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Open Letters features the collected letters of: Open Letters July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5
For a free subscription to this, the weekly version of Open Letters, send a blank email to weekly@openletters.net. Open Letters also exists as a daily web magazine, at www.openletters.net. For a free subscription to the daily reminder for the web magazine, send a blank email to daily@openletters.net. To contact the authors or the editors, write to editor@openletters.net. The contents of this magazine are all copyright 2000 by their authors and by Open Letters. — fortune-cookie fortune received this week by Open Letters subscriber Andy Jenkins.
Table of Contents
A letter from the editor, on the editors.
Waiting to Come Undone:
The Boy on the Bus:
Wild Throws:
That's That:
Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 2 of 11 A Letter from the Editor • Los Angeles, California • July 23, 2000
This is the first issue of Open Letters to be maintains the Open Letters web site, and did all the weird little drawings that appear on theme, though, one that wouldn't necessarily the site and in the weekly. This week he con- be apparent to the naked eye: Each of this tributes a letter to his younger brother, about week's letters is written by one of the editors The third letter comes from Joel Lovell, of Open Letters is an experiment in many ways.
It's an attempt to define and refine a new Saturday Night and Harper's Magazine; his let- ter is about a fainting spell, but also manages subscription is an attempt to solve the persist- ent quandary of content distribution over the Internet. And our organizational stru c t u re is also somewhat experimental, for me at least: Open Letters is an institution that is complete- Toronto writer and radio host, who has been ly unconstrained by geography. Though there involved with Open Letters since he and I first a re nine editors (and another dozen editorial started talking about the idea last winter. His advisers) spread across the continent, we letter is about a moment when he gave up on some of us have never met at all. Our com- munications are all conducted over the phone These letters are all from Open Letters editors, and through the Internet and the postal serv- but not all the editors of Open Letters are rep- ice. We end up writing a lot of letters back resented here by a letter. The other four edi- tors are Cheryl Wagner, in New Orleans, who interviewed the smoking aficionados in issue It's got its problems, this method of editing a magazine. We can all feel disconnected at Sound Portraits, in New York City; Stephen times, and water-cooler conversations are harder to have than they'd be if we had a Deirdre Dolan, in Los Angeles, who conduct- water cooler. The editors are an imaginative ed the interview with the most popular girl and adaptable group, though, and so far, our virtual office is working pretty well. It helps that my fellow editors are, as you'll see from This is the first week that we've tried con- the letters that follow, a talented and insight- necting the letters together around a com- mon idea. Next week, we're going to try it again, with a theme that's a little more explic- it than this week's: we're presenting an entire White, the former editor of The Stranger, a week of letters on life at work. We have let- Seattle alternative weekly, and the author of ters on the way from a dishwasher, a substi- a forthcoming book on "sluts," to be called tute teacher, a skateboard-company execu- Fast Girls, which will be published next year.
tive, a physicist, and other modern laborers; She writes about her mother's "manic panic" though as always, our line-up is subject to summer, five years ago, and her fears that her mother's mania might still be lurking. The second is by Craig Taylor, an editor at Saturday Night in Toronto, and the editor of the zine Anonymous Juice. Craig designed and Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 3 of 11 Waiting to Come Undone
A letter from Emily White, on a manic summer.
It is late afternoon and I have just emerged My mom had a manic break with reality; it from finishing a draft of The Book. Now I am in limbo, coming down from the terrible and exhilarating hard work of finishing. I fedexed it this morning to my agent and my editor. I verge of a religious epiphany. My parents do not know if they will like it or hate it or if live in the same house where I grew up with they will say, Well, this has potential. Well, my two sisters, a beautiful, sprawling man- uh, this is different. All I know is I have been sion on the hill, a place with too much histo- wearing the same dirty dress for three days ry in the basement. This manic party took straight, and my cats have gone feral, wait- ing for me to come out of my office and talk younger sister Julia was there playing host- ess, being a good girl, trying to figure out Out in the light of the world, I look at myself in the mirror and I look crazy. Maybe if I was her middle-school job commingled. A few of the guests she'd met hours earlier at the myself in the mirror and see a Writer, worn supermarket: An old busker playing guitar, out from the creation of a masterpiece. But what I see is a girl on the edge. And the edge stumbled across a lady having some kind of surrounds me and calls to me like a mother's bad acid trip. The principal of her school was there, as were old family friends who had no It's the five-year anniversary of my mother's called to invite them. Mom almost lost her manic panic summer. That was the summer I job after that. Heavy medication and tenure turned twenty-nine, when she found herself saved her from this fate, which surely would in police custody in a fancy hotel in down- town Portland, Oregon, the city where our school librarian and is fantastically good at it.
