school ever called me Kevin. It was Napier, or fuck-features, or gay-bastard.
"Huh?" He'd caught me off guard. Jonno Watkins was one of the coolest guys in our year. Not unduly cruel to the low-lifes like myself, but aloof enough to let us know we weren't in his league.
"C'mere a minute."
I sat next to him.
"Heard you know shit about music."
And that's how it began. He really wanted to talk about music. I don't know how he'd got wind of the fact that I could play piano, flute, violin and guitar. But he knew.
"Ever tried bass?"
"What, double bass?"
"No, you wanker, bass guitar."
"I − I had guitar lessons for a while, but I − "
Mum couldn't afford both guitar and piano, but I didn't want to say.
"But then I stopped."
"Wanna give the bass a go?"
"I need someone who can fuckin' count and hold a tune." Jonno passed me a piece of gum, and we got chatting.
Our friendship grew. I went round to his place, grabbed his fretless bass, and picked up a tune within minutes. In the space of a month, I was the bassist for Mortal Infliction. Suddenly everyone knew who Kevin Napier was. Everyone cared who Kevin Napier was. Jonno got me to ditch the nerdy clothes mum bought, and I started seeing Jackie Sanders, one of the most sought after girls in our crowd.
I was happy. I wasn't alone.
Then I told Jackie I loved her, and my false world crumbled.
It's not you Kevin. It's me.
"You gonna daydream all day, Kevin?" It's fuckin' Alfred. He's grinning with the grace of a crocodile. I grab some tools from the production machinist and get back to work. I don't speak to anyone else until lunch, when Jan comes in and taps me on the shoulder. I'm sweating underneath my hardhat, and my safety goggles are smeared. We go sit on a wall outside the factory near the river.
"Where's your lunch?" she asks unwrapping a foil parcel of sandwiches.
She passes me a sandwich. I'm too hungry to refuse. Teriyaki chicken with mayo and salad.
"I'm looking for another job," I say. "This place stinks. I hate everything about it."
A shadow crosses her face. "What will you do?"
"Dunno. Maybe drive a truck."
"Don't you need a special licence?"
"Yeah. Maybe. Don't care. Just want to get away from here."
Her fingers sink into the spongy bread.
It's still raining when I get home. I shower, and wash away all traces of work, of Alfred, of everything from that place. Almost everything. Massaging shampoo onto my scalp, I find myself wishing Jan's fingers were rubbing my head. I let the thought wash away down the plughole with the grey, tepid suds.
There's an e-mail from Jonno when I log on.
All right dude,
Nah, I ain't coming back for Xmas.
5 to 6 hundred miles, that's like abt 800 to 850 k.
Google it you dullard!
Trucking's a shit job anyway.
I'm a douchebag.
Looking back at our e-mails, it's all him whining about all sorts of shit, and me pouring out crap about how sad my life is, and how I'm plagued by dreams about a woman I can never have.
A woman with charcoal hair. A woman who shares teriyaki sandwiches. A woman whose husband gives her lavender and lilies on their anniversary.
I click onto a chat-room, read three messages of hope, one of despair, and log off for the last time.
It's time for a change.
It's time to engage in the real world.
Maybe I'll reply to that ad I saw, someone looking for a keyboard player.
I plug in my old Yamaha. The keys are covered in dust. I wipe them with a twist of my t-shirt, and clunk out a tune. It doesn't have the timbre of Mum's piano, but it feels good to have my fingers on a different sort of keyboard.
It feels really good.
It feels like change.
Bio: Nod Ghosh's work features in various New Zealand and international publications. Further details: http://www.nodghosh.com/about/
It came down from the top
It came down from the top
like an avalanche,
the factory was to close down
and relocate to South America,
jobs would be outsourced
and cut incrementally over a fourteen month period
beginning with all temp workers
and part-timers and making its way through
the ranks of the full-timers until there
was no one left.
Then the whole area would be fenced off
and dynamite would be employed.
A controlled explosion
like losing your temper,
but never hitting
A Little Love for the Punks
The great thing about a GG Allin show
was not the questionable musicianship
or the feces thrown at the crowd,
but that it forced you to react.
