To-Do List Poems

Our literature elective class and I wrote poems modeled on/inspired by Jen Hofer’s “future somatics to-do list” and her notion of “a poem that is a to-do list that is a poem”(read the original here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/future-somatics-do-list).

 

Carter’s poem:

Normal To-Do List 

Go to the store.

Get milk.

Get macaroni and cheese.

Get treats for that get-together.

Get treats for just myself.

Finish that poem for class.

Finish that essay for class.

Get milk please.

Don’t worry about the past.

Get cereal.

Clean my room.

Don’t think about the past.

Cry.

DON’T CRY.

Charge laptop for classes tomorrow.

Learn my lines for the play.

Think of the future.

Be anxious of the future.

Get milk.

Finish writing

treats for the

Think of

Milk

Do cry.

Avoid

anxious.

Crawl up

Do cry.

Go to

poem for

clean.

to the store.

my room.

Charge laptop

for class.

Calm down.

Take your medication.

Sleep.

 

 

Erin’s poem:

“A To-Do List”

 

What kleenexes are best for wiping away tears?

Where in the body does loving take place?

How to move on from losing someone?

Where to buy flowers?

What is a good store to shop for black dresses? The silky, long ones, the short cocktail ones, the poofy ones, short sleeve, long sleeve, middle?

How to be there for family?

Who do we consider family? Is it the ones we love the most? The ones who are blood related?

Why do we cry?

Where in the body do we forget?

Where in the body does grieving take place?

Where in the body does loving take place?

How to write a mournful speech?

What are the best memories?

What are methods to cope with grieving?

What are the best types of headstones?

What do we say to express condolences? I am so sorry for your loss, they will be deeply missed, they were a wonderful person?

Where do tears come from?

How to get the red puffiness to go away?

Where to get good waterproof makeup?

What photos are good?

Why is it so hard to lose a loved one?

 

Klaire’s poem:

“how to find your worth: a to-do list”

 

Wake Up.

am I really worth it?

convince myself I am.

(you’d never know,

I can’t stand my reflection.

maybe there’s a reason I never told you,)

I have questions for you.

ask myself why you’re so interested in me

how does one go day to day waking up happy?

tell myself I am beautiful.

can you tell me you believe in me?

paint on your smile.

what is my worth?

who is worthy of me?

am I wrong to feel?

what am I good for?

why do I break and shatter?

why me?

cry under the covers.

think about all the happy things in life,

then cry some more.

finally tell myself

I am worth it.

Fall Asleep.

 

 

Melina’s poem:

“Life: A to-do list”

 

what is life all scratched up to be?

what is the most important thing?

is it adventure?

do adrenaline and experience control your quality of life?

is it triumph?

do your successes determine how happy you are?

is it happiness?

do the highs in your life show how far you’ve come?

is it love?

blood or otherwise, do these people accentuate your virtues?

is everyone’s answer different?

is everyone’s answer the same?

does anyone have more than one answer?

does anyone have hundreds of answers?

does anyone really know for sure?

or is everyone simply in a state of oblivion?

and that’s not all.

because after life comes death.

what about death?

where do we go?

what is made of our souls?

or our bodies?

what determines whether we lived a good or bad life?

is it the same subjects as the living?

which is more dreadful?

to be alive in a state of unknowing?

or to simply be dead?

 

Sadie’s poem:

“Losing: A to-do list”

 

Did you have to look at me that way?

Shame, regret and disappointment bleeding together.

Did you have to frown that much?

A small rainbow sitting on your face, but grayed out.

Did you have to strike me?

A red handprint now sits on my cold cheek.

Did you have to shout at me?

Your voice cracked a few times.

Did you have to take those clothes?

We bought them together once.

Did you have to call me that?

I thought you promised to never call me that.

Did you have to turn sharply?

You seem to hate the sight of me.

Did you have to leave?

You could’ve given a better explanation.

Did you have to leave out what I did?

I don’t even know what I did.

Will you please come back?

I’m all alone.

 

Mr. Polking’s poem:

“Past Tense: A Was-Done List”

 

Did I return your message?

Did you return mine?

Did we speak in person?

Were you “fine”?

How long did we maintain eye contact?

Did we listen?

Were you smiling?

Did we soften?

Did you fall in the forest?

Did I hear you?

Was our love star-crossed or merely lost?

