Pretend Interview with Nicolette Polek

This past January, I accompanied Nicolette Polek to California for events related to the release of her first book, Imaginary Museums, out now from Soft Skull Press. On our drive from Berkeley to Los Angeles, we listened to Matthew Zapruder’s Otherppl interview, in part because we’d read with Matthew the night before, and in part because Nicolette was going to go on Otherppl when we were in LA. When we stopped listening, Nicolette asked me if I could pretend to interview her, so she could get used to answering questions, which she would also have to do at her event with Kathryn Scanlan the next day. I secretly recorded the pretend interview. What follows is an edited selection of her answers during our “interview.”

I feel like what people refer to as surreal is what I maybe just view as surprising… or, strange juxtaposition… a smiling person… or…  for example…

See? That was a good pause.

It was the start of something…

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October 8th, 2020 / 9:57 am

Guided Meditation 1: Sponge

*Read gently, with contemplative pauses between each paragraph*

Hello. My name is Dan, and I’ll be guiding your meditation today.

Now, I don’t usually do this, but Charlene, your usual guide, was feeling a bit anxious today, and that wouldn’t have been good for any of us.

Anyway, how are y’all doing?

Good, good, good.

What say we get started?

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October 7th, 2020 / 9:39 am

How I’ve Ben

Look, you’re a chill reader, so don’t take this the wrong way but, in a few years if you’re still coming here, scrolling down, hitting refresh, looking for comments, I’ll fuckin’ kill ya. That’s not a threat, that’s a fact, I’ll fuckin’ kill ya.

No. No, no no no. Fuck you, you don’t get to say you’re bored, esoterically inclined, nostalgic for some shit storms. Cuz tomorrow I’m gonna wake up and I’ll be fifty, and I’ll still be doin’ this shit. And that’s all right. I got time. But you’re an actual writer, like with a hardbound novel with blurbs n’ shit, mildly reviewed on Amazon because of those one-star review pricks complainin’ that the delivery was late. I’d do fuckin’ anything to have what you got. So would most of these fuckin’ guys. It’d be an insult to us if you’re still here in a year. Hangin’ around here is a fuckin’ waste of your time.

Oh, I don’t know that? Let me tell you what I do know. Every night I bust out a few drafts of some shit, get tanked and hate follow your twitter. You post some way too serious shit, I have a good laugh and that’s great. But you know what the best part of my day is? It’s for about ten seconds after this post is tweeted and I think maybe you’ll like it. Like an actual important someone. No retweet, no reply, no nothin’. Just a simple heart. I don’t know much, but I know that.

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September 30th, 2020 / 11:47 am

Mark’s movie

1091 Pictures has picked up Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story for a digital release on October 27th (via Deadline). Filmmaker Julie Sokolow compiled a bunch of Mark’s youtube videos, alongside interviews with family and friends, to make the film. You can check out more info here.

The last time I saw Mark was two years ago during an ayahuasca ceremony. I had just puked, and he showed up to say hey what’s up, i miss u. He said that death is a kind of expansion, an expanding into pure light and acceptance and love, and we’re all just energetic beams of light walking around, so it’s cool because we can basically hang out with him whenever we want.

But I still miss him buttloads, all the time.

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September 28th, 2020 / 10:12 am

Reviews

Tales from the Loop, the tabletop roleplaying game

Hi. It’s okay. It’s just me.

Matthew. I used to write for this site.

Hey, I’ve given up on writing books in order to spend my free time focusing on table top role-playing games!

(Maybe actually I’ve given up on writing books in order to be a dad, but anyway whatever.)

So, yeah. I have the dice and everything. I have two shelves full of TTRPG books now. It’s a pretty nice-looking couple of shelves. I read interesting indie modules in my spare time and try to think about what makes them work and what makes them not work, sort of like I used to do for short stories and novels. I get together with friends online one night every week and play games with them, now that we are all stuck at home almost all of the time. And sometimes I run games, too.

Like: In February, when people could still gather together in groups, I ran a game of Tales from the Loop for my group.

Tales from the Loop is an RPG inspired by those consciously retro sci-fi paintings by Simon Stålenhag that became popular five or six years ago, which depict an alternate 1980s. In the game, the players are young adults living in those paintings—a world of dimensional rifts, AIs, big cell phones, Huffy bicycles, robots, boom boxes, Trapper Keepers, vehicles that float on massive magnetic drives, and adults who don’t listen to them.