family has lived fore v e r, the city which haunts us and reclaims us. Before the cops got to her These days, five years after the fact, Claire and I still give Julia extra credit points for changing the locks on the house, staying up actually being there for this surreal party.
all night listening to Sting full blast, kicking my Dad out so he had to go live temporarily lines, Julia saw the worst and lived to tell the on an empty Christmas tree farm; moving into tale. Claire was in Japan, Dad was out among hotels and flooding the bathrooms over and the Christmas trees, and I was up in Seattle over; calling me in the middle of the night working a high-pressure job, behaving like a and chastising me for being a selfish little fem- Success. Julia was in limbo, between jobs and boyfriends, and so she was sucked directly into the storm of my mom's mental illness. It husband, "Do you think I'm crazy?" and he her life at that moment. She didn't have any- replied, in an attempt to lighten things up, "Well, Jean, you listen to Sting, right?" This bit of music-snob humor was lost on her, but She has never quite recovered from that head trip. She still gets spooked. She still thinks defused the situation, one of his many gifts.
when the chips are down, when everyone is Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 4 of 11 Waiting to Come Undone, by Emily White, continued at their worst, she is going to get stuck play- my own head, my eyes seemed to be sinking ing hostess, holding the whole meaningless into my face. This strange and re g re t t a b l e too much like my mother ever really to come into my own. To know what storms will hap- we were trying to poison her; this was after pen in my brain. To predict the weather and months of not eating or sleeping, her face p re p a re for it. I spend a lot of time feeling like like a mask, a thin smooth crust over her flooded hotel room to talk to the cops about Periodically I hope my mother will talk to what to do. I handed her a glass of water and me about what happened, address the dark- ness that opened up in our family, ask to be These days, she has her old face back, and I forgiven. But five years after the fact I have am not particularly afraid of her or for her, pretty much realized that this will never hap- and we never talk about it. But sometimes pen; it cannot happen. From here on out, it is the summer itself, the pale Pacific Northwest, a matter of keeping our heads above the poi- people having barbecues and acting too too happy, these things can bring it all back.
into the house, Lithium brought things "back to normal," my mother switched from Prozac Since that time I have learned a lot about to Zoloft and whiskey to beer, and now she is "balanced." As a family we are supposed to er's attack: too many prescription drugs, a be over it. We convene at the coast and crack quack psychiatrist, lots of whiskey, and an millions of jokes. Mom gets mad if we watch anger which might run in the blood of the family, which might be part of our tribe.
whiskey, or look slightly alarmed if she starts inviting people over for no reason. "Don't Like my sister Julia I get spooked; maybe treat me like I'm crazy!" she says. Okay, we t h e re is something inside me, too, waiting to come undone. While I was trying to finish the book, I drank too much and smoked joints as if they were cigarettes. I marched around the house and terrorized my husband; it was like a long, drawn-out PMS. I was so far inside Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 5 of 11 The Boy on the Bus
A letter from Craig Taylor, on an Eminem encounter Hello, Scott, you wily old man, with your high-lighted hair and your little digital files. I pulling a Tipper Gore and getting scared of finally received those audio clips, after about an entire genre, but I am feeling a little wary.