Like a car crash
when your life depends
Couples argue as much as they have sex,
often much more,
and I had a ride home from work
but preferred to walk
even on rainy days, letting the wet of the land
soak through and bite me,
and there was this bar along the way
which served recycled beer
and allowed you to die in peace
in dark corners
with spotty gum stuck walls,
and when I got home she was waiting
arms crossed at the door to meet me
demanding to know where I had been
even though she knew,
so that I could accuse her of sitting on her ass
doing nothing all day
and she could scream at me for being drunk
which I was.
Bio: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his other half and mounds of snow. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Word Riot, Anti-Heroin Chic, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, Horror Sleaze Trash, and Your One Phone Call.
Brooklyn's My Favourite Things, led by Dorothea Tachler (formerly of Igloo, The Swirlies, Alles Wie Gross), announce summer release of their third album Fly I will, because I can. From the opening track, Sunlight, a jazzy, dream inducing song that evokes, much like its title, sunlight filtering through a day spent lakeside, contemplative, stirring and inviting. The album is also restless and ever evolving, much like the cycles of life, such as in the song, Everything Changes in which Tachler's earnest vocals dig deep into love and how it rearranges every aspect of our life in unexpected ways. "I'm still waiting for my happy ending", Dorothea croons huskily in Goodbye Again, "I feel nothing, not even myself" she adds, and although lyrically the song dips low, musically it raises itself high at certain points, as if to indicate dormant hope sitting off in the distance. While their sound has often been described as shoegaze and dreampop in the vein of My Bloody Valentine, My Favourite Things new album feels much closer to Galaxy 500 and Dean & Britta than past recordings, while uniquely paving its own musical niche, an addictive blend of folk, jazz, pop and smartly written lyrics that make for an enjoyable, dreamy listen.
“Music," Says Dorothea, "was my anchor and my lighthouse in stormy and dark nights, and putting my inner turmoil into words really helped me process it better. It was kind of my metamorphosis, being disintegrated like a chrysalis, and being shaped into something new.”
The new album, conceptually, bears all of the marks of such metamorphosis and rebirth in a way that is not only enjoyable but relatable. With both high peaks and low valleys, Fly I will, because I can, is much more than a title, it's a declaration for our lives, a way to live and a promise to follow through on.
Fly I will, because I can is set to release on July 14th.
A preview track and lyrics off the new album, A Little Closer, can be found below.
“Sweet and low and round it goes
Here it comes again
The new year is here
Round and round it goes, lightning speed
Always shows the lines of our goals as in tomorrow
hold it tight, reset it right
nothing is gone
spindle up, spindle down
two Steps up, one back down
ocean waves wash me up
a little bit closer
Keep your eyes on the road
and we’ll take off for flight
Round it goes, lightning speed
Always shows the lines of our goals as in tomorrow
Wash me out
Move me further
On the shore I shall walk
Until tomorrow comes
Two Steps up, one back down
Ocean waves wash me up
A little bit closer”
Keep up with My Favourite Things
Website | Facebook | Soundcloud | Bandcamp | YouTube | Twitter
Get. Back. In the Cart. Now.
No toys today - you blew it...
Nope, you didn’t listen.
I said, get back in the cart, now.
Not my Problem
Reads her t-shirt, she flicks her smoke to the ground.
Steps on it like an ant - her shoe kills things.
Whose problem then:
Not us, then whose -
The small children await her in the car.
They know to sit, quietly, for her.
Suddenly, their problem.
I’ve never bought a problem,
I thought: they aren’t for sale.
Not commodities, I supposed;
abstract as the cliche mote -
can’t grab what floats in air
Can’t trap ignorance
Can’t snatch neglect
“Hey, are you having a bad day?”
Please don't yell at your kid today -
Look at him crying,
don’t be mean
he is only 2 or 3
you are seventeen or thirty-seven or seventy.
Or anywhere in between.
Or, can I Say:
It’s ok, I know your dad hit you too.
Scared you silly.