Did we stumble or were we pushed?

Did I mumble or did I crush words together,

A portmanteau of pre-emptive strikes

Against the possibility of more?

Theme in Red

With credit to The Crucible, Carl Sandburg’s “Theme in Yellow,” and the 2015 film The Witch, here is my creepy Halloween poem:

 

Theme in Red

 

I stalk the fallen leaves

With reddish work at night.

I light the eerie mist,

Sulfuric in my intent

And I am called Old Scratch.

On the last of October

With the scrim of dusk hoisted

Upon us

Children clamp and cower,

Me circling around them,

Offering plaintive pleas

And love to the sullen moon;

I am a hoofed beast

With feral teeth

And the children know

I am not fooling.

 

“Dost thou wish to live deliciously?”

Songs of the Season

My high school literature elective class recently worked on poems inspired by/modeled on “The Blower of Leaves” by January Gill O’Neil. Read the brilliant original poem here: “The Blower of Leaves”.

Below are my version and student versions (used with student permission).

 

The Blower of Snow

Always there are flakes after flakes waiting to fall.

An infinity of alabaster, swirling in

 

the fading December sun, glazing my eyes

In a welter of white. My driveway is their destination.

 

Today I kneel to the feeling of possible grace,

the beauty of what’s unseen—the holy world

 

of our work made harder without you,

while the soft kiss of snowfall caresses the ground.

 

I am a fool. Even as the wan sky feebles and falters,

it is still lovely. I scan the creeping maw of dusk

 

for its remains. All this time I was praying

to a forgiving God to absolve us,

 

but really I was hoping for you to be enough.

It was a failing that whirled inside me,

 

a bleak symmetry, a synapse of grief pulsing enough,

enough. How I had conflated it with survival.

 

I can forgive the snow covering the bare maples,

the blade of the plow scarring the grass,

 

but without you there is no forgiveness.

Only silence. Only the sky’s dying cover

 

And ice masquerading as purchase.

Nothing is ever easy or true,

 

except the snow. It falls.

Dependable as a season.

 

Klaire’s “The Grower of Roses”

Always there is sky after sky waiting to grow.

The luminosity of the light

 

in the April sun, blinding my eyes

in a curtain of color. My yard is their landing strip.

 

Today I bow to the power of positive space,

the beauty that is now showing–

 

the hard work of yard work

paid off with you,

 

I am a fool, thinking I could do it alone.

As the ground warms, the roses grow.

 

There is no more snow. All this time,

I was just waiting for you to tell me

 

that I was enough.

It was a feeling that swirled inside me,

 

my blood pulsing for you to say I was enough,

enough. How I had mistaken your hidden love for unhappiness.

 

If I can forgive the wind blowing branches over our roses,

crushing them, after they have grown,

 

I can forgive you for hiding

the love you have for me.

 

It’s time to grow.

 

Sadie’s “The Catcher of Blossoms”

Millions of blushing petals falling to the ground.

they flood my vision and bring forth a smile

 

that they gladly carry even as they land

on the rigid earth. They carry so much more.

 

Today I lay and offer prayer to falling petals,

the plea to fill what’s missing–the feel of you.

 

I’m a fool. Even as red stains the freshly fallen petals,

they cannot offer me healing. I stain their lovely color

 

with my life essence. All this time I was waiting

for you to tell me of your hopes and dreams,

 

but really I was waiting for you to say listen.

It was a feeling that gnawed at my heart,

 

as though my heart were wood for a beaver.

How I had wished for that happiness to come.

 

I can forgive the many petals that land on my clothes,

the drops of rain that soaked me to the bone,

 

but with you there is no forgiveness.

Only hate. Only the growing vengeance

 

And hate keeping me alive.

Nothing is ever pure of heart,

 

except the blossoms. They all bloom.

Much like love and hate do.

 

Erin’s “The Falling of Rain”

Always there is rain after rain waiting to flood.

A million raindrops falling onto

 

The vibrant green grass, leaving its

Diamond glitter. My yard is the store.

 

Today I woke up to the power of rain,

The beauty of what’s missing- the sun

 

The sun hiding behind the clouds,

While the rain falls to the ground.

 

I am a fool. Even as grass grows stronger

They still break. I feed the gaping mouths of the mower

 

With their remains. All this time I was waiting

For the sun to shine above us,

 

But really I was waiting for you to apologize.