*

My first roleplaying game was, like most people, Dungeons & Dragons. My parents bought me the Basic and Expert boxed sets when we first moved to Upper Michigan in the mid-’80s. For a while, I didn’t have anyone else to play with—my brother was older than me and not interested, and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet—so the only person who would play with me was my dad. We played once. He was pretty nice about it, but I could tell he wasn’t interested. When we had had family game nights before then, he never participated.

It wasn’t really his thing. But he tried once, anyway, with me, because he knew I was upset that I didn’t have anyone else to play with.

Eventually I found a group of others to play with in high school. And then a couple of folks to play with in college.

And then I stopped for many years, until I was given the opportunity to write a novel for the RPG company Wizards of the Coast.

That got me playing again. And I have been pretty regularly ever since.

*

In contrast to a lot of the better known tabletop roleplaying games, Tales is very simple, mechanically, involving only a few numbers and pools of six-sided dice thrown to succeed at overcoming obstacles. Like this: A character must convince someone to not beat them up, hop a fence, hack a computer, or escape an inter-dimensional monster. The player grabs a couple of six-sided dice—the number of which is determined by their natural abilities (represented by ability scores), skills (which they can spend points on during character creation), and circumstances. They role, try to get at least one six, and succeed if they do. If they fail, the story gets complicated. The game is less focused on charts and numbers and bonuses and balanced mechanics than the roleplaying games one might already be familiar with. It’s in the family of roleplaying story games, heavier on scene building and collaboration than on crunch and tactics.

None of the kids die in Tales from the Loop. The characters are the protagonists in a story that is told in scenes, everyone at the table collaborating to make a story reminiscent of a movie, so like an ’80s kid sci-fi movie, there is peril and pathos, and kids can be broken, but they don’t get killed. The rulebook is more focused on storycraft than rules, and in places reads more like a book on screenplay writing than on wargaming. Some roleplaying games drill down on rules, looking to end arguments at the table over rules by codifying everything. Tales minimizes rules to minimize disagreements.

In our group, I run Tales from the Loop. I’m the Gamemaster. Instead of playing one of the kids, I write the skeleton of a scenario, create the setting, populate it with characters for the players to interact with, and then set up the win condition. Like: Here’s the place where you live, here’s the problem, here are some people who can maybe either help or hinder you as you try to solve the problem, here’s the countdown clock and the pace at which you should go, and here’s what happens if you do or don’t solve it. And then I walk everyone through the game, play the characters that the players interact with, improvise when they go in an unexpected direction.

It’s nice, during a time when I don’t write much on my own anymore, to have a place to collaborate with others to tell stories.

*

My dad was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer on December 5, 2018. He had been unwell even before then, with serious mobility issues, spinal stenosis, a tremor that we thought might have been Parkinson’s. He hated doctors and had to see them all them time over the years previous to the cancer diagnosis, and apparently had a worrying blood test in 2016—elevated Prostate-specific antigen levels—that he just didn’t follow up on. And then he slipped when my mother was trying to get him out of bed, and found that one of his legs had stopped working. My mom couldn’t lift him. An ambulance was called. He resisted a trip to the ER, but they took him anyway. They did some X-rays and some bloodwork.

A doctor talked to my mom that night and told her that my dad’s PSA levels were really high. She didn’t know what that meant and the doctor didn’t explain. The next day, a nurse mentioned my dad’s prostate cancer, and that’s when she found out what a PSA level was and why it was bad when it was elevated. Or at 4500, like my dad’s was.

*

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September 21st, 2020 / 9:38 am

Collages on Shabbos

click to enlarge

This week’s collage is “Kiss Me, Partygirl” by Pilot Jeanne Gosh.

pilot jeanne gosh is a mother, a friend, and a 30 ft tall wolf. her work has been featured in Spy Kids Review and Voicemail Poems. she enjoys riding the train and lying on the floor listening to someone play video games.

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September 18th, 2020 / 9:44 am

Chogyam Trungpa on Depression

Chogyam Trungpa was a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master. At the age of 20, he witnessed the occupation of his homeland and the destruction of his monastery, and had to flee Tibet and travel for nine months by foot to reach safety in India. He ate his shoelaces and watched his friends die on that journey. 13 out of 300 refugees survived. His teacher had a vision that Trungpa would bring meditation to the West, and so he moved to the United States in 1969. He did coke with Joni Mitchell before showing her a breathwork exercise that inspired her to quit coke altogether, and he taught David Bowie how to meditate. He hung out with hippies and made them burn their weed. He slept with lots of white women, and drank so much booze that he died from cirrhosis of the liver before turning 50. The dude could meditate for weeks without eating and then drink you under the table.