Like you deserved.
Locked you in your room.
Hated your dreams;
your dumb head.
That smile on your face:
His biggest mistake
There, there -
his parents beat him too.
He paid for their problem, too -
These things I can’t undo
but this gift I can give to you -
I’ll tell you I care about you
can be loved
by you too.
Look now -
at how I’m
I take one problem from you.
Image - Johnny Silvercloud
Bio: Elisabeth is a mom of two young boys living in Vermont writing her heart out, riding her horses and hanging on for dear life. She loves it when she gets the feeling that a poem just plain worked. It is as exciting as galloping on a horse. She hopes that her words can help others feel better about themselves. She knows reading inspiring poetry has helped keep her swimming above the waves.
A Straw Man
draw a line through
laddering limbs stretch
etched by index,
a tree to outlive
thread frayed into sparks.
The way a sickness
Across a hurt
Tired constellations bloom brighter,
A saw-tooth grin chews tides
through wax’s restless uniform.
Stand before a pause
At dog-end axis
hours tick close toward
the world twist-turning
heavy on its heel
as Ares unto Mars,
making war upon a full stop,
proud as the nail bears
every measure’s repetition
driven beyond gravity.
Bio: Adam Steiner's poetry and fiction appear in I Am Not A Silent Poet, Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review, Fractured Nuance zine. He recently completed the Disappear Here project to produce a series of poetry films about Coventry ringroad. He tweets @BurndtOutWard
Resistance is built of love, and where these dangerous times will take us depends on those who are carrying the light into the dark. Ruth Mundy takes up the call of her political-musical forebears, Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, to speak truth to power. The title of her debut album, Don't Be A Monster, says it all. Be decent, be good, be brave. "It’s other people’s response to my songs which can save me," says Ruth, "it reassures me that I’m doing something worthwhile, and also reminds me that other people are struggling with the same stuff and that we are all looking out for each other." Songwriters like Ruth Mundy are needed now more than ever. Every added perspective of compassion and resistance to the tapestry of our world is but the price of our humanity. Will we pay it forward, will we stay human, will we refuse to be monsters? It might be uncertain, but Mundy's songs wager that it's worth the risk to find out what we're made of; heart and spirit, or darkness and cruelty.
AHC: What has this journey in music, so far, been like for you, the highs and the lows, and what life lessons do you feel you've picked up along the way?
Ruth: I love being a musician, and sometimes I can’t believe my luck that this is how I make my living. It can definitely be hard, and sometimes when I have a bad gig, or don’t get paid much, I get all over dramatic and think I’ll have to give it up. But then I’ll have a lovely gig with a brilliant audience, or someone will get in touch to say they’ve bought my EP and they like it, and then I remember that, actually, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
My musical journey so far has been one long learning curve, and I’m guessing it’s going to go on that way. I used to think if only I could write good enough music, that was all that mattered. And luckily I think my music is constantly evolving and improving. But I’m also realising that there’s a lot more to it than the quality of the songs I write. I’m not trying to get rich from my music (which is fortunate!) but I do need to earn enough for it to be sustainable. For that to happen I need to be confident that my music has value, and is worth performing and recording and promoting. I need to keep developing my skills in all those areas. And even then, whilst I hope it gets easier, I suspect it’s always going to be tough.
AHC: What first drew you to music and what was your early musical environment like growing up? Were there pivotal songs for you then that just floored you the moment you heard them?
Ruth: My dad always had country music playing in his study while I was growing up, he loves a song with a story and I definitely absorbed that early on. And then I’m grateful to my brother for introducing me to the music of people like Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, Levellers, Skunk Anansie… political music. My mum listens to a lot of power ballads (nothing wrong with that, Ma!) and I think the influence of all three of these things is pretty clear in my music: I write story songs about love and loss, politics and protest.
AHC: Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote or played? Or that first moment when you picked up a pen and realized that you could create whole worlds just by putting it to paper?