It was a feeling fluttering inside me,

 

An overcast, a hurricane of the sadness,

How I had mistaken it for happiness.

 

I can forgive the weather,

The mud and puddles,

 

But with you there is no forgiveness.

Only forgetting. Only the lawn not being mowed

 

And weeds dancing in the wind.

Nothing is ever easy or true

 

Except the rain. It floods.

Dependable as a season.

 

Carter’s “The Roasting of Rays”

Always there is sun, causing shimmering

simmering light. The kids swimming in

 

their phony, periwinkle, plastic pools.  Teen

girls sitting in the sun. Adults too busy

 

working to have any fun.  

Rays of really resplendent radiance running to the earth.

 

Creamy clouds crawling cross the sky,  

relieving the sun with a relaxing rest.

 

High schoolers sleeping in late in their

calming, comfy cots.  Messing with their

 

perfect phones, proudly pretending to know pleasure,

but knowing nothing but pessimistic pain.

 

Summer showing nothing but somber sadness,

feeling sorry, yet showing nothing.

 

High school students submit to the sorrow of school.

Summer is stopping.

 

Sadie’s “The King of the Mountain”

Birds let out their cheerful song

into the warm throne room. Golden petals

 

filled the empty comforting air. These flowers

have been blooming since the prince died.

 

Today he thinks of who he all lost

all those years ago because of the humans.

 

Water flowed from his watering can,

mimicking the tears his family shed

 

all those long, painful years ago. He felt

empty as he thought of his once perfect family.

 

He’s a fool. Even as hope dwindled in the monsters,

he pledged war against the humans.

 

The very creatures that trapped him and his people,

were also going to free them

 

with their strong souls. All this time he was praying

that no more humans would fall down,

 

but really he was praying to free his people.

It was a sorrowing feeling that devoured him,

 

like his heart was butterscotch cinnamon pie.

How he wished for his former life.

 

He could forgive his wife for leaving him,

the humans who killed his children,

 

but with himself there was no forgiveness.

Only blame. Only his golden flowers

 

And chirping birds to comfort him.

Nothing is ever whole or complete,

Dreams they complicate my life

Last night I dreamed of dust and distant thunder.

Summer dust shuffling into openings, settling onto all inert objects.

Dust as solar tears;

When your tear ducts dry, you suffer.

Last night I woke and did not cry;

I woke and heard the rain drip, descanting into the darkness.

Last night I slept and wished for more.

As with eating, we have forgotten how to sleep, two fundamental acts of living:

We complicate what should be simple & simplify what should be complicated.

Last night I woke and saw intruding headlights.

As a child, I needed light to sleep—

Now our days and nights slip the grout and become a seep:

I wake without waking and sleep without sleeping, drowsing through the deep.

“Selfie” Manifestos

My literature elective class read Becca Klaver’s “Manifesto of the Lyric Selfie,” using it as a model/inspiration for our own “selfie” manifestos. You should Klaver’s original poem here. As always, I wrote along with the class. You can read my version below, followed by student versions (all used with permission).

Our swipes
They are multiple
We shuffle them
often as we peer.

They can match us.
We can match ourselves.
We’ve got our
To-be-swiped-at-ness
Oh we have
Got it.
We leer and drool.
Go caveman.

We’re all bros.
We’re all swole.
We write our poems.
On our biceps.
We write our manifestos.
While flexing in the mirror.
While catcalling on the street.
We think: if only your eyes
Could see me now.

We pose to show
How hard we grow
And deny our feelings.

There are no more emotions.
There is no more tenderness.
We smudge our sadness.
We flip the cam around.
What is burning in our little hearts?
Hashtags of lust,
Licking like spit.
We had been reflective.
We have been reflected.

 

Student versions:

Klaire’s “I’m Bossy” (with apologies to Kelis)

There are multiple “me”s

It’s a hard pill to swallow,

Refresh and reload

Scroll through my feed

You don’t have to love me,

but I’m the boss.

We peer and cross,

lazy look,

girly look.

We’re all pretty

Bossy.

We write our poems

on the mirror.

We write our manifestos.

Telling everyone to get in the photo booth.

Take the picture,

We all look

Pretty Bossy.

Strut across the street,

everyone stop and look at me.

We pose to show

the spontaneous overflow

of powerful feelings.

What is burning in our little hearts?

