Thought and Memory, by Ed Park
Ed Park has quite the résumé. He’s the former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the founding editors of the Believer. He’s taught creative writing at Columbia University and curates the Invisible Library, an online collection of fictional books that appear in other books. Pretty cool, huh? These days he holds down the literary fort over at Amazon Publishing. His debut novel, Personal Days, was called the “layoff narrative for our times” by the New YorkTimes and was nominated for the PEN Hemingway Award, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. It was named one of Time’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2008 and one of the Atlantic’s Top Ten Pop Culture Moments of the decade.
In his increasingly valuable spare time, he makes bootleg covers of 80s new-wave songs and sneaks acrostics and anagrams into his very funny Twitter feed, @thaRealEdPark. (A recent tweet: “I need there to be a store called FOREVER 41.”) Somehow he still manages to knock out essays that examine continuums you didn’t even realize exist, like the connection between the magical logic of children’s books and Borges, plus write great short stories like the one below.
In “Thought and Memory,” the author of a mystery novel sets out on a book tour, and from there, things don’t exactly go as planned. The narrator encounters two talking crows, named for Odin’s information-gathering ravens in Norse mythology, who belong to a mysterious woman with a glass eye and an oddly chosen tattoo, before discovering the bizarre, time-bending novels of a science fiction writer, whose works we hope will get call numbers at the Invisible Library.
We paired Ed’s story with illustrations by San Francisco-based artist Yina Kim. We thought her work evoked the same sense of spectral absurdity, softened by an eerie and familiar pathos.
Back in 2008, when my first novel, A Tree Grows in Baghdad, came out, my publisher sent me on a West Coast tour. Sometimes folks came out in droves, sometimes they didn’t. It was great to see my public, regardless. The public, I suppose I should say. Most hadn’t read the book. And even though it was fiction, based more on stuff I’d heard about rather than experienced, I might as well have told all present that I’d written a memoir, and that in the pages open before me, every vegetarian pita eaten, and every thought thought, was true. No one cared about the book, really, only about what I’d been through in Iraq, and what my current position on the war was and whether I wanted to go back.
The audience tended to be older. The men were what you’d call barrel chested. The women, too.
I found I liked signing books. I mean, the actual pen-meeting-paper part. I started appending a peace sign to my name. I must have shaken a thousand hands.
By the end of the week, I was going a little crazy. In Seattle, I woke up at 6 AM to do a live interview with a radio station in LA. But why six? The cities were in the same time zone. It must be for a station no one listens to, I thought, and after I hung up the phone, I wasn’t convinced that an interview had in fact taken place. Had she really asked me about my health, my diet, my bad back? Had I perhaps called my mother, out of instinct, or simply dreamt it all? I’ve had dreams like that, where I think I wake up, but I’m still asleep. I’ve had dreams in which I slap the alarm clock, over and over again, until I’m finally sprung from the clutches of sleep, grateful and gasping for air.
The Cosmic Adventures of Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire
All photos by Jess Lehrman
The first thing Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire does is show me a painting. It’s the first he’s ever done, and frankly, it looks like shit. I ask him why he brought it with him to the VICE offices, and he explains that he’d done it that morning while a painter friend was making him breakfast. It features a purple blob that kind of looks like a tree in the center, with a yellow stick figure to its right. The whole shebang is accented by a rash of formless squiggles. “I’m King Cosmic,” he explains, pointing to the stick figure holding a shield and a spear. “This is me depicted as a Zulu warrior. I’ve got feathers in my head. I’m golden.” The purple thing? “This is the vortex of my emotions. I’m gonna give it to my mother.” He smiles.
My interview with the linebacker-esque eXquire has been set up with the express purpose of talking about his sense of fashion, so I ask him why he wears the clothes he does. “I don’t know if I choose clothes. Clothes choose me. I feel like clothing should be an extension of your philosophy on life—I should be able to look at you and tell what type of person you are based off your clothing.” This leads away from sartorial matters and into more broad, philosophical ones. “I feel like life and the universe itself, is like a ripple. You might not feel it, you might not see it, but as small as your idea or thought might be, it’s going to affect somebody. There’s no direct correlation between people, but I feel like we all exist in this pool. The universe just is. It is and it isn’t.” I ask him if he considers himself a hippie. “Nah, not really. Hippies are more peaceful than me. I just say I’m cosmic.” This is not the same dude you’d associate with that one song about drunk driving on a Wednesday. That’s the thing, though. He’s not that guy at all.
Later that week, eXquire and I are in a Lower Manhattan studio, talking about his life and the events that led to his upcoming mixtape Kismet. We’re eating cookies—Chips Ahoy Chewy, his favorite—and I notice that a picture of the painting he showed me days ago is now the background of his iPhone. Equal parts spacey, soulful, paranoid, isolated, and insular, Kismet’s sound reflects the circumstances under which it was created. The majority of the record was recorded on a farm in Woodstock, New York, while eXquire was under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, which he took in order to view the music from a different angle. He speaks fondly of the sessions, describing them as such: “Get up, cook, do drugs, make songs, go play with the llama.” The record’s cover pretty much says it all—standing in front of some sort of galactic formulation, eXquire stares at the camera, almost into your soul, while in the act of fucking somebody.
How Are We Supposed to Know What the Government Does?