Ruth: I’ve always written songs, the first one I can remember was called ‘Midnight Feast’ and I wrote it when I was 6 (the first line goes “Midnight feast, but I haven’t any food”. So I guess you could say I was a child genius, right? Right…?). At 15 I got a guitar, which probably sounded better than my old Fisher Price keyboard. Probably.
I never particularly felt like I could create worlds with my music. I’m quite literal - I wrote detailed and specific songs about the world around me. And it took me a long time to write anything that I thought was any good, or that I thought anyone else might ever want to hear.
AHC: Which musicians have you learned the most from? Or writers, artists, filmmakers, teachers/mentors etc?
Ruth: I feel like I must’ve learned at least a little something from every musician I’ve ever met or listened to, so it’s hard to pick the ones who have been the most significant! I can say, “I wish I wrote songs like Leonard Cohen” or, “Josh Ritter is the most engaging performer I’ve ever seen live” or, “Devon Sproule is my favourite guitarist” but I guess that’s the answer to a different question. I’m grateful to all the amazing local musicians who look out for me here in Wellington where I currently live. They’ve helped me get gigs, given me support and advice, and just generally been lovely while I settle into a new country and a new music scene.
AHC: What do you think makes for a good song, as you're writing and composing, is there a sudden moment when you know you've found the right mix, that perfect angle of light, so to speak?
Ruth: I’m slowly learning to trust my own song writing, but I still find it very hard to know whether or not I’ve written a good song. I always swing between thinking it could be my best song yet, and thinking it’s actually the worst song anyone has ever written! It’s all about the lyrics for me, and I always make sure every word is heard - I feel like I lay everything out in every song. So if I can sing it to someone else without cringing at my own words, that’s usually a sign that it’s alright. When I’m working on a new song - especially if it is political - I hope to tell a story which is engaging and which gets people on side. If it does that, I feel like it’s a good song.
AHC: Do you consider music to be a type of healing art, an imperfect vehicle through which to translate, as close as possible, a feeling, a state of rupture/rapture, hope lost and regained? Does the writing and creating of the song save you in the kinds of ways that it saves us, the listener?
Ruth: I find writing songs, and performing them, makes me feel very vulnerable, and often deeply sad. It would probably be better if that process was a good outlet for me, if it was cathartic and somehow healing in itself. But if I’m honest, it’s other people’s response to my songs which can save me, or be healing for me. I guess all musicians love applause and hearing that their songs have touched someone or helped someone in some way, and that is definitely true of me. Feeling heard and supported and appreciated is crucial. It reassures me that I’m doing something worthwhile, and also reminds me that other people are struggling with the same stuff and that we are all looking out for each other.
AHC: What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town? On-tour, on-the-road?
Ruth: A couple of years ago I did a little tour on the South Island of New Zealand, which has become my favourite musical memory. The tour manager and the other artist (Abby Wolfe) have become such good friends of mine. I remember driving through spectacular scenery, drinking coffees, busking in the sunshine for extra money, going to tiny towns which are all about fishing and hunting but where our hosts would still make us beautiful vegan food. Stopping by lakes and mountains for lunch, laying out homemade bread and chutney on the car bonnet and making sandwiches. I’ve pretty much forgotten about getting sick in a shared hostel room, pool cues being thrown at the stage, people miming out various ways of killing themselves during my set, and us leaving all of the tour money on top of the car and driving off. A couple more years and I won’t remember those parts at all! Good times.
AHC: When you set out to write a song, how much does 'where the world is' in its current moment, culturally, politically, otherwise, influence the kinds of stories you set out to tell?
Ruth: It’s everything, really. Sometimes I still write straight up love songs, or songs about friendship, grief… pirates… but mostly I write protest songs. I can only write about what I care about, and increasingly I find that the things breaking my heart and mind are political more than they are personal. Sometimes when I’m feeling like a pretty big deal I think I’m writing songs to raise awareness of certain issues, but, realistically, I’m just writing them to stand in solidarity with the people trying to make the world better. Plus because my brain is full of these things, when I sit down with my guitar it’s just what comes out.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for other musicians and singer-songwriters out there who are just starting out and trying to find their voice and their way in this world? What are the kinds of things that you tell yourself when you begin to have doubts or are struggling with the creative process? Or what kinds of things have others told you that have helped push you past moments of self doubt/creative blocks?