Hashtag bossy

We had been reflective.

We have been reflected.

 

Erin’s “Manifesto”

Our likes

They are multiple.

We look at them

often as we please.

We can post them

We can take them down.

We’ve got our

Perfect moment

Oh we have

Got it

We peer and cross.

Go like it.

We’re all girly.

We’re picture perfect.

We write our poems.

We write our manifestos.

While sitting at the dinner table.

While watching a game.

We think: if only I

Could post this now.

We are ready

To show

Our “perfect” lives

There are no more sunsets.

There is no more enjoying food.

We smudge our panorama

We flip the cam around

What is igniting up in our hearts?

Numbers of likes

Lighting up like flames.

We had been liking.

We have been liked.

 

Taylor’s “Manifesto of the Lyric Media”

Their lives.

They’re perfect

In every way and form.

I see the smiles

And the ideal lifestyle.

I wish to be them.

I want to be them.

But that’s not who

I am.

Scrolling and tapping

Makes my inner emptiness

A little more dark.

But it doesn’t fill the void

That engulfs me and my

Emotionless life.

I care for these people,

I swear.

I know everyone on my feed,

I think.

And when I’m done stalking my

Friends-cousins-girlfriends-niece,

I’ll close the program.

Just to open another one.

Hours fly by

And I can already see

That none of these people,

Are happier than me.

Their lives are glossed over

By a pixelated screen.

It seems, that’s all they see.

One after another, the

Apps disappear.

And here I think,

Mine does too.

To feel the feel of happiness,

I know what I should do.

But do they?

 

Sadie’s “Perfection Is A Lie”

I think: if only,

He could see what he created.

That once ‘perfect’ daughter,

Transformed into a

Demonic, yet sinfully beautiful goddess.

Leading an army of spineless corpses,

Along the lands she once was promised to rule.

Watching with boredom,

As the people she’d sworn to protect,

Scream and burn to a crisp from the dragon’s flames.

He looked at her once,

And saw the reminder of his late wife.

So he forced his ‘perfect’ daughter out,

Into the cruel, lonely world by herself.

Walking through town after town,

Feeling the people’s cold, wondrous eyes,

Until she was found.

Envi, the great goddess’s lieutenant,

Who fused her soul with mine.

After that,

How my vessel looked remained unchanged,

But deep down,

She was no longer herself,

But she was me.

A burning spirit rose inside,

And with this spirit,

I set out to quench my thirst for bloodshed.

Now, when people first see us,

They run in fear,

Or think of us as that once kind princess.

Their eyes watch us,

But deep inside,

They’ve yet to meet me.

The me,

That their beloved king unknowingly,

Created.

 

Carter’s version

Our eyes.

There are two.

We use them

often as we like.

We can see them.

We can see ourselves.

We’ve got our

to-looked-around-ness

oh we have

got it.

We peer and cross.

Go gazing.

We’re all watchers.

We’re pretty selfie.

We eye our poems.

We glance at our manifestos.

While sitting in the photo booth.

While looking down the street.

We think: if only my eyes

could see me now.

There is a tranquil lyric

but we see the emotion

with the gallop of the gander.

We pose to show

the spontaneous overflow

of powerful feelings.

There are countrysides.

There are churchyards.

We see with our vision.

We flip the cam around.

What is burning in our little heads?

Balls of interiority

looking like marbles.

Eyes had been reflective.

Eyes have been reflected.

 

Melina’s version

How did this end up happening?

I’ve never been able to understand.

And I know I’m not alone.

Because since when

did people become the greedy beings

that they are today?

Why are materialistic things

more important than authenticity?

All we are is numbers these days.

Likes.

Followers.

Reposts.

It’s a very sad reality, indeed.

Since when did pictures

lose their purpose as mementos

and become replaced as pride?

I always thought that pictures

were used as reflections.

Flashbacks to happy, hopeful times.

Never would I have ever guessed

that they would one day be turned

into bragging rights.

Only used to show off.  

Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton—a book review

You begin the new school year with hope and good intentions. (If you don’t: stop teaching.)

Virus-free desks, virus-free computers.

But then one of the two cameras doesn’t work and School Picture Day Fiasco of 2018 ensues.

You spend four hours saunaing in the pillbox of football concessions, missing your nephew’s first start as QB1. Your team loses and your body exudes popcorn oil for eternity.

