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.
FIGHTLAND MEETS OTTAVIA BOURDAIN
Ottavia Bourdain—writer, MMA lover, and dedicated Brazilian jiu-jitsu student—and her husband, Anthony, show us what life is like when you’ve got a fighter in the family.
Meet the Ladies of the Free Syrian Army – They Have Guns, Dead Families, and Nothing to Lose
An all-female FSA brigade gathers inside Auntie Mahmoud’s house in Atmeh, Syria. Photos by Andreas Stahl.
Just a few hundred meters from the Turkey-Syria border lies Atmeh, a once quiet farm town that, in recent months, has become a safe haven for the Free Syrian Army. Fifteen thousand Syrians roam freely, displaced by the civil war, along with various brigades and Islamic militants. There’s also Auntie Mahmoud’s house—a meeting place for a local all-female unit of FSA fighters.
Auntie Mahmoud is a tough old broad who’s happy to shake your hand, even while other Syrian women in town naturally shy away. She lives in a small house across the street from a FSA base and makes it her business to know everything that goes on around her. Her living room is carpeted with thin mattresses, and when we visited her recently, we found eight women, draped in black hijabs and seated with Kalashnikovs resting on their laps. These brave women are members of the FSA who are ready to plunge into intense urban firefights alongside their male counterparts, if needed. Though they originally hail from cities like Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib, many of them now live in the camp near Atmeh and share strikingly similar backgrounds: each of their husbands was killed or imprisoned while fighting Assad’s regime, their homes were leveled by shelling and other attacks, and over the course of two years of Syria’s civil war, they all grew tired of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for a favorable outcome to the conflict.
Am Ar’ou, a 37-year-old former law student from Aleppo, is the leader of the brigade. Wearing a military vest and with her face completely veiled in niqab, she stroked her rifle as she recounted how her husband was arrested only because he had a beard and prayed five times a day. She worked closely with the FSA when the war began, storing weapons and supplies in her home until the cache was discovered, shelled, and destroyed. After the attack, she spent three months in the hospital with jaw, hand, and back injuries. Once discharged, she had no home to return to and became a refugee in her own country. She traveled to the camp in Atmeh and soon found other women who also had nothing but one another, sad stories, and some guns.
Safa, who has been involved with the revolution against Assad from the beginning, walks through the streets of Atmeh.
The women in Am’s brigade have declared jihad against President Assad in the name of freedom, democracy, and women’s rights in an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. But they’re also wary of some of their allies because Atmeh is a hotbed of rebel activity and home to hard-line Salafist Islamic groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (one of the best-known Islamic groups fighting in Syria today, who were recently added to the US’s list of terrorist organizations), the al-Farouq Brigade, al Qaeda, and various other foreign mujahideen fighters. This has made Am and her comrades’ mission particularly difficult to execute. Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, support the women in theory but refuse to fight alongside them or allow them to carry their weapons openly. Even though they’re all opposed to Assad, the Islamic rebel groups are determined to create an Islamic state in Syria, while most Syrians are opposed to this idea. Am and her brigade are devout Muslims, too, but they don’t want an Islamic state; they want a democracy.
BEASTS OF BURDEN - PART 1
Searching for Illicit Animal-Fighting Rings in Kabul
VICE correspondent Gelareh Kiazand travels to Kabul in search of illicit gambling rings where men bet on quail fights, buzkashi (it’s like polo, but with a headless goat), and dog fights. But first she has to find Dardar, the only figure in Kabul’s gambling world who can get our crew into the betting circle.
Three Gothic Tales from Austin, Texas
by Amie and Clancy Martin
The Hotel San Jose
“I’ve stayed in this hotel at least 15 times. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
Clancy had shown me the video tour of our suite at the San Jose Hotel. It looked like The Hermosa in Scottsdale (except at The Hermosa, each guest has her own adobe casita). It looked like the Altis Belem in Lisbon (except the oceanfront Altis Belem is fancier and I prefer the San Jose’s APC.-style simplicity). It looked like Philip Stark’s hotel in Hong Kong, except the suites there are bigger, cleaner, and more stylish, with individual touches, like a beaded rocking chair from Africa, and the Stark boutique hotel has free breakfast, free snacks downstairs all day, and cocktails and cake in the afternoon.
When we checked in the staff was strangely surly. They acted like clerks used to act at cool record stores in the 90s.