Ruth: Well, I’m trying to get better at taking people’s compliments at least as seriously as I take people’s criticism. One mean comment about my guitar playing, my voice, or - worst of all - my lyrics, will stick with me for months on end. Whereas I forget the compliments just so quickly. So I guess if anyone wants my advice, it’d be to soak up those good moments, believe the compliments, listen to the people who you respect rather than the ones who want to give your their unsolicited criticism of everything you’re doing, and just generally look after yourself!
AHC: You just released your EP Don't Be A Monster last month, could you talk some about this record, how long did it take to write and put together, what are the binding themes of this work are for you personally? Do you have any new projects moving forward or ideas that are percolating for the future?
Ruth: I recorded my EP on my own in my living room. It felt like it took forever but actually it was just a few weeks. And I think all the crises of confidence were the most time consuming thing! I had already written all the songs long before I started recording, they are tried and tested, but when I felt like they were being set in stone I panicked a bit. Like, this song will now always be this recording, it can’t develop or change anymore. That scared me. But actually I’m kind of proud of the end result. It’s a little collection of songs which all in some way reflect the theme and the title of the EP: Don’t Be A Monster. I think most of us are good people, even if life screws some people over. A lot. If we can act on our kind impulses not our fearful ones, be considerate rather than divisive, we can avoid contributing to other people's suffering. We can not be monsters, basically. I’m working on recording a new album called Love and Protest, which is just a fairly accurate description of itself. Or it’s a call to action if you want to read it like that (do)!
For more visit www.ruthmundymusic.com
Don't Be A Monster available now via ruthmundymusic.bandcamp.com
Company Ski Trip
Joanie felt the cold sitting in her green Nissan watching them all load their gear. There’s was an underlying sense that she’d forgotten something even after compulsively checking her bag. It’d only get worse the closer she got to fifty, winter slowly weakening her marrow despite daily gym trips. A lot of the men stared from their bikes and treadmills, most of them married. She’d flirt when prompted, but usually felt a great sense of accomplishment if the routine ended without a single word. Songs filled in those silences forcing worries to deeper corners.
It wouldn’t be so easy this time, Joanie lugging her skis to the elderly Greyhound driver hunched over the bottom compartment. “I’ll make sure to keep ‘em good and tight for you,” he grinned as she filed in behind the other comatose employees of Salem Industrial. Not a single familiar face, Joanie sitting towards the back, immediately impatient. With each new arrival, her eyes lifted then descended again; the bundled scarfs and zipped collars blending together until Manny.
He’d signed the sympathy card with less tension, the rest of her department glossing over their sentiments, blaming shaky wrists on carpal tunnel. They hadn’t spoken since it happened, Joanie scheduling her brief lunchroom trips before him, then hiding in her cubicle, hoping each crunch didn’t register with the others. Manny usually went out, a conversation with his new bride occasionally filtering over the walls. Joanie had signed something nice but generic, letting Eileen buy the group wedding gift.
“Good morning,” Manny took a sip from his green coffee mug.
“Hey Manny,” she replied as he sat in the neighboring seat.
“So what’re you gonna hit up first today?”
“Oh, I don’t really know. Whichever trail’s the least crowded I guess.”
“Got ya,” he grinned and faced forward.
“So is Holly not coming today?”
“Nah, she wasn’t really feeling it. I think the winter’s finally caught up to her.”
“How do you mean?”
“Oh I don’t know. Sometimes hibernation seems like the best policy.”
“Right, of course,” Joanie nodded.
She shifted to the window, a family of four hopping aboard and filling the surrounding seats. The next hour passed in eavesdropping and cellular beeps, downloadable content trumping conversation nine times out of ten. Their voices made her regrets hollow, a broken engagement far less stressful than the alternative. Joanie spied children and religion, a corrective tick remedied with medications meant to stifle intended outcomes. It was impossible to decipher where she’d be and whether her perception of happiness would have shifted substantially. A comparison to other shining examples was far too unhealthy that early in the morning.
