I Have Voluntary Tourette’s (and Am Insane)
It seems like just yesterday when Blake Butler, all doe-eyed and full of weird collections of words, began writing for us on a weekly basis. Over time, what started as a regular space for him to write about literature morphed into something bigger. During the last couple of years Blake has branched out to explore topics as diverse as the horrors and wonders of a Wendy’s Pretzel Burger to thedusty rumors of literary giants to interviews with both emerging and established authors. This is Blake’s 100th post for VICE.com, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us the below peek inside his brain.
I have long been a creature of habit and repetition. The more any day feels exactly like the one before it, the more comfortable I am, and the more productive I become in whatever I happen to be working on. At the same time, I hate planning. I never know what I want to do until just before I do it. Plans—even fun ones like having dinner or watching a movie with someone at the house—seem designed to disrupt my concentration. As uptight as this might make me sound, on the outside I feel I’m generally easygoing, even at times when my insides are all screaming.
This daily masking of discomfort has instilled in my person an odd habit of regular stress relief in the form what I’ve come to think of as “Voluntary Tourette’s.” In other words, I make repeating patterns of private sounds that I don’t necessarily have to make the way someone with actual Tourette’s literally can’t control, but that I perform now throughout the day with such regularity that it seems like I can’t stop, or at least haven’t stopped for over a decade. For the most part I can keep myself from doing these things in front of others, though after a few days in the same room as someone I’m on a trip with or whatever they start leaking out, slowly opening into my regular manners of conversation.
12.) No episode airs. The station says it has been postponed until next week. And next week, they say next week. On and on like that until everyone who was alive when the show began is dead.
— 13 Alternate Endings for Breaking Bad
Thirteen Alternate Endings for Breaking Bad
1.) In a psychotic break following the discovery of his dad’s true nature, Walt Jr. goes on a meth binge, buying up as much of his father’s blue product as he can get his hands on and eating it in maniacal sadness, leading to frenzy. He robs three liquor stores and spends the cash on breakfast cereal, which he rolls around on in huge piles alone and naked in his room. He breaks into cars and drives them into walls, laughing and pissing on the wreckage. He burns down his parents’ car wash and their home, followed by his Aunt Marie’s home, and his high school. The next day he is found dead inside a local Denny’s, having broken in overnight and gorged himself on raw eggs, bacon, and waffle batter in a food-fisting binge-party before doing so much meth his heart exploded. Walt, upon learning what his son has done, blows his head off in a men’s room outside Portland after his own last breakfast at Denny’s, in his son’s honor. The show concludes with Skyler spreading the ashes of her dead husband and son in the desert behind a Denny’s.
2.) An international cartel leader, played by a heavily prosthetic-enhanced Tom Cruise, shows up in town looking for Heisenberg. He follows leads to each of Walt’s major relations, shaking them down for information and then killing them in broad daylight. After reading about the string of murders in the paper, Walt comes down from his snowy hideout furiously angry and ready for vengeance, armed only with his wits. An anticlimactic showdown between Walt and Tom Cruise occurs when, as they finally come face to face, the cartel leader takes advantage of Walt’s tendency to have a long discussion before killing someone, and simply blasts him in the face. The show concludes with Tom Cruise buying a case of breakfast sausage at Costco before returning to his native land.
What I Remember from Getting an MFA in Creative Writing
There’s a long running argument about the benefits and bullshit of getting an MFA in creative writing. Some people say it turns you into a cookie-cutter fuckboy, others say it helps you get a job. After I finished undergrad and realized I wanted to write instead of joining the real world, I devoted all of my time and energy toward staying in college, which meant I’d get an MFA whether I needed one or not. In hindsight, the whole experience kind of bleeds together into a mass of time I look back on not unfondly, but I’m also curious as to what exactly I got out of spending two more years on education instead of becoming a functioning member of the American workforce. For better or worse, that time is gone. Here’s what I remember.
1. On my first day in the dorms I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and saw reflected in the mirror an older woman naked in a bathtub behind me. I’d heard the dorms at my school were haunted, having been built in like the late 1800s or something, but when I turned around she was still there. There was actually a bathtub in the public showering area. It was a co-ed bathroom, and she was sitting in it buck naked washing without the curtain closed. She loudly introduced herself as one of my classmates and said she was from Milledgeville, Georgia, home of Flannery O’Connor. It feels appropriate that my earliest memory from getting an MFA is checking out a granny’s boobs in a public toilet.
2. People said the room next to mine was famous because Bob Dylan screwed the student who lived there when he came to play the school in the 60s. Whoever was staying in it while I lived next door apparently decided to keep that spirit alive, because many nights I could hear the sex noises… or maybe that was sexual ghosts.
