Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Snake



I ask Josh to tell me what it looked like when I had my seizure in April. I've been asking. All summer he's refused an answer. He says he doesn't want to cry. I don't want him to cry either. Still, I want to know.

My currency is the word "please."

He shows me the way my left hand curled up toward my wrist. He strains his neck back like he's trying to keep his head above water. He explains the colors of my face and the words I tried to say. I ask why he didn't film me. He doesn't answer. He looks at me with pity and disgust and love. It's a bad question.

Why do I ask it?

Because I had another seizure Thursday.

Josh was at work. The morning was mine. I read. I wrote. I considered my pet snake but didn't remove her from her habitat. I put the comforter in the washer but didn't start the water. My phone rang. Someone was interested in an old camera I had for sale on Craigslist. He said he'd arrive in an hour or so to take a look at it. I laid the camera and all its parts on the dining room table. I sat and thought about the camera. I tried to remember all its quirks. Nothing. My access to my memory was denied.

I recognized it for what it was.

There was the jerk in my vision. The inability to land a single thought. The need, always before a seizure, to get myself in front of a mirror, as if seeing myself would break the spell. I ran to the bathroom. Fighting. I could look everywhere but the mirror. I ran to the bedroom. I made it to the bed. I disappeared.

The next hour was black. But there were events. I got up at some point and retrieved the comforter from the washer. I made the bed. I skinned my knuckles. I bruised the front and back of my head. Maybe on the wall. Maybe on the headboard. The point is I don't remember any of it. I functioned but not as myself. My frontal lobe, where my seizures occur, is also where personality is formed. For that hour, my mind was not part of my body. I was only the movements my body made. Those movements were imperfect. I woke up feeling like I'd been in a fight. Two days later, my legs still ache like I ran somewhere. My head doesn't ache. Didn't ache. But it throbbed slowly. I wondered if I could move a chair with my mind.

(I couldn't.)

I've always thought of the seizure itself as the final release of errant electricity in the brain. Afterward, I usually feel pretty good. This time I felt like there was more to release.

Remember, I considered the snake that morning. My pet snake. I have always loved snakes. Spiders. Lizards. All the animals that dart and bite. In my dreams, I'm bitten. Wild dogs challenge me in the night streets of those dreams, and I win. Winning is stopping the dog. Winning is having a snake in my home and not fearing the fangs. Winning is my heart when the snake coils and tests my hand without drawing blood. I'm larger than the danger. Even when the chaos asserts itself, I return to give it order.

When I woke up from this latest seizure and its after-party, I looked at the time on my phone. There was a new message. The man interested in the old camera was on his way. I tried to throw up. I couldn’t. I brushed my teeth. I drank some water. The doorbell rang, and I invited the man in. We talked about the camera. He haggled. I accepted his offer. He disappeared.

For nearly 14 hours following the sale, I slept.

I tell Josh I've been planning a new tattoo, an antique illustration of a snake, large and on my chest. The snake is pretty, but that's not all. I have other tattoos, and they don't mean anything besides pretty. I don't think tattoos have to mean anything. When Josh asks me what the snake means, even though I have an answer, I can't tell him. I can't articulate it. It's not as simple as the snake is the seizure. It's more like this: the snake is the part of me he's met that I never will. Or put it this way, when I tried to look in the mirror before I had my seizure, and I couldn't see my reflection, what was there? The snake was there. Or something like it. Something in me and beyond me at the same time. All I can tell you is it was me and it wasn't me.  


You get the idea.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Extra

Today, I was an extra in a video project. I looked in a mirror and couldn't tell I was wearing makeup. The point is the camera could tell. If I wasn't wearing makeup, I would look dead, or translucent, or I don't know, bruised by shadows. I've learned to take a good photograph, but the effect of light on human skin is still a mystery to me. I know the human brain smooths minor variations. We look at a white wall and register it as uniformly white. A photograph of that same wall will appear complicated with detail. Dappled. Maybe the same is true for skin. Maybe the camera doesn't just see the surface flesh but a little under it as well.

The camera is stupid. It doesn't have a brain. Only an eye. Good for the camera.

The set stylist smoothed gel into my eyebrows. I apologized for their wildness. 