The mountain made her sigh, most passengers racing their gear to the lodge immediately after the bus stopped. Manny held his arm out like a gentleman, smirking. “Ladies first.”
“Thanks,” she replied, keeping him close until their skis were fastened. “Good luck out there,” Joanie yelled as they hopped off the lift.
“You too,” Manny fastened his goggles and was quickly out of sight.
Her first run felt a bit awkward, father’s words repeating with each momentary divot in the trail. Keep your head up, dear. Don't let this damn hill get the best of you. As the morning rose and passed, these same remarks faded along with other memories. Joanie continually caught herself trying to forget as if his tone would simply cease from existence. There were other voices, but none quite as strong or forthright. They whirled around the present, up the hill and back down again.
At lunch, she only heard chewing, a small but vital pop in her left ear no better with warmth. Tiny scraps of information bounced perpetually between mouths, opportunities often disguised in casual displays; a firm handshake barely reciprocated, or two wives finally understanding their husbands’ weekly grind. There were impulses to top one another, bragging over Photoshopped baby pictures and overpriced wine. These women had barely broken a sweat, Joanie slowly drying out in the ladies’ room; her stomach somehow torn from expectations. She thought the day would be inaudible.
Light flurries made her squint, constantly slowing to wipe her goggles then skidding off again. Traffic grew sparse with each new elevation; kinfolk blurring to blue and red splotches breaking free only to merge again at the bottom. Joanie couldn’t feel her cheeks as the sun reflected back in the dark green Fitbit. Father’s Rolex still needed batteries, not to mention someone worthy of its band. Her brother couldn’t handle such responsibility, every other male in her life completely unaware. Even if she finally met the right one, he’d never understand its full significance. There was a true art to being alone, making each impulse just a little more rigid and refined.
It coerced her to try for one last run despite the waning darkness. Halfway down The Dead Bull, Joanie’s shoulder nicked a branch, the swelling making her teeter with each subsequent push. Minimal visibility only amplified her heartbeat, each flake slowing towards the steepest junction. She hopped just before a cluster of bushes, catching air then landing in a magnificent catastrophe, arms halfway in then out, balancing on one leg before both. Thankfully, it wasn’t a qualifying round.
Joanie felt young rushing to the lodge, carelessly tossing everything together again as half familiar faces periodically dispersed. The driver appeared distraught when she dropped off her skis, still grinning from the adrenaline. Sunken bodies filled every seat on the bus, some children stretching out their legs. Manny waved from the very back, significantly amused by the circumstances. “Crazy, right?” he said as she sat.
“Yeah, I didn’t think there were this many with us.”
“Maybe a few made some new friends.”
“Maybe,” Joanie sighed.
They talked for ten minutes then stared forward, other conversations continuing in their absence, Manny eventually apologizing as he leaned against the window and shut his eyes. She let her head bounce back and forth with each stop along the way, far too much noise to sleep. He shifted in time, breath ultimately slowing as she glanced over every so often, pleased by the sight. Manny was peaceful and ultimately aroused, biology acting counterproductively on colder days.
At first she’d barely noticed, the bulge carelessly peaking from a tiny fault in his oversized snow jacket and pants. Twinkling, Joanie looked away, then back one more time, bored enough to move her glove closer. She grazed it quickly, then pulled back, anxious for any kind of reaction. Manny barely flinched, his co-worker again advancing closer, touching softer this time then moving her hand out towards his leg. Peripherally, she checked the mother and daughter sleeping far sounder in the neighboring seat.
He started to groan slightly, baron murmurs fogging small portions of their window. She waited for his eyes to open then go wide, before Joanie gently covered his mouth with her free hand. “It’s okay,” she whispered. Manny tensed as she paced herself a second, then gradually sped up, like the final quarter mile in a marathon. There were already sign-ups for lost causes posted throughout the breakroom. Perhaps she’d try for a win this year, if only because just placing had lost its luster.