Three Poems from Rachel Glaser’s Moods
"God is popular"
god is popular with athletes
they think about him while they practice
but rarely will he watch with one of his eyes
he has countless eyes
a hundred eyes, more
he is all eyes, but they hurt
and he can never sleep
the ocean is okay
but boats crowd it with their wakes
god can’t help but look at every bubble
it puts a strain on his eyes to watch small things and fast things
cities, streets, fingernails
dots on a die
he prefers to watch other planets
Saturn and those ones
those are graceful
more one color
watching Rushmore be built
the Great Wall
something lengthy and accumulative
he hates fireworks
but the worst is to see a needle being strung
the little end of the string struggling to fit
his eye feels like it’s been injected with iodine
he cannot rub it
he is invisible
no one can help him
Two more poems
The burger comes in a sturdy red box with Wendy’s face stamped on it, her open-mouthed smile all made out of a single line. The box reads: “QUALITY IS OUR RECIPE,” which makes me imagine a chubby American burger chef holding up a recipe book with a picture of my burger on one page and “Ingredients: Quality” written in big font on the page beside it. I open the box and look at the baby nestled inside, waiting all alone, the weird cross-shaped X on top designed to create the illusion that the bun was freshly baked.
The food item itself smells different every time you sniff it. First, I remember walking on the beach, during those same years when I was fat and wore a big shirt because I didn’t want anyone to see my chub. If you sniff the center of the cross on top of the bun it kind of smells like the warm free bread they bring you in a basket at corporate chain restaurants like O’Charley’s or something, which is usually only good if you smash enough butter into it to make it not be bread anymore. Sniffing near the cheese reminds me of baseball for some reason; and the bacon, of course, smells like dead meat.
—I Hate Myself and Want to Die: A Review of the New Wendy’s Pretzel Burger
Knowing someone took the time to type out, “Pam I do not know where you are now. I think of you everytime I hear this song. I am glad my first night moves where with you. I hope you have a great life.” [sic] Followed by, “Yes, that line does, in fact, refer to perky teenage breasticles,” or even simple quasi-idiotic ungrammatical one-liners like “song kicks ass” or “FUCK BIEBER!!!!!!!!!!!!!” suddenly seem both genuine, insane, and true.
—Read Blake Butler on gender, murder, and a 75-page poem consisting entirely of YouTube comments on Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”
Anton Chekhov Versus Jeffrey Dahmer
Long considered one of the forefathers of the contemporary short story, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) has continued for more than a century to be held up as an example of how to tell a human tale. There is perhaps no larger precursor for realistic short fiction in its most popular form: clearly stated, socially involved narrative displays that set out to objectively mimic human life. I can certainly tell you that more than a few times while studying fiction as an MFA student, Chekhov was passed on like some holy washcloth everyone should rub their faces on.
You might also be familiar with Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994), who raped and murdered 17 known male victims over a period of 13 years. Made most infamous for his proclivity to store or cook and eat parts of his victims’ bodies, Dahmer remains one of the most unnerving of all repeat killers, despite his oddly calm and mechanically regretful outward demeanor. I can’t remember ever having a teacher mention Dahmer as someone I should use as a model for good art.
And yet, somehow in my mind these two keep crossing paths. I find I can’t help myself from thinking about Dahmer every time I hear someone mention Chekhov, like a lurking shadow in my spirit. I can’t help but want to draw them out, to put them together in a cage and watch their brains bump. Finally, the other day I started culling quotes from both and began to find weird intersections between their thoughts. Below I’ve pitted some of each against each other, and tried to make sense of the wide gap between the two.
I realize this likely means I will never be allowed to teach collegiate fiction.
CHEKHOV: “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.”
DAHMER (of his first victim): ”I, uh, didn’t know how else to keep him there other than to get the barbell and hit him, over the head, which I did, and then strangled him with the same barbell.”
If I could point to one artist’s quote that has done the most damage to keeping things interesting, it’s Chekhov’s faux-ominous gun. Besides the fact that it completely discounts the concept of mystery or aura, what it really means to me is Chekhov imagined his audience as too stupid or bored to appreciate anything that doesn’t go boom, kind of like a 19th century Russian take on Michael Bay. A gun is a gun and a face is a face and death is death. There’s no need to pretend just because we’re in a novel or a movie that everything you see has hidden purpose, or can’t be beautiful without application to the human.