You miss the fourth day of school to travel one hundred minutes to a required class serving no purpose other than credentialism. All you learn is this fact: The same class was offered before the school year started, only you were not offered this choice. It rains for one hundred minutes on the drive back home.

One of your building’s wireless networks has to be shut down because someone has been illegally downloading a recent Hollywood blockbuster.

A student of yours misses the entire second week of school, and no one knows why.

A student of yours is sent away for placement.

Two weeks in and already the world is too much with you.

You need a shot of redemption, a growler of serotonin.

You pick up Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton.

And you remember your purpose.


 

Cliff Hubbard, the narrator of Neanderthal Opens . . . , is larger than a CLIF Bar and nearly the size of an actual cliff. He is unlikely to eat an actual CLIF Bar, as his diet consists mostly of Pop-Tarts and pizza. His classmates can’t see past his bulk and his bracing disdain for everyone and everything but the movies he mostly watches alone. They call him Neanderthal—if they speak to him at all. They see his size and his silence as an invitation for harassment and bullying.

“Classmates” is the appropriate term, as Cliff’s only friend was his older brother, Shane. Note the use of the past tense.

High school is hell for Cliff, and home merely another level of the underworld, with a drunken, abusive father and a mother proving how a smile can be the ultimate form of denial.

Then the school’s star quarterback and living embodiment of toxic masculinity Aaron Zimmerman, fresh from fisticuffs with Cliff, suffers an accident that leaves him in a coma. Aaron emerges from the coma a changed man, convinced God has spoken to him, convinced God wants him to change his high school, convinced God wants Cliff to help Aaron make this change happen.

Convincing Cliff, however, may require another act of God. And actually completing the list? How hard could it be to redeem the school’s biggest bully? How hard could it be to convince the school’s meanest teacher to hit the reset button on his life and his career? How hard could it be to overcome the school’s version of the Spanish Inquisition?

As hard as . . . , well, I could the same figurative language as our narrator, but I’m not sixteen years old.

In turns scabrously funny and fabulously transcendent, Neanderthal Open The Door To The Universe successfully mixes the sacred and the profane as Aaron and Cliff team up with a motley crew of Breakfast Club outsiders, most notably the pint-sized, foul-mouthed spitfire that is Tegan, the younger sister of the school’s main drug dealer.

Elevator pitch: Deadpool meets Dead Poet’s Society—and it works.

Cliff isn’t a suited superhero, but he’s the kind of superhero suited to our broken present—the kind who makes us believe broken can be fixed.


 

Oh, and your purpose? Tegan makes it explicit (she makes most everything explicit):

“Sometimes . . . we get so caught up in the things we gotta do . . . that we forget about the people.”

And now Monday feel less like a burden and more like an opportunity.

 

Truths Google Can’t Provide

Students in my new literature elective and I read the poem “Questions” by Rachel Richardson this week. You can (and should) read Richardson’s original poem here: “Questions”

We then crafted our own versions of “Questions,” using different Google Search questions and different truths. I’m posting mine first, as I am thrilled to be writing alongside my students in this class. Then you’ll find student versions (from those who granted permission to share).

If there’s one true thing, it’s that
Google will make money off us no matter what.
If we want to know
the best backpack for back-to-school
(as it seems we do)
the best morning routine for school
(as it seems we do)
what hairstyle is on trend:
the monster is ready for its feeding.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
is a line by William Butler Yeats, and
many in Wyoming have asked, apparently,
How to kiss. Also
In California, why do dogs poop?
Who will remember me when I’m gone
May be up there, generating ad revenue, but not
As high as why do I sweat so much,
Or why do people lie.
How long will my name generate results
And will anyone
Bother to click on them even so.
Google will return with its innumerable
Grains of sand numerated:
How to say goodbye,
What to eat for dinner,
What is my astrological sign,
Why do we worry,
Am I gone forever, never to come back.

Haley’s “Questions”:

If there is one true thing, it’s that

Google will make money off us no matter what.

If we want to know

answers to life’s most morbid questions.

Like why do we die?

When will I die?

What’s happening to the U.S.?

Or maybe you don’t like morbid things?

So here you are four A.M. googling

Is Elon Musk single?

Is Brendon Urie lonely?

Or do penguins have knees?

Here we are distracting ourselves.

Time after time we stay up till sunrise and avoid

Our real problems. The messes we’ve made.