"No," she said. "They're great!"

Well, I've always thought so.

I was a bystander first, then a soldier. An extra in the superfluous sense. Some of the actors were attractive. In the superlative sense. One guy was given lines. He played a young Hemingway. (Hemingway wishes he looked like this guy.) Another guy was given hideous pustules and asked to fall on his face again and again. Others were asked to smile or chatter. I was asked to walk. That's it. Walk across the green screen. Slow down. Express disgust. Speed up. Descend green stairs. 

My facial hair had to go. I've shaved for worse reasons. Every few months I do it to see how much older I look. I never like what I see. Not because I look any older but because I look unfamiliar and naked. And I have no problem with naked, except for my face. I take all these photographs of myself just to familiarize myself with myself, and I still wouldn't be able to describe my face to you without looking in a mirror.

You're not here for this.

Let me tell you how I spent hours watching the crew prepare lights and cameras. I stared. Most of these men wore pants that agreed with their bodies. There was a skate park (?!) in the corner of the studio where the crew took breaks on skateboards and fell down hard and stood up unfazed. I leaned against a railing in my costumes and listened to the vocabulary of video production. Watched arms and backs and legs lift set pieces across green paper. Saw shirts rise and expose bellies.

I tried to turn off my brain and become a camera. Failing there, I did a little work and got paid.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

L.A. II



I went back West, and Josh went with me. We flew to Los Angeles, walked everywhere we could walk, and rode buses the rest of the way. All the places we went were L.A. but also discrete places. Culver City. Santa Monica. Beverly Hills. Downtown. West Hollywood. I wanted to see a lizard, and I did see one in the Miracle Mile. Josh almost stepped on it. It looked half-snake. Slithered/ran up a driveway. Plates like a dragon. Face like a puppy. (Lizards are dogs. Snakes are cats.) I couldn't catch that lizard like I couldn't catch California. I love things in jars, and California is a big thing in a big jar. It's just someone else's jar.

I have a list of loves.

I didn't see xTx. You know her. Well, it just didn't happen this time because, well, because. I will always remember that. The time I was there and she wasn't. No big deal. A little deal, though. A receipt I forget I carry in my wallet, but I still carry it.

Then there was the other her. The reason for the trip. Roxane Gay. She and some other heroes read downtown on Friday. The bookstore was the mouth of an airline passenger. Hot saliva. No air moving but our gasps. You missed it. You really missed it. The readers scared away two men in lounge lizard wear. Hats with small feathers. Untucked dress shirts. No humor. Those men left, and the rest of us gave Roxane a standing ovation.

I met Kima Jones. We're mutual fans. The piece she read kept me still and breathless. She's not apologizing anywhere in any way because she knows apologies aren't necessary. The work is necessary. She and I posed for her Instagram. She told me her weave was melting. Josh offered to catch it if it fell. It didn't fall.

Something else. Josh, Roxane, and I saw a play Saturday night. When it was over, we got in a car, rode a hundred feet, and turned right back around because a Hollywood moment declared itself. We met an actress. Had drinks with her and her fancy/hot friends. My knees shook under the table. Every once in a while a name would drop. I'd squeeze Roxane's leg, and Josh would squeeze mine. We found another Midwesterner at the table and talked about dog races. There was gossip. A glass shattered somewhere off-camera during the revelations.

On Sunday, Molly Laich's brother tattooed me in West Hollywood. Josh watched from a stool in silence. He admitted he was nervous. I wasn't nervous, but according to Josh, my breathing changed. I sounded like a sleeping dog. A dog when it's dreaming.

I took Josh to the ocean. I've always wanted to do that. We saw fish, and we saw people fishing. Men shirtless. Sweating. Beautiful. The water was blue and green. I didn't want to leave. Part of me is still there, looking over the edge of the pier. Any thought I have is muted. Unimportant. The space is filled with this:



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Did I Tell You



A large tree branch fell on the sidewalk right where people stop to pet our neighbor's needy cat. I imagine it fell the way a chandelier falls in a movie. I didn't see it fall. Or hear it. Now it stands on the sidewalk like a mannequin wearing a prom dress. All the leaves are mint green but dying.