an hour of pacing around the attic watching The other day there was a kid on the bus that the whole thing to crash. But yes, they all I take to work. When I got on, he was squat- ting down low inside his Ecko pants – the which is what I was most worried about. The kind with the white reflective strips down only time I'm ever going to hear his album is the side. His headphones were like yours: on my computer. There's no way I can actual- those sleek, well-designed flashes of purple ly walk into an HMV and buy it without feel- plastic, bent around the back of his head. To me that song where he's killing his ex-wife. I Yankees hat. Not a black cap like the ones the can't get past that. I'll listen, but I won't listen clean-living pros wear, but light blue, identi- cal to the real Slim Shady's. He was on the bus with a friend he liked well enough to let I feel like I've crossed some sort of Eminem her stand near his squat. ("Shut up, bitch" t h reshold, though. When the first album was was the first thing I heard him say to her, and at that point it was so outrageously mis- except for the posters on the walls of con- placed that I laughed to myself). One of his s t ruction sites downtown. I heard the "Hi My hands was holding onto the chrome bus pole Name Is" single at Cora's Pizza over on while the other was busy pulling and push- Spadina once while I was ordering, but that ing on the crotch of his pants in that loose- was it. Now I'm talking about him all the limbed, bored style that someone's always time – to Sean and Bill, and even to J., who using in the background of hip-hop videos.
admitted she didn't know too much about the lence in Cypress Hill albums. I'm not holding was all over the map. Lots of dark skin, dark it against her, but those guys were mild pot- heads with a couple bad samples, cartoony like Hammer. Any violence there was inci- dental. There's something diff e rent about Em.
untucked, and wet hair. We were all on our Did you read that little blurb about him by way to Don Mills, over the viaduct and out Ben Greenman in the New Yorker? He said that Eminem's raps retain "a certain charm in part because of his indisputable poetic abili- All of a sudden, as we're passing over the ties and in part because his horrific imagina- Don Valley bridge, the crouching kid said, tions seems so patently fictional." Which is loudly, "People always trying to fuck me fine to say if you're Ben Greenman, but I around," ostensibly to the girl beside him.
don't think all of Eminem's fan base agrees But he was staring at me while he said it, that it's fiction. Not to say that I'm scared of and then at the man next to me, and then the everyone who listens to the disc. Greenman man next to him. "Motherfuckers always try- ing to fuck me around." Someone turned the about the white kid who doesn't give a fuck, who isn't aware of Slim Shady's poetic meter move. He lifted his face toward the two older or his place in a canon that goes back, way black men who were sitting in the back seat.
Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 6 of 11 The Boy on the Bus, by Craig Taylor, continued I didn't know whether he was singing along buzz cuts, and were dressed in golf shirts, to his walkman or if it was just a fitting lyric and were staring at their hands. "A nigga like for the situation. I was probably the only one me can't get any respect," he called out.
"Ain't nobody giving it up." There was an Eminem – maybe not, who can say? – but it absolute silence in the bus. I could hear the didn't matter. The words were his, and what- hydraulics of the wheels, and then the light ever fictional context they might have had on "ting" of someone pulling the Next Stop cord, the album had been dropped. "I'll fucking kill you," he continued. "You don't. Want to fuck with Shady. Cause Shady. Will fucking kill you. And you, nigga." The man with the Torontonian, to do what everyone else does in a situation like this: keep reading the free newspaper in my hands. I tried to catch a I read in Spin where Eminem described his reaction from my fellow riders, especially triple-threat persona. Eminem is the rapper, was engrossed in his Sheridan College text- Slim Shady is the attitude that he assumes.
It's an attitude that could just as easily be grafted on to boys in identical blue Yankees "What are you talking about?" said the girl standing beside Eminem. She was dressed in a light blue pull-over that matched the colour The boy and his girl spotted a McDonald's of his cap. And here's where it got truly scary for me. He acknowledged her in a way, nod- pulled out of his squat, hitched his pants up, ding his head as if to say, "Shut the fuck up," and said to her, "Ring the fucking ringer." She and then put his two fingers together to form did. And when the bus stopped at the inter- a gun, which he pointed at each of the pas- section and the doors swung open, the two sengers in the back. First at me, then at the down the entire row. He started singing and moving to his song. It was a strange, menac- ing squat dance. "You don't. Want to fuck.
With Shady. Cause Shady. Will fuckin' kill Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 7 of 11 Wild Throws
A letter from Joel Lovell, on a fainting spell.
I fainted on the subway again. I was stand- Eventually I felt well enough to stand up, ing there holding onto the pole and looking and I came home. I stopped to get a Coke at down at a mother and her son. He was star- the place on the corner – the Carriage House ing at himself in the scratched window, try- Sports Lounge – a bad-smelling bar, full of ing out a bunch of smiles and frowns all the local drunks and home on Saturday nights to way from 96th Street to 23rd Street, while she "Brooklyn's best karaoke." There are six TV sets, and for big games they pull down this huge screen behind the pool table. (I thought The Post was lying on the seat next to him.