Bio: Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music archive focused on digital preservation with roots in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in Linden Avenue, Noctua Review, Yellow Chair Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Pot Luck Magazine, Crack the Spine, Unlikely Stories Mach IV, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, Lime Hawk and Talking Book among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.
FOR EVERYTHING THAT HURTS, THERE IS A PILL
For everything that hurts, there is a pill.
If you go out at night all dressed in blue,
the handsome man will always pay the bill.
The moon will turn to purple then turn back,
and when you shake, he'll know just what to do.
For everything that hurts, there is a pill.
You'll feel your mouth go dry, the night go black.
You'll wonder how you ever made it ever through.
The handsome man will always pay the bill.
And when it starts to fade, he'll bring it back.
He'll hold your hand and offer something new.
For everything that hurts, there is a pill.
But when he does not call, you'll hear a crack,
and it will be a sound you never knew.
For everything that hurts, there is a pill.
The handsome man will always pay the bill.
I find you all online from little towns
with names that sound like jokes to me. You work
in supermarkets, coffee shops, not bound
to either job or place. You're hurt by jerks
for years before we ever speak -- by dads
who started what the others followed through.
My pat response the best you've ever had:
A ticket to a city that is new.
My pretty punchline to a party joke:
"How do you get them to do that?" "I bought
retreat from small town pain, a life past broke,
a car that's mobile and a home that's not."
I purchase all your pain until you're through,
and then online I'll buy another you.
The problem with me isn’t lack of good
intentions. They just lose their color, youth
much like the dying potted plant I should
remember once a day to water. Truth
is that it’s been a couple of weeks because
I’ve been too busy fucking up my life
to save some blameless vegetation — judged
for verdant cheerfulness that mocks my strife;
sentenced to neglect, decay, demise. Yet
how it prolongs the wither, savors its
confinement, torture one more day. I bet
its life is proof to force to me to admit
it’s not only that my good intentions lapse.
There’s bad ones inside, too, that will not give.
It’s easier to kill than learn to live.
Bio: Kristin Garth is a novelist and poet who resides in Pensacola, Florida. She is currently working on an erotic novel entitled The Meadow.
Michal Zahornacký's photographs straddle the line between dreams and waking life, pulling one into the other, until there is almost no separation. "It's as in a dream," says Michal, "we don't set down borders for our imagination, we take our experience from the real world and let our imagination fly." The images are stunning examples of a mind taken to flight, but with feet firmly planted on the ground. The earth, herself, is also a subject of Zahornacký's photographs, reminding one that every dreaming body is housed by gravity.
AHC: What first drew you to photography? Was there a specific moment in your life or turning point where it became clear to you that you were being called to create?
Michal: During my childhood and teenage years I never really came across photography. It was only when I bought my first camera. I remember we were planning some trips with friends and I wanted a camera to capture our moments and adventures. Actually, I was completely fascinated by the camera. I started to create different experiments and enjoyed it greatly. All I wanted to do was take pictures. I am self-taught and still, to this day, I am learning. Nowadays photography basically fills out my everyday life.
AHC: Could you talk some about your overall process, themes & inspirations?
Michal: Since the beginning I've focused on creating projects or series that create a complete story. Each photograph is my way of telling a story about what I'm feeling, problems or issues that I need to work through. My goal, in each of my projects, is to create a whole series around common concepts. I want to show an unusual world. That's why many of my photographs are quite surreal. Sometimes they can look dreamy or unreal. That is my goal - we can create our own worlds, and everyone sees it differently. It's as in a dream - we don't set down borders for our imagination, we take our experience from the real world and let our imagination fly.
My creative process is usually the same. First, I have an idea that I want to transfer into photography. I create a rough sketch of the photograph and I only change small details later. It takes days, sometimes even weeks or months until I finish the photograph and I am happy with how it looks. The scenes are very important to me. The objects that you see in my photographs are usually real - not photo-shopped or manipulated. Many people actually think I use photo-shop a lot. That is not true. Most of my photographs are real, not manipulated. I find inspiration in my life mostly - people, environment, events that happen.
