Al Qaeda Wants Africa – Are the French in Over Their Heads in Mali?
This February, after a victorious battle against Islamic insurgents in the Saharan city of Gao, the Malian army put on a tour for the assembled press. Journalists from various news outlets from around the world stood in a dusty courtyard in the heart of the city. Gao is a conservative town—the sort of place where six-month-old babies wear hijabs—and since last year, it has played host to some of the fiercest battles in an international conflict that could reach far beyond Mali’s 15 million people: the fight to prevent al Qaeda from flourishing in Africa.
The press tour was supposed to be a victory celebration. French soldiers, who had offered military support to the Malian troops in the recent battle, stood silently at the edge of Gao’s central courtyard and watched with amusement as the Malians led reporters around the battlefield. Gendarmes swathed in ammo belts guided the journalists around the town’s courthouse, pointing out dismembered limbs and dead jihadists crumpled on the ground.
One soldier called our attention to a severed head facedown in the dust. “Is it Malian, do you think?” I asked. The gendarme kicked it over and studied the face. Dark blood dripped from its mouth. A fly crawled up its nose. “Nah, maybe Algerian or Nigerien,” the gendarme said, grinning with pride. Nearby, in the town hall, next to a body hunched in a stairwell over its machine gun, the soldiers pointed out a wide streak of blood that had burst up the wall and across the ceiling. “Suicide bomber,” they said. “Look, here’s his head.” It was more of a face than a head, though, a puzzled countenance lying wrinkled on the floor in a dusty frown, its skull sheared off by the blast. The cameramen pointedly avoided filming it. “You’d never get it on TV,” one reporter later said, “so why even bother?”
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.
New Ways to Have Sex
Let half a stick of butter melt in your mouth. This can take a long time. Try to sit still. It will feel less rewarding if you move even slightly. When the butter feels mostly melted, push your tongue against the harder parts. Make them melt against your cheek. Think about how you are dominating the butter with your tongue. The butter has been making you sit motionlessly as it took its sweet time melting, but now the tables have turned. The butter is very bad. It has been very, very bad. Now you are showing it. Show it how to be good. That’s right. Make it melt the right way. Show it how bad it’s been. You’ve known how bad it’s been all along. Spit it out into a bowl. Microwave it until it boils. Good. Now put the butter bowl in the freezer. Teach it a lesson. Look at it, sitting there on the shelf. Look at how good it thinks it is. While you wait for it to re-solidify, write a strongly but vaguely worded letter to the butter manufacturer. Use words like “thick” and “hungry” and “daddy.”
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Writers are more fortunate than other well-known people because they are usually not celebrities. Their faces aren’t what people know about them. They’re usually shy, awkward, troubled. They spend an unhealthy amount of time alone. I don’t know what to do with my face when a friend pays me a compliment, much less someone I don’t know. I always think: “Oh god, if you actually knew me.”
My Obseshes - by Kate Carraway
OK you guys this is going to be a tough read because I did it while I was bent over at the waist—or like between being bent over, but not for long because sitting up is real, real hard—because I ate some chocolate really quickly before a meeting (it’s like having lunch AND a coffee!), and it’s just all been very heave-ish and whatever adult moves I like to think I’ve made lately have shrunk in the face of midday self-imposed chocolate poisoning.
SAINT LAURENT PARIS LOGO
Is there anything more erotic than the original Yves Saint Laurent logo? The tilted “Y” and “L,” the all-caps, the threatening haunted-house-y-ness of the font, the getting-skins touchy-touch of the letters, all up on each other. And then, and then! The secondary logo where the “Y” “S” and “L” are threesomeing around like gross snakes? Just, magnifico.
So what do we think of the new logo? I feel no less rhapsodic about SAINT LAURENT PARIS, black-on-white, all-caps-y and brilliantly spaced, a held breath instead of sexual deliverance, but without the “Y” does it achieve that same level of immediate textual gratification? I dunno. I do like how un-t-shirt-able it is, that’s for sure.
I don’t know if this is directly Cat Marnell-related or indirectly Cat Marnell-related (in no world is it unrelated to Cat Marnell), but I read some random shits this week about the potential and relative value of writing from inside an experience, rather than, I guess, from around it or past it. And every person on my Twitter feed was very “What’s yr deal, Elizabeth Wurtzel?” even though she had just explained her deal, in detail! And then sometimes also parsing, in quick bits, the ego and intentions of Lena Dunham, there less “What’s yr deal” and more “Let me tell you about yr deal” which is the diff between 26 or whatever and 40 or whatever.