Raptors/Knicks series. This one Caribbean loudly – "All-on Use-ton, you suck dick" – and when they finally won the series this again about something I needed to tell Kate, group of drunken Knicks fans lifted him off something I knew she wouldn't want to hear, the ground by his belt and rushed him head- first out the door. After about five minutes he came back in smiling and conceding that per- haps the Knicks were the better team this year, and then he bought the guys a round of I know it wasn't having to face up to some- drinks, and they all laughed their heads off thing that made me faint (I'd played basket- ball and was dehydrated and hadn't really eaten all day) but it felt like that. Like maybe So I walked in there on the fainting night, as soon as it had a little psychic pressure put on an awful bender, smiled crazily at me and lurched forward on his stool and said, "She's This guy with incredibly hairy wrists, like there on a bench for almost an hour. At one point I pulled out a dollar and asked a kid if Free (formerly Lloyd Free, the ex-76ers guard who never saw a shot he didn't like). "And stand at the top of the stairs. I explained to next time I see him," Jimmy said, "I'll tell him that I'd just fainted, and that if I stood him, 'Listen, you'll always be Lloyd to me.
up I thought I'd faint again. He took my dol- Lloyd Free, not World B.'" Then he smiled at lar and walked up the stairs and then bolted, his rhyme, put his hand on my shoulder, and and for a while after that I sunk into some said, "There's someone here you gotta meet." real self-pity. I knew if I could just get a bot- tle of water or a Coke or, even better, a V-8 woman in a pantsuit was sitting by herself instead I just sat there with my head on the wooden armrest, listening to the trains com- fake courtliness in front of her and said, "This.is Barbara." I shook her hand and said telling passengers to step back from the edge.
it was nice to meet her, and when she made Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 8 of 11 Wild Throws, by Joel Lovell, continued it clear she didn't want to be bothered I went "If you're ever putting together a football After the last clip, I put my empty glass on team, you want her on your front line," Jimmy whispered to me. "You know what I about Knoblauch; what, in his opinion, was mean?" I nodded and tried to watch the behind all those terrible throws. "How the Knicks and hoped he'd go away. "I mean, hell should I know?" Jimmy said. "Do I look seriously, you want her on your team." And then he started cackling and said, "You ballplayer and he's throwing like a girl." But then the guys next to him talked about how among the best leadoff hitters in baseball, and while it was true that Jimmy's sister "I mean, she could dress with the guys, you base, who can say what's going on in a guy's something he's done his entire life, some- thing he could do in his sleep? "Like one of us suddenly being afraid to come in here and "You following me here? She could dress order a drink," Jimmy said, and then he with the guys, because she is a guy." He sighed. "You can't help but feel for the guy." stepped back from the table to make sure I was really taking it in. "Years she comes in here and she's Bob, and then one day she's Barbara. And that's that. Just tells us it's what already asleep, and I sat on the couch and she wants to do and we should understand." debated between waking her up and talking He held his hands unsteadily out in front of to her tonight or waiting until morning. The him, the way you do when you're walking in first time I fainted in New York was when I'd just moved into this apartment. Kate was still around my face. "And you know what we in Michigan, and I was living here alone, with no furniture except the futon. She called else can you do? People gotta be happy. This one morning, and I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to answer the phone, and sec- might just wake up and say fuck it and ask I remember lying on our kitchen floor, before So this night, the fainting night, Barbara was I'd completely come to, and looking at the down the bar, drinking something clear and receiver a few feet away. I could hear Kate tonic and smoking Carltons. She was talking asking over and over what happened, but I and laughing with a huge guy sitting next to couldn't put it together that her voice was coming from the phone. It was just nice to for a while, because I couldn't help it. She hear her and think that she was lying on the had clogs on and tremendously thick calves, floor, too. Our apartment looked gigantic but her hair was perfect, and she'd painted from down there; the floorboards were end- less and gleaming. And I remember thinking, Knoblauch's face appeared on the screen. You couldn't hear the TV over the jukebox, but Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 9 of 11 That’s That
A letter from Ian Brown, on a moment of clarity I write to you from the point of view of the prise party for his wife's birthday, against her depressed but clear-eyed, from the not-so- wishes, and in so doing drives her into the distinctive but at least plain, unvarnished, arms of his best friend. For a year the man had believed it was a pretty good story, even suddenly understood that his various addic- though he had never submitted it for publi- cation (he feared having work he liked reject- against his self-hatred. The kind of man who ed). But that April afternoon when he looked at his work, something new happened.