AHC: In your series Poems, you crafted images around Slovak poems, which poems and poets were your guiding inspiration and focus for this series?
Michal: Actually it's the opposite way. First I created the photographs and the poets created the poems based on my pictures. I created the stories for my photographs in the Poems series. I wanted them to show a hidden story, idea, metaphor. It was only later that it came to my mind that I was actually creating stories which could be transferred into poems. That's how it all came together. I asked Slovak poets if they would be interested in cooperation and luckily they were. All the poems were unique, original and represented my photographs. Basically it's a collection of poems complemented by artistic visuals.
AHC: Do you prefer shooting more in black and white or in color? I've heard it said that black and white tends to remove obstructions form the viewer, that color distracts, while B&W allows you to show the viewer exactly what you want them to see, do you find this to be the case, since I know you shoot in both mediums?
Michal: Actually I like both mediums. I do not set borders in my photography. It depends on the specific photograph as to which medium I will end up using. Nowadays I use more color, but I love B&W photography. I see B&W photography as a medium to capture excellent light and I think it has the power to capture the perfect moment. I would use B&W techniques to capture documentary, street or portrait as the monochrome color does not distract the viewer from the moment that the author wants to show. It shows the raw moment. On the other hand, when using color photography you reveal your inner soul through the photograph - how you see the world and your feelings.
AHC: Who are some of your artistic influences? Is there anyone outside of the art world whose work has impacted your own, or who just generally inspire you, writers, filmmakers, musicians etc?
Michal: I admire the works of Rodney Smith, Oleg Oprisco or Martin Stranka. Especially Martin, who inspired me in the beginning. He showed me so many different ways express myself through photography. I like to create while listening to music, it's relaxing and inspiring to me. I let my thoughts and ideas fly while listening to good songs. For example I like listening to M83 while working on a piece.
AHC: What is the first work of art/photography you encountered that took your breath away?
Michal: The work of Rodney Smith. His photographs are very clear, simple and yet so excellent and full of stories. Using simplicity he showed his world and how he sees it.
AHC: Are there times when you become blocked creatively? What do you do to rekindle inspiration?
Michal: Sure, it does happen to me. Actually I think it happens to everyone who creates. I think it's a normal and natural part of the creative process. I don't see it as a negative thing - quite the opposite. It presents the opportunity to find a different way of doing things. However, I usually try to keep myself busy with other things that can also be inspiring to me. Sometimes it's the small things that change the situation and inspire me in a different way.
AHC: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or new projects you'd like to tell people about?
Michal: At the moment I do not have any upcoming exhibitions. But I am in a productive process right now and am working on my newest project. It will be quite different from what I've shot in the past. It's a collaboration on a fantasy book I'm creating the photo illustrations for. At the moment I can not say more, but I am really excited for when the book is finished and I can share my photographs.
For more visit www.michalzahornacky.com/
All images © Michal Zahornacký
Theatre du Grand Guignol
We could never equal Buchenwald.
In those days before the war,
Everyone felt what happened onstage was impossible.
Our nightmares of sadism and perversion
Played out under angels at watch over the orchestra,
Our fantasies fulfilled in the private rental boxes
Once occupied by supplicating daughters of Christ--
We, aroused by the unthinkable,
Crimes in the madhouse
The laboratory of hallucinations
The torture garden and guillotine
The insane street urchins, prostitutes and apaches.
Lilly Laudanum became the most assassinated women in the world,
After she kissed the leper.
Shot with a rifle, raped, hanged, quartered,
Burned, cut with surgical tools, poisoned,
Devoured by a puma—
Strangled by her own perfectly matched pearls.
She is all of us, wandering
In this world afraid of the foreign, the unknown.
We could never imagine it possible.
Now we know these things,
Are possible in reality.
Image: ‘thelightingman’, Flickr
Bio: Susan Cossette is the author of Peggy Sue Messed Up . . . and other poems. Her work has appeared in Rust & Moth, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Clockwise Cat, among others. She is a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize. By day, she is communications director for Voices of September 11th, a nonprofit that works with those impacted by mass violence and terrorism.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.