I like this in a HAHAHAHAHAHA kind of way because what it presumes, that anyone with some distance from the particular horrors or whatever is being publicly metabolized by these women (I don’t do it, but I know it’s hard) is somehow and necessarily in a better position to reflect on the meaning of transgression (than the currently transgressing! HOW?!), is both incorrect (which is no big deal) and ungenerous and self-important (bigger deals).
Coming from a place, in memoir or whatever else, of I-don’t-know!-ness, of vulnerability and conflict and nuance, is so much more interesting and important and legitimate, and should be important to people who front as arbiters of authenticity. Right?! Like, Not Knowing. I Don’t Know. “How could I know?” You can’t. I like that line, or I guess “those lines” in that W.S. Merwin poem like “I asked how can you ever be sure / that what you write is really / any good at all and he said you can’t / you can’t you can never be sure / you die without knowing / whether anything you wrote was any good / if you have to be sure don’t write” and the truly mean and judgey mania demonstrated by people who have to be sure, not just about the writing itself but by the experience, what it was and what it should have been – if you have to be sure! – is TOO WEIRD for me to even synthesize, is TOO MEAN to agree to. See?
Esquire’s Interview with Megan Fox Is the Worst Thing Ever Written
The cover story of this month’s Esquire is an interview with Megan Fox by Stephen Marche. And though I haven’t read every single thing that has ever been written, I can say, with confidence, that it is the worst thing that anybody has ever written. Ever.
It’s fucking LONG, and I know you’re busy, so here are the worst things about it.
THE WAY THE WRITER DESCRIBES HOW ATTRACTIVE MEGAN FOX IS
Megan Fox is good looking. There are various photos of her throughout the article that back this up. But just in case it’s not clear, the author breaks down her beauty in a number of riiiiiiiidiculous ways. Including:
“[Her skin is] the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters.”
“Megan Fox is a bombshell. To be a bombshell in 2013 is to be an antiquity, an old-world relic, like movie palaces or fountain pens or the muscle cars of the 1970s or the pinball machines in the basement. Bombshells once used to roam the cultural landscape like buffalo, and like buffalo they were edging toward extinction.”
“The symmetry of her face, up close, is genuinely shocking. The lip on the left curves exactly the same way as the lip on the right. The eyes match exactly. The brow is in perfect balance, like a problem of logic, like a visual labyrinth. It’s not really even that beautiful. It’s closer to the sublime, a force of nature, the patterns of waves crisscrossing a lake, snow avalanching down the side of a mountain, an elaborately camouflaged butterfly. What she is is flawless. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her.”
The symmetry of her face is “genuinely shocking”? I’m imagining the author arriving for the interview, seeing her face for the first time and leaping back, letting out an audible gasp, “God, Megan, I am SO sorry! It’s just your face… It’s so…”
“Symmetrical?” Megan will have asked, forlorn, “I get that a lot… *sigh*.”
THE WEIRD AZTEC METAPHOR THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE
“Deep in her house, Megan Fox and I are discussing human sacrifice. I tell her about an Aztec ritual practiced five hundred years ago in ancient Mexico during the feast of Toxcatl, when the Aztecs picked a perfect youth to live among them as a god. He was a paragon, beautiful and fit and healthy, with ideal proportions…
“The sacrifice’s year was filled with constant delight, I tell her. He danced through the streets adorned in luxurious clothes given to him by the master, decked in flowers and incense, playing magical flutes that brought prosperity to the whole world. He had eight servants and four virgins to attend to his every need and could wander wherever he pleased. But at the end of the year, when the feast of Toxcatl came around again, the perfect youth had to smash his flutes and climb the stairs of the great temple, where the priests would cut out his heart and offer it, still beating, to the sun.
“Megan Fox is not an ancient Aztec. She’s a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy, a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.
‘It’s so similar. It totally is,’ she says quietly.
At the end of the year, the beautiful youth had to go up by himself. He had to go up willingly. That was part of the deal.
Now she is shaking her head. “Not everyone understands that that’s the deal,” she says.
Megan Fox will not go willingly to have her heart cut out.”
I understand that what occured the day of the interview probably wasn’t all that interesting. I’d imagine he sat opposite her while she talked about whatever movie she was contractually obliged to talk about. And then he had to find a way of making that seem interesting for five whole pages. But SURELY, any rational person, upon typing the sentence “Megan Fox is not an ancient Aztec” would think ‘Wait, maybe this is a bit much? Perhaps I should take a break and have another try at this in the morning.’