We’re distracting ourselves with questions like if the

last remaining member of Panic at The Disco is lonely.

The man’s worth eight million dollars

odds are he has friends.

Maybe one night that we’ve been up for 12 hours straight

We’ll all collectively open google and search

Who am I?

What am I doing with my life?

What are we doing here?

How do I fix things?

Maybe then we will truly break the internet.

 

Carter’s “Mostly Stolen Google Poem”:

 

If there’s one true thing

It’s that Google will make money off us no matter what.

If we want to know

What the most popular book in America is

(as it seems we do)

What the most popular TV show in the world is

(as it seems we do)

What is the population of the Earth:

The engine is ready for our desire

To be or not to be: that is the question,

Is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and

Many have asked, apparently,

Why did I get married. Also

How to make money online. Am I pretty

May be up there, generating

High cost-per-click, but not

As high as how to lose weight,

What time is 1 AM PT in my region.

So many things I wanted to ask you,

Now that you’re gone, and your texts

Bounce back to me

Undeliverable. Praise to

The goddess of the internet search, who returns

With her basket of grain,

67,000 helpful suggestions

To everything we request:

How to play Fortnite,

What to do in a power outage,

How old is the Queen,

How to screenshot on Mac,

What Friends character am I,

Why do we yawn,

Where are you now, come back

 

Taylor’s “Questions”:

If there’s one true thing, it’s that

Google will make money off us no matter what.

If we want to know

How Tom Petty passed away or his final years of age

(as it seems we do)

How fidget spinners came to be and gone

(as it seems we do)

How much destruction Irma caused fellow humans:

To a site we trust, that is now our new superhuman.

Questions line up at the door, scurrying for an answer

To every inquiry from WebMD saying you have cancer.

Not every site is trustworthy, but still we proceed,

Even if the website is just full of tumbleweeds.

Yet, with every page we open and close,

Google is finding ways to make more money,

I suppose.

Within .46 seconds, Google is able to define itself,

Within .46 seconds, I can’t even find myself.

You treat the popular search engine like an old friend,

You still ask and can’t quite apprehend,

Why you still don’t have a girlfriend.

Face to face contact is not apart of today’s trends,

Because, at least you know, in the end

Google will still be your “friend”.

He is not a fake person, just not authentic,

Otherwise, you may be experiencing a hallucinogenic.

But with everything we request from a soulless

Search engine,

We still ask questions beyond our minds retention:

What is the function of a rubber duck,

How old is Donald Trump,

Is it going to rain today,

What is your name,

I don’t know,

It’s all the same.

 

Klaire’s “Questions”:

If there’s one true thing, it’s that

Google will make money off us no matter what.

If we want to know

who won the Super Bowl in 2015

who won the Mayweather vs McGregor fight,

Google is there to tell us.

What is the weather going to be like tomorrow afternoon

Rain or Shine?

how many windmills are in Iowa

how to play Sims,

Why did you leave me? Where did you go?

how to use a waffle iron

what time is it in Florida.

There’s so many questions

I need you to answer.

Where’s a good place in the area for a picnic?

Praise to

the goddess of the internet search, who returns

with all the answers I need.

Where was Adam Sandler on Tuesday?

Who will Odell Beckham be playing for this year?

Why are there clouds in the sky?

Please come back, will you come home?

 

Sadie’s “Questions”:

 

If there’s one true thing, it’s that

Google will make money off us no matter what.

If we want to know

How many wins Ninja has in Fortnite

(as it seems we do)

When the next episode of Roseanne airs

(as it seems we do)

What memes seem to be sweeping the nation right now:

Google is at the ready, waiting for our desired questions.

Wonder implies the desire to learn

Is a line by Aristotle, and

Many people have wondered even the most ridiculous,

In order to learn what they already don’t know.

Wonder leads to desire,

Desire can lead to greed.

What happens when we don’t find the answers we want?

Greed floods us, infects us until we finally find that answer,

Even if it’s completely wrong.

Google holds an apple full of poison,

Able to lead us away from what is right and to what is wrong.

Why fidget spinners became popular,

Why Fortnite is better than PUBG,

Why Hannah Baker committed suicide,

Why Pennywise stalks children for food.

All these questions have answers, but what we find

May not satisfy our greed and desire to know,

Not like opinions do.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold—a book review

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Apophenia: the tendency to perceive meaningful patterns where none exist.