My neighbor retrieves his mail and takes a picture of the fallen branch with his phone. I see this from a window. I wait for an animal to crawl out from under the leaves and stretch its legs. I continue to wait. There is no animal. I write the image down on a list of ideas and titles for potential stories. The list is long. There's only so much time, and I'm still working on the little book I've been working on for a year. I would be done, but it's not the only work I do.

I bet you rolled your eyes. Me, too.

I can't remember everything I've told you. This summer has been kind. I told you that. I saw my family. I started transcribing interviews for a woman in New Mexico. I've taken more photographs. Made ice cream. Pies. Knitted one baby blanket.

Oh! But I didn't tell you this: Josh and I are going to Los Angeles next month to see Roxane Gay read from her new book of essays, BAD FEMINIST. Go if you can go. We'll go to the beach. We'll see friends. We'll ask everyone we meet for their personal experiences with rattlesnakes and mountain lions. We'll get tattoos. We'll come home.

Wait. Josh says he's not getting a tattoo.

Another list I keep is a list of potential tattoos. I like them. I like tattoos. You know all this. Why am I telling you? I'm telling you because my friend's husband was trying to convince Josh to get a tattoo. My friend's husband grabbed my arm and stroked my three square tattoos and said to Josh, "See how beautiful a tattoo can be?"

I'm still not fully recovered. I place my hand over my heart. It's there. I try not to think about how my hand and my heart are the same size. I don't like to remember I'm full of organs. There are better ways to pass the time.

I look out the window. The tree branch is gone now. Sawdust has replaced it on the sidewalk. I was home all day, and I didn't hear the saw. I heard dogs bark. I heard the doorbell ring, but I didn't answer it. When I went out for the mail, the neighbor's cat was asleep on the doormat.

"Hey, you!" I said.

I try to come up with something for the cat to have done. Something more interesting than nothing. But the cat did nothing. He didn't wake up, or roll over, or scratch the hell out of my legs. He stayed asleep. I went inside and locked the door. I sat down at the dining room table and drew two self-portraits that looked like someone else. The hours passed, and I was pleased.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Everyone Was a Cousin



I don't live anywhere near my family. Last week, I lived with all of them in the mountains. There was a lake full of turtles. A small lake to reflect the trees. My cousins and I sat on the porch and watched the only motor boat allowed on the lake stir up algae.

"He likes to keep it moving," one cousin said.

We sat still. Other cousins kept the kitchen running. Work on vacation. Clouds inflated over the house and groaned. Men we didn't know stood in the grass around the water and fished before the storms fell.

Each afternoon the view beyond the porch was gray and wet. The rain lowered the atmosphere and kept the nights cool. Some of us ran around the lake.

I ran around the lake alone. Twice I thought I was being followed by a large brown dog. I turned and there was no dog. "I can run faster if I need to," I thought. I closed the circle and arrived where I started. Back to the family.

After dark, wine was passed around. Bad wine and good wine, and I couldn't tell the difference when it was poured out of the bottle and yellowed a plastic cup. My cousins talked. I listened. I was accused of taking notes, but notes came later when all the wine was drunk.

All the wine was drunk.

Someone told the story of waking up to their sleepwalking spouse pointing a gun at the wall. The spouse had a nightmare of a giant spider. Nothing could kill that spider like a gun. Since all dreams come from somewhere, the giant spider came from the smaller spiders the spouse had killed cleaning the basement.

Someone else grappled with the use of the F word in plays. They asked my opinion. I didn't say what first came to mind, which was, "Which F word?" Instead, I said I don't even hear that word as worse than any other word. Another relative weighed in for Christ. "People with good Christian values don't use the F word," she said. As if Jesus spoke English.

I ate eggs.

One afternoon, we slid down a wet rock and marveled at a waterfall. This waterfall:


While I was photographing this waterfall, my aunt asked me if my camera took good pictures, and I said, "No, I take good pictures."

Later, I lost my glasses in river rapids. Minutes before that, though, a snake froze in the grass for me to get a good look. I stared at the snake and noted the pattern of its scales. It was a garter snake. A common snake.