And let’s just forget, for a second, that what he wrote doesn’t actually make any sense at all, and concentrate instead on Megan’s reaction to it. She fucking AGREED with him! Horrifying.
MEGAN FOX BELIEVES THAT BEING FAMOUS IS WORSE THAN BEING BULLIED
“‘I don’t think people understand,” she says. ‘They all think we should shut the fuck up and stop complaining because you live in a big house or you drive a Bentley. So your life must be so great. What people don’t realize is that fame, whatever your worst experience in high school, when you were being bullied by those ten kids in high school, fame is that, but on a global scale, where you’re being bullied by millions of people constantly.’”
When I was at school, there was a kid who everyone picked on because they thought he was gay. One day, a bunch of older kids dragged him into the PE showers and forcibly inserted a broom handle into his ass. Pretty sure he’d trade lives with you, Meg.
Tao Lin Talks Taipei
The interview below was conducted in the wee hours of the morning (from 1 to 4 AM) on the bed of Tao Lin, in his apartment on the east side of Manhattan, with a small party going on in the other corner of the room. Tao and I later tightened a few things up through email. This is the first, definitive interview with the author after finishing his novel, Taipei, which will be released this spring from Vintage.
PART I: ANNE SEXTON
VICE: Were you happier before, during, or after writing Taipei?
Tao Lin: I think… after.
During… I got into a routine of doing like 80 to 120 milligrams of Adderall and not sleeping for like 36 hours. Then using Xanax or Klonopin and eating, then sleeping for like 12 hours, or not sleeping another night and using more Adderall. Which mostly felt bad, like a constant state of desperation, thinking the novel was incoherent. And I would have days without Adderall, so that it would still work, but it gradually worked less—and on those days I would just eat and use Percocet or whatever I had and be zombielike, then sleep. Wait, did you say you didn’t want drugs in this?
Well, I was saying maybe we won’t mention them since we’ve done that so much already but it doesn’t matter. What were you reading while writing Taipei?
I was rereading Fernando Pessoa and Schopenhauer. I had eBooks of different editions of their stuff on my iPhone. I mostly read eBooks off my iPhone. I remember reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, More, Now, Again, about her trying to write a book while using a lot of Ritalin and feeling interested because it was like what I was doing. Except she was writing a nonfiction book and rich enough to move to Florida to focus on her book. I was writing an autobiographical novel and borrowing from strangers on Twitter. When she described her worst times, like going into a shopping mall and feeling insane from Ritalin, I was like, “shit, that’s… normal, for me.”
When would you read? Before you wrote?
Mostly after. Like when I couldn’t work anymore and wanted to be asleep but my heart would be beating really fast. I remember thinking I was probably going to die of a heart attack… and [long pause] another book I read… it was a biography about… what’s that poet who killed herself?
The other one.
It’s a famous one? I don’t know.
Well, I read her biography and it was really depressing. She was committing suicide but not dying, and people were afraid to be genuine with her because anything might cause another suicide attempt. But people were afraid that she might sense them being not genuine… so it was just, like, impossible to be her friend. Then she finally killed herself. Reading was kind of my form of social interaction for like a year. I hung out like once a month, like I’d go to an event with you, but mostly had no IRL interactions.
Can you think of any books that directly affected the writing you did for Taipei?
For a while, because I felt like horrible about everything I was writing, whenever I read anything—even things by me, from my other books—I’d be like “that seems good, I should do it like that.” And desperately try to change the tone and prose style of my entire book, while viewing it as an unfixable piece of shit, compared to whatever I’d just read. I remember reading half a sentence of a Gore Vidal novel, like the first five words, and closing the book and feeling convinced that I must rewrite my novel in the tone and style of the five words I had just read… I was in a constant state of desperation about what choices to make in my book, except for like the two hours each day when I was peaking on Adderall. I used ecstasy a few times when I didn’t have Adderall, to get into a mental state where everything didn’t seem horrible.
Why write at all?