A series of Trungpa’s lectures were published in the book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, where he says things like, “Compassion is a war on want” and “Ego is the monkey of cognition” and “We meditate because clouds are clouds and the sky is blue.” Reading this book during this fuckhole of a year has been an interesting experiment as I oscillate between mindful awareness and wanting to rip my face off. I recommend it. Recently, I came across this answer Trungpa gave regarding how to cope with depression. I found it interesting to think of depression having a kind of ‘texture’, and the idea that there can be great intelligence in the unknowing:

Well, try to relate to the texture of the energy in the depression situation. Depression is not just a blank, it has all kinds of intelligent things happening within it. I mean, basically depression is extraordinarily interesting and a highly intelligent state of being. That is why you are depressed. Depression is an unsatisfied state of mind in which you feel that you have no outlet. So work with the dissatisfaction of that depression. Whatever is in it is extraordinarily powerful. It has all kinds of answers in it, but the answers are hidden. So, in fact I think depression is one of the most powerful of all energies. It is extraordinarily awake energy, although you might feel sleepy.

But, at the same time, you are experiencing tremendous texture, the texture of how the stagnation of samsara works, which is fantastic. You feel the texture of something. That entertainment didn’t work. This entertainment didn’t work. Referring back to the past didn’t work; projecting into the future didn’t work. Everything is made out of texture, so you could experience depression in a very intelligent way. You could relate with it completely, fully. And once you begin to relate with it as texture of some kind, as a real and solid situation which contains tremendous texture, tremendous smell, then depression becomes a beautiful walkway. We can’t discuss it really. We have to actually get into heavy depression and then feel about that.

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September 16th, 2020 / 12:39 pm

Where I Was and What I Was Doing When People Close to Me Have Died

In a kitchen, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In front of a computer, playing minesweeper.

In a car, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Standing outside of a Noodles and Company.

In bed, asleep.

Eating a bagel in a cubicle.

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September 15th, 2020 / 10:59 am

TRL (Twitter inteRviews Lindsay Lerman) with elle nash

hello, today i am interviewing lindsay lerman and we ask her questions from twitter. lindsay lerman’s novel, I’m From Nowhere, is out from Clash Books.

entropy called it one of the best books of 2019. lerman is an editor at Black Telephone Magazine. her first academic translation is forthcoming. she has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. lerman’s philosophical work is published in academic anthologies, and her workshop with Lit Reactor, Exploring Hybrid Lit, starts september 15.

TRL (totally rad lit??): Lindsay Lerman from elle nash on Vimeo.

thank you for watching TRL (tarantulas redesigning language), and buy lindsay’s book

xo

elle

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September 14th, 2020 / 5:10 pm

Someone has touched me; I need to lie down



“Someone just now has touched me! A human hand
has touched me! — I am ill and I need to lie down.”


“We know that only through observation or by
the sense of touch are we able to recognize and identify
the handiwork of our brothers, in this way
distinguishing it from prodigies of natural force.”


“I know that the toad which lives in prison
is moist to our touch, and flabby
because it does not ever give the steady warmth of love,
but is thus from hidden desire. I no longer deny
cruelties are sweet; there are vines whose tendrils
split cathedral walls.”


“I am ill. Someone has touched me;
I need to lie down.
I would scatter dots on a sheet of paper, or practice
the art of geomancy,
if that would be enough.”


“In a window across the street the curtains
have moved.
A withered hand appears,
and the features of an old woman
near the glass. She allows the curtains to fall;
I awake to the beneficent touch
of my mother’s hand.
Is this a portent of things to come?”


“I must set down, before it is too late, the pink murex
my daughter this morning brought to me, naming
for my benefit each part. I scarcely listened;
not that this shell might be less lovely
than she presumes—but that her touch and voice,
the confident gestures of an infant hand,
proved almost more than I could endure.
Have we not lived deep-buried in the pages of
children’s books, in a world of high moral fable
and fantastic adventure, in times to make our blood
run cold? Is it not incumbent upon each of us
to keep safe from the holocaust all that matters?”


“We feel there is within each one of us
something which will not ever die. Our experience
and every dream conspires to counter revelation,
making us hold this fondly, as leaves touch
to their only tree, our one presumptuous hope.”

From Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel (1962) by Evan S. Connell

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September 11th, 2020 / 9:45 am