But it was the only snake I saw.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lost Interview Two

I'm writing a story about ephemera right now in the form of summer and a dead car, but ephemera can be anything that doesn't stick around long. Gather your receipts before the numbers fade. Recycle the newspaper. Draw a lizard on a napkin and throw away the napkin. It all dissolves, eventually. I did some interviews that appeared on websites. Some of those interviews then disappeared. The Internet proves flimsy.    

I posted the first lost interview the other day. The second interview to vanish was conducted by Amber Lee for Necessary Fiction. Not too long after this interview went live, Necessary Fiction encountered a server malfunction. When the site came back, the interview didn't come back with it.


Well, here you go.



INTERVIEW FOR NECESSARY FICTION SPRING 2013

QUESTIONS BY AMBER LEE
ANSWERS BY CASEY HANNAN


What books and/or authors have had the most influence on your writing?


Annie Proulx's work started me writing when I was 18. Then it was Hemingway. Then Didion. I read Play It as It Lays three or four times a year. I can't read more than a page before I have to put it down and write. Reading good writing makes me want to prove I can do it better. Well, not better but mine. I'm selfish. I want to lay claim. The other day someone called me a hustler of my own writing. All the writing I come back to is so clearly under the ownership of the person who wrote it.


Right now I'm reading George Whitmore's Nebraska. Whitmore shows the reader exactly what the reader needs to see. There's nothing extra. If I have a current writer like that, it's xTx. Have you read Billie the Bull? Read Billie the Bull, and see what I mean. See if you give a shit about the pseudonym anymore. The writing tells you everything you need to know.


How do you decide when a piece you've written is "finished" enough to publish?


I don't. Other people do. That's editors. The only thing I decide to do is write. It's easier to know when a pie is finished. There's usually a golden color, and if it's custard, the slightest wobble of the filling.


What would you consider to be a productive day of work, and do you have a writing routine?


A productive day of work is any day I get any writing done. Richard Bausch says, "This day's work. Each day." That's really it. My routine is: sit down and write.


What part of your writing process do you most enjoy?


The writing part.


Publisher's Weekly describes the stories in your collection, Mother Ghost, which debuts this month, as "small, but pack[ing] an intense emotional punch." How were you able to evoke such emotion from stories with respectively low word counts?


Evoking emotion in writing isn't hard. The emotion is always there, but writing gives the writer permission to express it. I'm quiet in person. People tell me secrets because I seem like a rock, and rocks don't absorb. Well, I'm not a rock. I absorb everything. It's got to go somewhere, though, and my writing is where it goes.


Do you have a favorite story in the collection? If so, what is it and why?


I don't have a favorite. Spiders don't have favorite legs. The stories in Mother Ghost function better together, which is why they're together.


But if you said you were going to erase one of the stories, I guess I'd beg you not to erase "Horse Street." There are some lines in there I still can't believe I wrote.


What else are you working on, and where can readers go to find more of your work?


I'm working on a novella about a young man living on the beach in a shack on stilts. His life is constantly threatened by tropical storms. The other people in the book are more important than he is.


I do have a story in the upcoming issue of NANO Fiction. I'm also proud of a story I had up at Wigleaf recently. It's called "The Long Beep." And of course there's my blog at casey-hannan.com.


Finally, what advice would you give yourself when you first started writing?


I wouldn't. I don't believe that sort of time-travel is healthy for writers. I'm happy where I am and how I got here. There's no reason to mess around. I would give myself other advice, though. I would tell myself to stop eating so many chicken nuggets. I would take my own hands in my hands and say, "Allow yourself some rewards, but learn how to make them all yourself."


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lost Interview One

I know I write, and you know I write, but I don't always talk about it when I leave the house. I talk about the living or dead animals I've seen on the sidewalk. I talk about the light bulb that shattered when Josh touched it with his fingertip. I tell you what my neighbors yell when they fight. (The latest: "I let you sleep all day because I hate being around you!") But what I do all day, mostly, is write. I've been interviewed about it like it's my job. And some of those interviews were swallowed by the Internet. In the interest of archiving, I'll post a couple of them here over the next few days.