Well, I’ll talk about this book: why did I write this book. I was just barely making enough money… I don’t remember how. Oh, probably mostly off royalty checks every six months, and writing for Thought Catalog and other places, and selling art. The checks were getting smaller every time, and I think, at some point, Richard Yates and Bed became unavailable on Amazon and currently still are unavailable, except as eBooks, which I think means those books are out-of-print, so not in bookstores. So I was going to need to do something for money. I emailed Bill Clegg, who had reviewed Richard Yates positively for Amazon, and asked if he would be interested in trying to sell 20 pages and an outline of my next novel, and he was, and he did. So I got one-third of a $50,000 advance, and a timeframe, to write my third novel.
You know how certain writers are like, “I have to write. If I didn’t write, I’d die.” Do you feel that? That if you couldn’t write you’d die?
No, I never got that. I’ve never gotten the thing like “it’s a voice inside of me” or when writers say they start with an image, then try to figure out what it means, and like the image just “came to them,” so they really want to find out what it means… I’ve never related to that. And I think I view myself as always writing, like nonstop, because I view thinking and talking—because they use language, the same language as writing—as forms of writing.
Do you have another book contract?
How much money would it have to be for?
Not that much, I don’t think.
Like not as much as you were paid for this one?
If someone were offering $50,000 for another novel, I’d do it. I would like that.
PART II: BRET EASTON ELLIS
What movie is most like your book?
Shit… what’s a movie where they use drugs a lot but no one dies and there’s no violence, and it’s funny, but everyone is depressed?
I don’t know.
Maybe Husbands and Wives with drugs and younger characters. I can’t think of movies where people use a large variety of drugs. It’s usually like… focused on one drug. In movies, I don’t know, it’s like—
—it’s like somebody dies or there’s some kind of fucking moral to it. Bret Easton Ellis tweeted one day something like, “Why can’t somebody write a drug book where they just keep partying instead of going to rehab and getting clean?”
Mitchell Jackson is a writer from Portland and a protégé of legendary editor Gordon Lish, which kind of means a lot in and of itself. Mitch is also the possessor of an excellent jump shot (which was described to me as a “James Jones-style jumper with great form” by his little brother), the creator of two kids, the owner of a great smile, and the ability to make up sentences that are much better than any others I’ve read recently. He also claims authorship of Oversoul, an e-book of piercing essays and amazing short stories that was published a few months ago. We loved it. A lot. We loved it so much that we excerpted the title story and ran it as a centerpiece of our annual Fiction Issue. I’m complimenting him so heavily primarily because I like him and his writing so much, but also because I’m kind of needy and like to be thought of as a nice guy.
Mitchell is currently hard at work on a new novel that’s going to be out next summer for Bloomsbury and will probably kick all your other books’s asses.
VICE: What is your memory of Portland? I imagine the Portland we all know and make fun of today is pretty different from the one you grew up in, right?
Mitchell S. Jackson: Yeah, definitely. I go back about twice a year, or maybe three times in a year, and the area I grew up in was an area you would never go—you definitely wouldn’t be caught there after dark. Now it’s an area with coffee shops and people walking dogs and bicycling and, you know, boutiques. I think what I remember most was everyone playing basketball around me, wanting to make it out of there playing basketball, and then probably after I was about ten years old, crack hit really bad. It was in that area where all the drugs were.
So you remember that happening, the crack explosion.
It’s funny you mention basketball and crack in the same sentence. I was just talking the other day with my friend about Len Bias. When he died… man, that was such a defining moment for contemporary American culture. The effect of such a hyped basketball player being cut down by cocaine a couple of days after the draft…
It was symbolic, but not only.
You know that was the moment that pushed Congress to actually change the crack cocaine laws.
It wasn’t just a big moment in the sense of his death. Thousands and thousands of men got really long sentences, essentially because Len Bias died of cocaine overdose.
You were pretty good at playing ball, right?
Yes, I played in high school and I played in junior college, I probably could have kept going but I decided that just wasn’t my avenue. I didn’t feel passionate about it the way other people around me did.
Was this parallel to a new first start and you being interested in writing, or did that come later?
You know, I wasn’t interested in writing at all when I was young. I was a good student, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t read and write until I was in my 20s, really. I went to prison when I was about 19 years old, and I read a couple of books in there, but there wasn’t anything available, it was like Terry McMillan books, and we didn’t have a library. I read a few pieces, and I decided, I’m bored, so I just started writing some stuff down. You know everyone in prison thinks their life story is the greatest life story of all times, so I just wrote those down on loose leaf, and when I came home I was like, I’m gonna do something with this. But I just let it go and went back to school. So I would say I didn’t get serious about writing until I was actually in a graduate writing program.