and possibly even fathers mainly to escape He looked at the story, and then he thought: the anxiety of being his own flawed self, a gee, where's my drink? For the first time ever being he despises and can never please. The sort of man who gets up in the morning and abouts of the drink than he did about the makes breakfast and feeds his kids – having story. Others had said it better. He was bored worked until one the night before on some asinine charity essay he has said he will write (and which is bloated, swollen with the bad water of self-indulgence, and which he Surprising as it sounds, this was a new expe- hates, but will not change, because he isn't rience for him. Before, no matter how much he hated what he wrote, he always felt there enough, which is only cause for more self- was a point in carrying on as a writer.
hatred, as anything he wrote would be) – Though he had always talked the loser talk, only to find that by ten he is longing for walked the loser walk, tugged the self-depre- drugs. This is the kind of man we’re talking cating loser forelock – which he now, thanks about, okay? Not a creep, not even really an to (gack) therapy, understood was simply a asshole (there's a difference), but not your form of psychological pre-planning, a way out of his mistakes, a habit to pre-empt any He'd like cocaine, preferably, or speed, but himself more than he did on his own – this, grass would do. Anything to take his con- this new sense of quietude and resignation, sciousness away, anything to relieve his self- loathing. He knows it is self-defeating. Still.
He wants drugs. He doesn't get drugs, and This very morning, for instance, he reread yet another story he had written not long before, and an unfamiliar and frosty certainty That's all we need to say about the self- of judgment descended upon him. It was as hatred and the drugs, thank Jesus in his cra- if he was looking at someone else's words, dle. Because it doesn't matter anymore.
Because, you see, something has happened.
connection to what he was reading, though it was nothing less than the child of his own The crack appeared, to be honest, quite some time ago. It was an afternoon in April. The cared in the past, but he didn't care now. The man was hung over, and instead of doing his writing was perfectly okay; perfectly service- job, which entailed convincing people to do able; it did the job. It was not shite. It did something they didn't want to do, he reread not, however, reverberate with the sound of a short story he had written a year earlier.
music in the distant hills, as Chandler once The story was about a man who stages a sur- put it; it did not hold his interest, stylistically, Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 10 of 11 That's That, by Ian Brown, continued contextually, for what it said or for how he out on the rocks, the sun on his upper arms, on the outside of his upper arms, where the And yet none of this troubled him. He sim- shoulder rounded; this had always been one ply thought: well: where's my drink? That's of his favorite sensations, the hot sun on his that. It's done. The Word is gone and done arms, and now he could enjoy it, instead of with me. Whatever Tongue I had to speak it saving it for – what? Not for some story any has fallen from my Head. (This was the way more, that was for sure. He did not feel the his mind spoke to him, always in a cadence need to write this down. Even when the sun that aped the Biblical.) Nor – and this was the strange thing, the new thing, the for-the- first-time fantastic thing, the cataclysmically way, he thought: nothing. She was gone, had original development in his thinking – nor, lifted off and left him alone, to himself, to be calm, to simply be. She was no longer neces- sary to his peace of mind. Neither was the Not only the ability to speak in the tongue storage of the details. All that mattered now had left him; so had the desire. And now that the desire was gone, a lovely peace spread while, a few thoughts about the sensation.
being as he had never known before. Skiing, He sat very still. He no longer had to do any- for instance, but not thinking about skiing, with the bright snow up in the black branch- es of the fir trees, and the sun on the snow in But here's my question to you. How long do the trees, and no sound except the hiss of his skis through the light snow. Or swimming in truly cold water, the kind that you think Open Letters
July 23, 2000 ~ Vol. I, No. 5 Page 11 of 11

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