“That’s the only problem with this place,” Clancy apologized. “They’ve always acted like that. But otherwise it’s great.”
We were in the largest suite but they couldn’t check us in for several hours. “Check-in,” they said, “is at three.” Apparently there is a great demand in Austin, Texas for $700-a-night suites. All four had been booked the previous night, according to the clerk in a newsboy hat, and none had been cleaned. He offered to hold our bags.
Things went from inauspicious to bad. It may come as a surprise, but when I get angry I go crazy. We were finally checked into our room at around five. That night, Clancy and I had the worst fight we’ve ever had. I broke the bottle of “Rainwater” that was provided free of charge. I shouted.
Two bearded, hipster security guards arrived. These two young men in black were in over their heads. Not knowing how to handle noise complaints (one said there had been four, and one said there had been six), they seemed to have come to our door thinking, “What would the officers on Cops do?” One had a Maglite. I sensed they were frustrated they couldn’t arrest me. I felt like they wanted to award Clancy, who gets quiet and—in his own words—exaggeratedly polite when he is angry, a Man of the Year Award.
The next morning a hotel manager called the room. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Clancy said that was fine, but that she would have to credit us for the second night’s stay. She said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” He was firm. They met in the courtyard, next to a tiny black-slate wading pool and the little boutique where the Hotel San Jose sells Toms shoes and $25 neon-green flip-flops.
“I’ve had complaints. You’re going to have to leave,” she said.
Clancy said, “That’s the business you’re in. I’m sure we’re not the first couple to have a fight in this hotel. Are you married?”
She shook her head.
“Well, one day you will be, and then you’ll understand that married couples fight, and you can’t decide when and where you’re going to have a fight with your spouse.”
He returned to the room. “We’re staying.”
Things went from bad to worse. The entire staff had been gossiping about us. That was understandable, but the strange thing was that they wanted us to know it. No one would look us in the eye, except to express contempt.
“This is fun,” Clancy said. “I feel like the unpopular kid in high school again.”
The next morning we sat at Joe’s, the pleasant coffee shop owned by the hotel, located on the other side of the parking lot. We debated about whether or not we should write this review.
What can I say? It’s a boutique hotel, like any other. We behaved badly. But there’s a reason The Four Seasons, The Rosewood, The Mandarin, and my little places such as the ones mentioned at the opening send their future managers to The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. While there, future managers work for a year, starting in housekeeping, or as busboys. It is because for a hotel to be good—let alone great—only one thing is required: courtesy.
Read the other two tales
People in Lebanon Are Killing Each Other Over Syria
Above: Fighters in the Firuq Brigade of Souq al-Qamar, who said the war was never going to end and they were proud to fight for Tabbaneh.
Lebanon’s second largest city of Tripoli is mainly known for its rich history and architecture, sweet food, the fact that it’s not the Tripoli in Libya and—in more recent times—flare-ups in sectarian fighting. The ideal holiday destination for anyone who wants to escape their desk job for a week of routine violence and baklava. Since the start of the Syrian revolution, violent battles have taken place in various parts of the city. Most of the fighting has been done between the city’s bands of pro-revolution Sunni militias and forces in the pro-Assad district of Jabal Mohsen.
Since Syria lies only a few miles north of Tripoli, thousands of Syrian refugees belonging to various ethno-religious groups have streamed across the border into Lebanon looking for refuge, which has begun to destabilise the situation there even more. It’s a country already constantly teetering on the knife-edge of sectarian conflict, and after 15 years of civil war that left hundreds of thousands of people dead, Lebanon knows Syria’s problems far too well.
On the outside, Lebanon may appear to be a functioning and stable country. But in reality, the confessionalist state is deeply divided and the hastily bandaged scars following the chaos of civil war have again become open wounds in the Lebanese psyche. Former warlords—many of whom still harbor racist and inflammatory views—are now politicians and religious leaders, and there’s still a deep distrust between many of the country’s 18 recognised religious sects. Gun battles breaking out between different communities have been commonplace over the last decade, and the brutal assassinations of public figures have incinerated any notion that Lebanon adheres to the principles of a functioning democracy.
A Sunni funeral for one of the fighters killed in Syria takes place in Tripoli.
The neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen lie side by side. Their communities have been fighting for generations, stretching as far back as the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. The Alawites of Jabal Mohsen are staunch supporters of Bashar al-Assad, the man they see as the leader of their community. Their mainly Sunni neighbours in Bab al-Tabbaneh and most of Tripoli don’t share the same enthusiasm.