Noah Oakman is a kid of appetite; he even tells Circuit Lovelock (yes, that’s his name—bear with us) this the evening of their seemingly chance meeting at a high school party: “I think my appetite for life exceeds that of a normal human” (53). Noah’s appetite includes writing his own concise history, obsessing over a photo dropped by a singer who visited his high school, ritually reviewing a time-lapse YouTube video of a woman who took a daily self-portrait every day for nearly forty years, stalking an elderly man with a goiter who walks in his neighborhood, and consuming all available information about his favorite author, the enigmatic Mila Henry.

How do all of these appetites, these fascinations, connect? Noah is convinced they do, especially after his encounter with Circuit leaves his own circuits seemingly rewired, seeing a scar on his mother he swears wasn’t there before, the physical transformation of his family’s dog, the changing personalities of his gay best friend Alan and Alan’s sister Val. But not everything has changed: Noah’s younger sister Penny, for example, remains “pathologically authentic.” And Noah still has to make a decision about college and his future.

Arnold’s hyper-allusive young adult novel involves frequent David Bowie references (see also: the title) but it’s the Beatles who come to mind when I think about the patterns Noah finds. Specifically, “Eleanor Rigby”—”Look at all the lonely people/Where do they all belong?” Noah’s quest to find his place in the world, as it does for so many high school seniors, features the constant vacillation between the insistent dreams of the future and the resistant reality of loss. Loss of family, loss of friends, loss of self. A crippling fear that “the potential of loneliness is scarier than actual loneliness” (394).

If you’ve read Arnold’s previous novels, Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite (and if you haven’t, fix that oversight), the mania, melancholy, and musings of Noah are of a piece with characters from those books. Until everything changes and Noah Oakman becomes Noah Hypnotik and we are figuratively taken across the universe.  The Strange Fascinations . . . makes Arnold’s previous novels feel positively restrained—the intentional bombastic sprawl of Arnold’s latest reads as though Walt Whitman decided “Song of Myself” should be a concept album and recruited some prog rock legends to record it. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is indeed strange, and hilarious, and strangely fascinating in its treatment of loneliness, longing, and loss. I encourage you to board the propulsive vessel of Arnold’s novel and float along in its most peculiar wake.

 

 

The Teddy Bears—To Know Him Is To Love Him

Tom Breihan over at Stereogum has been running a column about all the Number One songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since its inception in 1958. (It’s great—you should check it out.) I decided to use each song as a writing prompt.

 

The specter of future ills

fills the clean notes with a grizzly

wall of dread—can we bear

the question of whether

we ever really know, know, know

anyone?

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

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What to do when your enjoyment of a book forces you to confront a genre bias:

1. Quietly place the book on a shelf in your classroom library, work on plausible deniability.

“Emergency Contact? Not sure how that got there—maybe the publisher sent it to me?”

2. Declare the book a genre outlier, anomalous, and praise it with “Yes, but . . .”

“Yes, I enjoyed Emergency Contact, but mostly because the author breaks with narrative convention by using lists and replications of text messages, and her usage of pop-cultural references and neologisms like “snack-crastinated” creates a ludic narrative voice . . .”

3. Admit how you tore through the book because you loved the two main characters and dug how the author unironically/ironically embraced many genre conventions—and finally admit to yourself and others that enjoying a good romantic story neither makes you a Disney-fied cultural dupe nor destroys the last vestiges of your illusory masculine street cred.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi will make you put down your phone long enough to see what happens between first-year University of Texas student Penny and slightly older barista/baker/brooding budding filmmaker Sam, the supposedly off limits and unobtainable “uncle” (it’s complicated) of Penny’s UT roommate, Jude.

And then pick your phone up and tell all your friends to read this book. Even if, like Penny, you’ve never had many friends.

Blisteringly funny, alternately snarky and heartfelt, a winning mixture of the engagingly trivial and the disturbingly real,  Emergency Contact illuminates as much as it captivates, shining lights of varying intensities on issues such as female friendships, mother-daughter relationships, modern romance, sexual assault, race and class in America, and the ways social media and technology are changing how we construct our identities and connect with each other. Highly recommended.

tl;dr (didn’t read my review; you should absolutely read the book) —crying from laughing emoji/actually crying emoji/heart-eyes emoji.