A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is “merely relative,” is asking you not to believe him. So don’t. Deconstruction deconstructs itself, and disappears up its own behind, leaving only a disembodied smile and a faint smell of sulphur.
Blue snow. They’d taken her to see it as a child, that magical weather born from the Min river that floats up, not down, past the cypress and past the peaks and eventually paints the sky. Snowflakes that choose not to fall.
I wrote this story some years ago, and was honored to see it win a small flash fiction prize in Hong Kong. It grew over time, and to see it published today in Issue 41 of Literary Orphans, an exquisite magazine partially dedicated to what Yasunari Kawabata called “palm-of-the-hand stories,” is an even greater honor.
Thus, my sad little three-minute tale: Blue Snow.
Thus, in criticizing fiction we must be careful to distinguish those books that satisfy our own particular unconscious needs — the ones that make us say, “I like this book, although I don’t really know why” — from those that satisfy the deep unconscious needs of almost everybody. The latter are undoubtedly the great stories, the ones that live on and on for generations and centuries. As long as man is man, they will go on satisfying him, giving him something that he needs to have — a belief in justice and understanding and the allaying of anxiety. We do not know, we cannot be sure, that the real world is good. But the world of a great story is somehow good. We want to live there as often and as long as we can.
In it, we discussed my fifteen years of writing in China, the raucous Shenzhen arts scene during the late-2000s, utopias, transnationalism, and how one manages a writing habit as the world seems to dissolve around you.
Really, in the realm of literary magazines, Spittoon does a champion’s work. They also have a rocking graphic designer:
Truth told, it all started with the fish-market children. All summer long they’d assailed Black Tooth, begging he teach them his secret technique for smoking cigarettes in the rain. Whenever a typhoon squall would rise, they’d gather beneath the umbrellas on the pier, wait for the boatman to light his Marlboros, then squeal and applaud as he kept the embers glowing amid downpours like great iron sheets. The trick, he’d told them with the air of a magician, was seeing all the spaces in between.
…honored and irrationally pleased to see my story, The Unicorn King, appear in Spittoon Monthly. Spittoon is a remarkable arts collective with multiple publications, beautiful design, lucid criticism, and localized communities around the world. I wish more literary magazines aspired to these heights.
The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.
Do these vintage international Japanese novels have the most incredible covers ever, or what?
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
…the great and powerful Somerset Maugham
There are musicians whose hearts’ antennae broadcast from dark and beautiful worlds. And then there is Sturgill Simpson, their legendary ronin.
A hundred times I’ve watched this video, an acoustic “Oh Sarah,” the 8th track from Simpson’s 2016 album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. And I’ll probably listen a hundred times more.
Storytelling is the first and oldest spell, cast around lamps and fires since before there were cities, alphabets, and domesticated herbivores. The lives we live through stories intermix with our own memories, and because of stories our experiences multiply; our apprehension of the humanity of others is broadened, improved, and complicated, and each voice we hear becomes a small part of our own experience on this earth.
Upon your penitential morning,
some skull must rub its memory with ashes,
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish,
someone must write your poems.
…from “Mass Man,” by Derek Walcott, in The Gulf and Other Poems
….their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
…their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
Both listening to and rereading this speech are visceral, unifying joys. It gives you chills. It’s the height of achievement with the English language, and it’s as important today as it’s ever been.
This is why young men and women fall in love with the composition of the written word: the belief that they too can make people feel something so immense that their lives, and their worlds, are irrevocably changed.
I urge you to read the great man’s greatest speech today. It will remind you of all that is good and worthwhile in humanity.
You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest.
…John Keats, from Selected Letters.
The calendar has a magic that makes us imagine a memory can be resurrected and revived, but nothing returns.
…Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of Desire: The Cairo Trilogy
At six o’clock he rises, creaking, and says “How are you?” to the flower pot on the table. It is empty. Outside, smog saddens the day. The tram’s copper bellchime sounds through the balcony, and this is a bad Tuesday, he thinks, though it is Wednesday. He checks the clipboard, then wanders off to water your Aglaonema.
My very, very short story, Flower Pot, was recently published in decomP Magazine, for which I am grateful. Very short stories can be very fun, but I like them best when they hew close to prose poetry.
It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of the simpler aspects or things normally regarded as complicated. Take, for instance, the writing of a poem. It consists of three stages: the first is when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it. What he does is the second stage, namely, construct a verbal device that will reproduce this emotional concept in anyone who cares to read it, anywhere, any time. The third stage is the recurrent situation of people in different times and places setting off the device and re-creating in themselves what the poet felt when he wrote it. The stages are interdependent and all necessary. If there has been no preliminary feeling, the device has nothing to reproduce and the reader will experience nothing. If the second stage has not been well done, the device will not deliver the goods, or will deliver only a few goods to a few people, or will stop delivering them after an absurdly short while. And if there is no third stage, no successful reading, ,the poem can hardly be said to exist in a practical sense at all.
Chiara’s father had a bright face once. In the sapphire dusks of the garden in Naples, her father had the smile of a saint. But now he is smudged, and he falls asleep on the couch with his mouth wide open. Sometimes he wears a mask.
Absolutely charmed to see my story, “Chiaroscuro,” appear online in Scoundrel Time, where it was edited by the luminous Karen E. Bender. Scoundrel Time is a wonderful magazine. You’d generally be a better human for reading it.
Dinghao squatted on a flat stone ledge, peering out over the swamp and the town and the torchlights that flickered in the darkness like a zodiac of doom.
“What now?” Coffin Maker Wang whispered.
With a coolness to his gaze, Dinghao turned to the opposite direction, looking out over the illucid darkness and the landscape that stretched for miles.
“Now,” he said. “We walk.”
Eunoia Review is a Singapore-based online literary journal committed to sharing the fruits of ‘beautiful thinking’, and one which just did me the great honor of publishing my very long short story, “Chinese Poetry.“
Weeks went by, then months. I am speaking of a far-away time – a vanished happiness. It fell to me to befriend, to console with whatever words I could find, one who had been the fairy, the princess, the mysterious love-dream of our adolescence – and it fell to me because my companion had fled. Of that period … what can I say? I’ve kept a single image of that time, and it is already fading: the image of a lovely face grown thin and of two eyes whose lids slowly droop as they glance at me, as if her gaze was unable to dwell on anything but an inner world.
To his surprise, she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, a kiss so full of affection that it dispelled the awkwardness, even as it caused Miles’s heart to plummet, because all kisses are calibrated and this one revealed the great chasm between affection and love.
I will argue until convinced otherwise that the greatest television show of all time is a children’s show, one that is also perhaps the greatest act of American storytelling in any medium of the last twenty years, and is also one that, I freely admit, I’ve watched to completion no less than three times. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t just close to perfect. It is perfect. I can think of only two novels that I consider superior acts of storytelling, and I’ve never met anyone who’s actually watched the show that disagrees. It includes a character arc that puts Jaime Lannister to shame, plots out madness in a way that makes Daenerys Targaryen look silly, has terrifyingly exquisite animation, has no less than six show-stealingly powerful female characters (balancing three poignantly complex male wannabe heroes), and has been known to make grown men and women cry on occasion. It also has a sky bison.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Trust me.