You should probably be afraid, at least a little, of the federal government. The reason for this doesn’t have anything to do with conspiracy theories about fluoridation or the Obama administration hoarding ammo to keep it out of the hands of True Patriots. It’s simpler than that: you should be worried about the US government because it is huge and well funded and powerful and, most importantly, you don’t know what it’s doing.
The civics class version of government—that there are three branches, each with its own checks and balances and blah blah blah—is hopelessly outdated. For one thing, the legislative branch is paralyzed by partisanship and a set of rules that make it impossible for it to do anything but stop laws from getting enacted. For another, as documented by the Washington Post in 2010, the governmental agencies that are in charge of “national security” have grown like not-all-that-benign tumors, consuming billions of tax dollars, constructing massive top-secret facilities, and employing hundreds of thousands of people whose job descriptions you don’t have the security clearance to know. The national security state is vast and unknowable, practically its own branch of government at this point, with its own secret history. Millions upon millions of documents are classified, many unnecessarily. By some counts, there are more pages of classified documents in the US than there are unclassified—and the government spends $12 billion a year keeping all that information under wraps.
Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution” seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”
Action Bronson – “Strictly 4 My Jeeps”
Here’s the new video for Action Bronson’s latest single “Strictly 4 My Jeeps.” Taking place in Queens, New York, the video stars Riff Raff, pitbulls, big beautiful women, and a big ol’ badass jeep.
Watch it here
Gay Men and Their Not-So-Cute Misogyny Problem
What’s up with all the misogyny, gay dudes? Seriously. I’m not saying you have to be deep-throating a copy of Feminine Mystique while blasting Julie Ruin, but could some of you (emphasis on SOME) not have such thinly-veiled contempt for women?
Maybe you don’t even realize it. You probably don’t. You probably think you’re just being cute when you belittle your best girlfriend’s appearance or call her (jokingly!) a whore, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
As glorious as a friendship between a gay man and a straight girl can be, it also has the tendency to get a little dark. For example, we are all aware of the whole “OMG, GAY BEST FRIEND” epidemic where women fetishize their friendships with homos and treat them like a Pez dispenser of fabulousness rather than, you know, a nuanced human being. What I don’t hear getting talked about as much, though, is when the gay guy treats the girl like shit. When his seemingly harmless taunts turn into something that resembles verbal abuse.
Last year, I was in San Francisco with one of my best girlfriends and her gay friend, whom I had only met once or twice before. We were drinking at some house party, having an A-OK time, when all of a sudden her gay friend starts shouting to her, “You’re a fucking slut. Look at you, you slut whore!”
This, I guess, was supposed to be “sassy” and “cute” but really it just made everyone in the room profoundly uncomfortable. He was drunk, too drunk, and his words felt like daggers. My girlfriend had no idea what to do so she just laughed it off and prayed it would stop.
When our pal Mark Peckmezian told us Noel Rodo-Vankeulen was one of his favorite photographers, it was a matter of seconds before we absorbed his online portfolio and asked him to share some of his wonderful work with all of you losers. It really seems like some of these photos were taken in an art commune on the moon where everyone is made of gold and silver toilet paper. Interpret that how you will, and take a look at these selects we put together from Noel’s fantastic body of work.
OK, last question. I’m gonna ask a hard-hitting one. Tumblr. Why no “e”?
We checked the domain name for ‘Tumbler.com’ and it was this mom and pop store for tumbler glasses. We thought it’d be pretty fun one day, when we got enough money, to acquire their whole business. No joke! Actually, that’s a joke.
—VICE’s 2009 interview with Tumblr founder David Karp is newly relevant
Hearing from Three Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Who’ve Been on Hunger Strike for 100 Days
On the 7th of February, 2013, there was a dispute inside Guantanamo Bay over prison guards searching Qur’ans. For the following two days, inmates ate the remainder of the food they had—including stuff that was reportedly two years out of date—and, once finished with all of their decomposing rations, embarked on a hunger strike. Yesterday was the 100th day of the inmates’ protest against their treatment and, out of the 166 still being held at Guantanmo, 102 are on hunger strike, with 30 being force fed.
Authorities at the prison camp have revised their guidelines to allow them to shackle hunger-strikers to a chair, before fitting them with masks and inserting tubes through their noses and into their stomachs to force feed them for up to two hours at a time. Despite these efforts, some prisoners claim to weigh as little as 85lbs.
Several attempts have been made to punish or dissuade inmates against their starvation efforts.According to Shaker Aamer (the last British resident being held in Guantanamo) prison wardens have begun inflicting sleep deprivation on inmates, as well as adopting a new practice where, instead of shackling their hands and legs and pushing them along from behind, they’re now clipping cloth dog leashes to inmates’ waists and dragging them around like animals.
Aamer is one of 86 inmates who have been cleared for release but are still being held inside the facility. Something that, according to Clive Stafford Smith—a lawyer representing inmates at the prison—is completely irrational. “Any prison, even in the most despotic dictatorship, should not have 86 of 166 [52 percent] prisoners cleared for release,” he told me, before adding, “Obama hasn’t shown the political will to do the right thing.”
Stafford Smith provided me with testimonies from three Guantanamo hunger-strikers in order to gain a little more insight into the Cuban detention camp that President Obama promised to close within a year back in 2009.