An Interview with Harmony Korine
In 1998, shortly after his feature-length directorial debut, Gummo, Harmony Korine published a novel called A Crackup at the Race Riots. The book is built from an insane collage of images and thoughts, including lists of ideas for movies, titles for novels, suicide notes, joke routines, celebrity rumors, and strange short scenes and dialogues involving rapists, amputees, dogs, vaudeville performers, and manic-depressives. Like all of Korine’s work, it is a rare collision of fun, fucked, funny, sad, and bizarre—the kind of thing you pick up every so often just to buzz your brain. For years the book has been out of print, fetching prices upward of $300 used online, until recently when it was repackaged and rereleased by Drag City. Harmony was kind enough to get on the phone with me and talk about the making of the book.
VICE: The first thing the reader sees when they open A Crackup at the Race Riots is a picture of MC Hammer at age 11. Why did you decide to start the book that way?
Harmony Korine: At the time I was doing a lot of narcotics. I remember basically the process was that I would hear things, or I would see things… I would hear somebody walking down the street, and maybe they’d say something interesting, and I’d put it on a piece of paper. Or I would see a pair of socks hanging from a telephone pole with a Star of David on the ankle, and I would just write that. Or whatever… I’d see someone juggling some toilet paper, and I would describe that. And then I would see a picture of MC Hammer at age 11, and I would just think maybe it all kind of came from his imagination.
The book is a thought in MC Hammer’s mind?
Well, it could be. Like most things in life, it could be. [laughs]
So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you basically started acquiring bits and pieces and then just let them fall as they may on the paper, in the order you found them?
Not exactly. What happened was I would just write everything down. I’d write things in crayon or on the side of the wall in my apartment, or on a typewriter or whatever. You would just see things, you know… cut them out of books. I might hear something really crazy that somebody said on a city bus, like somebody might be spewing some kind of crazy racial rant, and then I’d go back home and write that down, and then I would just look at it for a while, and I would imagine, like, What if it wasn’t that guy on the bus? What if Harrison Ford said that? What if I was actually riding a horse or something, and Harrison Ford was riding a horse, and we were riding somewhere, we could even be racing, and what if he just turned to me, and he said that same exact thing that I just heard? And I was like, Whoa! The context completely changed the humor. That’s basically what the book is. I started thinking about it like that, and there started to be these thematic connections in that way, and after I had amassed all of these fragments, these tripped-out, micro narco blurts, I went back and recontextualized them into something that was closer to a novel, or closer to a novel idea.
100 Literary Rumors
I don’t know what you’ve heard but I’ve heard a lot of shit. People whispering in hallways and Gmail chatting about all kinds of dark secrets. People up in parties with their coat and hair all looking nice and their mouth just full of you wouldn’t even want to know. I’ll tell you anyway.
Lydia Davis can’t stand the sight of children wearing bike helmets.
Richard Brautigan never crossed state lines except on foot.
Jack London loved braiding men’s hair.
Matthew Rohrer claims to have never been inside or seen an ad for Chili’s.
Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.
Jhumpa Lahiri has collected more than 200 personally autographed headshots of Al Pacino.
“’Wow, cool sky!’” was the original first sentence of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.
Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
T.C. Boyle ghostwrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire.
Gordon Lish religiously eats at the Applebee’s on Times Square on the 13th and 18th of every month.
Michiko Kakutani‘s Gmail password is wolfdickfourteen.
Barry Hannah hated the sight of charcoal.
Gary Lutz has beaten Mike Tyson’s Punch Out more than 400 times.
From ages eight to 18, Ann Beattie earnestly believed she was born wrapped in a shower curtain.
Dave Eggers bathes in almond milk every Sunday and video records it.
Thomas Bernhard hated the color blue until the creation of Cookie Monster.
Angela Carter had an erotic fixation on pumping gas.
The wallpaper on Mary Jo Bang’s laptop is a photograph of Rod Stewart holding a baby up to the sun.
George Orwell wore a cock ring 24/7.
Andre Breton lost tens of thousands of dollars due to his inability to remember a flush beats a straight.
Marco Roth believes people who drive white cars are innately selfish by definition.
Samuel Beckett lost every game of chess he ever played by eventually conceding.
Karen Russell owns an original audio recording of Carmelo Anthony reading Gravity’s Rainbow aloud from beginning to end.
Joyelle McSweeney once threw a football so hard she burst all the veins in her right arm and had to have the arm surgically replaced with a fake.
Paul Auster has responded to over 8,000 missed connections ads on craigslist under various pseudonyms.
Though he can see fine, Michael Martone prefers to read in Braille.
Ron Silliman started a Kickstarter campaign under a pseudonym attempting to raise funds to buy the RZA’s childhood home.
Italo Calvino peed sitting down.