The first interview lost to the void was for an online literary journal called Thumbnail. Molly Laich asked the questions. You may remember Molly. I remember Molly. We fight about who's the better writer. She is. We meet in person once a year to do nothing in particular. The last time we met, we couldn't believe what someone was saying behind a microphone. That was Seattle. This interview is the Internet through and through. Presented to you unedited-ish from the emails:


INTERVIEW FOR THUMBNAIL SUMMER 2012
QUESTIONS BY MOLLY LAICH
ANSWERS BY CASEY HANNAN


What is it you think your stories are trying to say, really? Who are you and what is this life for?


There are so many mothers in my stories. One of them says, "We all have it bad is what I'm saying." I don't want to make excuses for people and their behavior, but at the same time I'm so thankful for every problem I've had or else I wouldn't have stories to tell. If I didn't have any stories to tell, I would find something else to do. This life is for finding something to do.

What are some of your "themes?" I can think of two: homosexuals, ghosts. Homosexual ghosts. I'm not trying to pigeon hole you, okay? Talk about the intangible act of weaving the world of real events into a rich tapestry of fiction, intrigue and seduction. 

The thing about fiction is a lot of fiction isn't fiction. I can't blame people for wanting to know how much of a story is true. I make stuff up, but I steal my best stuff from real events. I guess the hardest part is gluing it all together with lies. That's also the most fun.

One of my themes is the homosexual experience. I try not to normalize that experience. It's not normal. It's not hetero. It's not status quo. At the same time, it can be anything I want it to be. Still, I feel like a ghost sometimes, like every conversation I have is trying to apply something to my life that doesn't apply.

You have a blog. It's basically my favorite blog. How long have you been writing it? Has it helped your "career?" Do you ever worry about saying too personal things on your blog? Do you every worry who is and is not reading it? What are some good keyword searches that have led to casey-hannan.com

I've been doing Vicious Cycle a little over a year and a half. It has helped my career. Writers like xTx and Roxane Gay pimp my blog on occasion. It's flattering and unexpected, and it's definitely gotten me more readers.
I never worry about saying too personal things. I usually save the best personal stuff for my stories. There are things I've wanted to blog about, but I've stayed my hand because I'm not the only one involved. I like having friends, and most of my friends read my blog even if they don't read my stories. My mother reads my blog, and she thinks I don't know she reads it. I'm not worried she reads it. When I came out in high school, I had to become very selfish to survive. I had to place my desire for acceptance elsewhere, though, and I was not attractive enough to place it in sex. I placed it in talent. I made writing my parents. I've tried to be healthy about it. I'm not undone by rejection. It's only words, and I can change those.

There are always good keyword searches. The most common are people looking for square tattoos. I posted a picture of my square tattoos in a blog entry, and that blog entry has had far and away the most views. An art student in Michigan came to my writing through my tattoos. She recently asked my blessing to get similar tattoos of her own. She put a picture on Facebook and told her friends to read my blog. I was very proud, like cats probably expect you to be when they leave dead birds at the front door.

You list all your stories on your blog in order of publication, from newest to oldest. Reorder the stories. Put the top 3-5 stories in the order you wish people would read your work in. You can say a little about why the order if you want. 

1. Horse Street, which was published at Spork Press. It's maybe the weirdest story I've written, but it has the most real events of any of them. It also has all those themes I obsess over so much. And a horse. Because I'm from Kentucky, and I knew people who weren't rich, but they had horses anyway.


2. Soft Monsters, which was published at Annalemma. It's the story where I try to reconcile my relationship with the visual art I used to make. I used to work in an art museum, and I would stand around all day wondering why my art wasn't in the museum. Ha ha. Young people! It turns out I was making glorified stuffed animals, and when I finally realized that, I went full-force into writing and haven't looked back. This is also the most naked of my stories, but at the same time it doesn't betray much emotion.

3. Ghost Water, which was published at American Short Fiction. This is my most recently published story. That's probably why I'm putting it here. There are some really good sentences, and I get to personify my ginger fetish in a Southern bartender named Lee.

I noticed you don't have an MFA. How did you learn to write without an MFA? How do you know if your stories are any good? Does anybody read your stories before you send them out for publication? Tell us about your workshopping process. 