In the most recent round of clashes, 17 people were killed, including women, children and the elderly. The violence erupted after news came through that 20 Sunni fighters from northern Lebanon had crossed the border to fight Assad’s forces only to be killed by them in an ambush.
Videos were also released that purportedly showed the bodies of those men being stabbed by regime forces, triggering a violent reaction from Tripoli’s Sunni community. Clashes broke out between the Alawites in Jabal Mohsen and the Sunnis in Bab al-Tabbaneh, leading to barrages of rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire across the region as militiamen from both sides squared off.
From NFL Cheerleader to MMA Fighter
This time last year, Rachel Wray was spending her Sundays on the sidelines of Arrowhead Stadium as an NFL cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs. She stumbled onto an MMA gym looking for a way to change up her workouts and before long she preferred the feel of the canvas to the stadium turf. Now she’s left the NFL for the fighter’s life. These days when her lips are red at work, it’s not lipstick—it’s blood. Wray talked to us about leaving cheerleading and how she’s prepping for her upcoming fight at the Voodoo Lounge in Kansas City later this month.
FIGHTLAND: Is there any similarity between fight training and cheerleader training?
Rachel Wray: [Laughs] There is nothing similar between fight training and cheerleader training. To be a professional cheerleader you need dance practice, swimsuit modeling, football knowledge, public speaking, and have perfect hair, nails, and makeup at all times. I always laugh when I get out of a fight practice because I always look so disgusting —drenched in sweat, no makeup, hair a huge mess. As a cheerleader if your lipstick isn’t perfect at practice, you get in trouble. They are polar-opposite worlds.
Why did you leave cheerleading to become an MMA fighter?
The reason I chose to leave cheerleading to fight was simple: I enjoyed it more. Just when I was really getting into the MMA training, Chiefs cheerleader auditions were approaching. I had to make a decision. It was impossible to do both. I knew it was right because on nights when I had cheer practice, all I could think about was being at High-Davis Mixed Martial Arts gym. Fighting made me happier than cheerleading. I enjoyed it so much more, I made the switch.
Read the rest over at FIGHTLAND.
FIGHTLAND Meets Steve Albini
The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It’s also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. “My Walkout Song” is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
Steve Albini—guitar assassin in Big Black, Rapeman, and currently Shellac, as well as legendary engineer (he hates being called a producer) of some of the most musically muscular music of the last 30 years (Nirvana, Neurosis, and Roger Plant-Jimmy Page, among dozens)—has also tried his expert hand at billiards, cooking, and animal husbandry. Well, not really animal husbandry but he’s one of those guys, usually autodidacts, who get great at anything they want to get great at through force of will, bad attitude, and smarts.
So we remain shocked that we’ve been unsuccessful at seducing him into giving fighting, specifically MMA, much more than a cursory, and contempt-filled, glance. His reasons are many and seem to actually make sense from a peace-love perspective. But we’re happy that, despite those reasons, he was willing to give us his hypothetical walkout music. Just amuses us to no end to imagine seeing shirtless Steve in some Tapout shorts, walking down the corridor toward a cage.
Head over to Fightland to find out what Steve’s song would be.
A Man of Letters Learns to Fight with an MMA Team
A few months ago, in a rash moment, I took up with an MMA team. I wanted to learn how to spar, and they seemed the likeliest teachers. The team—which includes a professional MMA fighter, several younger guys preparing for their first fights, a boxer or two, and a bunch of jiu-jitsu players—is generous with me, a permanent amateur late to the game, with more heart than skill. They welcomed me into their fraternity, sensing, I guess, that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) cause any trouble and might even prove useful as a moving punching bag.
I move pretty well, too. Setting aside my rounds with Matt, the one pro in the bunch (rounds that consist of him peppering my face from great distances with quick double-jabs and short hooks that scramble my brain and make me apoplectic with annoyance). Jameson, who has a few boxing matches under his belt, is too fast for me, but if I cover up and concentrate on movement and counterpunching, I can usually deflect most of his hardest punches and get a couple of licks of my own in. The other week, however, he caught me clean with a right cross that brought tears to my eyes. He apologized but I waved him off — my hands were down, not his fault. For my troubles I now have a Roman swell on the bridge of my nose, probably temporary, and I would be lying if I said it upset me.
Read the rest at FIGHTLAND.
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