I don't have an MFA. My undergraduate fiction classes were run like MFA workshops, though. I wrote some OK stories in undergrad, but that wasn't the point. The point was to learn how to read. My boyfriend and I are avid readers, and once a week we'll go out to eat at the Indian buffet and talk about what we're reading. Sometimes, I let my boyfriend read my stories before I send them out. I'm pretty proud, though, and my boyfriend hates confrontation, so I usually just send out the stories and wait for the rejections. Rejection sets me on fire to impress more than anything else.

You went to AWP in Chicago this past year. We met for the first time in person at a reading there, in a dark room. Tell the people how AWP was or was not helpful to you. What advice would you give to young plucky writers who are considering attending? What do you think they can get out of it? 

AWP was something. It told me I wasn't alone, and it told me there are people out there who read my stories. Roxane Gay mentioned me in the first panel I attended, and I couldn't move for five minutes. The panel was about short fiction, and we were in this gigantic ballroom, and Roxane got effusive about my stories. Some drunk people seemed to know who I was when I went to bars for readings. Some of them kissed my tattoos. I walked around the book fair with xTx, and I felt comfortable and just visible enough, like a pilot fish or one of those flies always around a horse's ass.

My advice to young writers is attend, but don't get too hung up about going to panels or seeing this person read versus that person. Make sure to experience the city as much as you can. Spend a long time at the book fair. Really let it hit you that you're one of many, and you're not special, but at least you're not alone.

What's next? I thought you were writing a novel. Did the novel turn into a collection of stories? Is that the thing that's coming out on Tiny Hardcore Press or are these separate projects? Tell the people what I'm talking about. 
What's next is a collection of stories for Tiny Hardcore Press, due out early 2013. I was writing a novel. I loved the idea of writing a novel, but every chapter read like a separate story, and the characters weren't consistent from chapter to chapter. I only recently realized I'd been writing a collection of stories all along. Also, Tiny Hardcore Press came to me loving my stories. They've given me a lot of free reign, but it felt dumb to throw my first attempt at a novel at them.

Have you figured out any secrets? Dos or Don'ts when it comes to being a good writer and finding your voice? If it's truly a secret, does that preclude a willingness to share? 

When you like something you've read, tell the writer. The Internet makes it easy. As far as finding your voice, you have to be selfish. You have to believe what you're saying, or no one else will. Those aren't really secrets, but secrets are important, too. I'm keeping a secret for a friend, and I told her the one thing Southerners love more than telling secrets is keeping them. That goes double for writers.

BONUS:

Here's a couple of questions I was going to lead with, but they seem like kind of dumb, scenester questions. but I will leave them here and if you think you have good answers for them I can incorporate them back into the interview. 

I'm answering these, but for narcissistic reasons. Keep or delete. It doesn't matter to me.


The name Casey Hannan is abuzz in the indie lit scene. Casey Hannan is on the tip of everyone's Internet tongues. Why are you like that? Tell us the story of your first ever publication, and then how it got harder or easier and why and how. 

I don't know why I'm like that. I've been told "Casey Hannan" is pleasing to the ear. Not many people just call me one name or the other. Mostly only people I've seen naked.

My first acceptance was from Necessary Fiction, but Staccato snuck in there and accepted another story and published it before my story went up at Necessary Fiction. They are both excellent publications. I'd been writing genre fiction about harpies and giant serpents, but no magazines were biting. I read a bunch of online lit mags like PANK and SmokeLong Quarterly, and I thought, "Oh, I can do this." I just had to find another horror story, which turned out to be parents and children.

Publishing has gotten more interesting because editors are now asking me for stories, and if I have the time, I'll write something just for them. It doesn't get harder or easier. It just gets more.

What was your life like before you started writing, and what is it like now? How did your brain change? What would you do if you weren't a writer?

I don't know if my life or brain really changed. My relationships changed. People have been attracted to me because of my writing. I've made new friends that way, and come into contact with people I never would've met otherwise.


If I weren't a writer, I'd probably take my visual art more seriously. I'd push my sculpture in more difficult or interesting places. I'm not willing to go those places right now. It doesn't feel urgent enough.