Reflecting On: Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

I wrote a piece about Brand New’s third album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, for the music site It’s All Dead. Check it out!

it's all dead

I wasn’t into Brand New before it was cool. But I did love the Long Island emo rockers before The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me landed on November 20, 2006. In fact, I was waiting for it. By that time, I knew what to expect—straightforward mid-aughts rock with pop punk undertones and emo vocals. That, however, is not what the band brought to the table with its third album.

The first track, “Sowing Season (Yeah),” begins quietly—Jesse Lacey’s vocals just a whisper, the solitary guitar a mere hum—before exploding into a mourning waltz. “Time to get the seeds into the cold ground,” the lyrics say. “Takes a while to grow anything before it’s coming to an end, yeah.” Lacey, who was raised in a religious family and attended Christian school, is no doubt referring to the parable of the sower. The sower spreads seeds of faith across his…

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Erasure Poem of a Quote from Angie’s List CEO Scott Durchslag

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

 

A transformative moment

we completed quietly, moved

our existing demand. Today

 

I am impressed, enthusiastic

and delighted with the dropping

of key members. Unique visits,

 

unique searching, these early days

the data is very encouraging. It is

a critical milestone in executing our profit.

 

 * * *

 

Angie's List CEO Scott Durchslag

Note: This is a found poem inspired by one previous employee’s night of insomnia after being laid off. The words in this erasure poem come from a quote that Angie’s List CEO Scott Durchslag purportedly said in a July 13, 2016, press release. The accompanying photos—many will be surprised to learn—are not from the press release, although the company can feel free to use them however they please. Which some would say is common practice. Nor is the title a piece of the press release. You will remember (unless you’ve developed convenient-onset amnesia, otherwise known as Giuliani’s Disease) that a silly white guy announced these words soon after starting one of the longest wars in American history.

4 Angie Hicks Fan Fiction Pitches from 1 “Non-Revenue Generating Headcount”

angies list layoffs and firings

1. Angie’s Lust

When a mysterious CEO comes to town, innocently midwestern Angie Hicks develops a dark obsession. She trails him, wearing a necklace of large white balls and crimson sweater, through Carmel’s lightless nightscape, right into his trap. During their midnight confrontation on an empty suburban street, he runs his hands through her close-cropped cut. What’s more seductive, she wonders, his cunning or washboard abs, curtained between an unbuttoned silk shirt? (Which would obviously be the book cover.) He whispers, “Ever tortured for pleasure?” his face so close she feels the flick of his tongue against her lips. Angel Angie’s body pulses, breath heavy, as he leads to a dank love nest in her city’s wet municipal sewer.

*

2. Angie’s Lease

Absent-minded Angie made “a major uh oh,” as she tells the kids, by leaving her purple purse at Splash Mountain during the family’s Disney World vacation. “Whoops!” she says on the return flight, realizing she’ll never recover the strawberry lip balm, prescription sunglasses, and $16.8 million in fun-money it held. But that won’t get her down. Always the optimist, she decides to identify savings. First, she gives up her house, seeing so much untapped sleeping space on her office floor. Next, she decides they can give up eating, which causes her kids grumble as they were accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Ever plucky, Angie encourages, “Come on, guys—be grateful for all of the savings we’ve identified!” Lastly, her Mercedes Benz has to go. Though emaciated and homeless, this hurts worst. But she finds happiness in a great lease on a 1998 Saturn.

*

3. Angie’s Lips

The massive amount of cosmetic surgeries have taken their toll on Angie, but even though doctors warned this last one could kill her, she can’t give up now. How did it come to this? she wonders, wrapped in bandages in her private recovery room. The story plays out in flashback, with Angie remembering how it all started with the varicose veins. Then came the facelift, then the arm and leg lengthenings, adding eleven inches to her height and nine to her reach. She could take the pain, although the Kim Kardashian ass made lying flat in the hospital bed very difficult. Her perfect lips must come last, transforming her into the bombshell basketball player she always wanted to be. She’d finally achieve her dream, an Air Angies shoe line. Finally, she’s wheeled into the operating room. Will she come out? More importantly, will she be happy?

*

4. Angie’s Lost

What started as a getaway turns to tragedy when a storm tosses Angie Hicks’s shiny $16.8-million yacht onto a deserted island. She must now learn to make fire, forage for food, and overcome fears of the distant howling. Then one day she encounters a hurt wolf pup, whose leg she bandages with trembling fingers. The wild canines encircle her the next morning, and they bow, inviting her to join them. Angie cries out in a howl, and they join her. Now she’s in the wolf pack, bolting barefoot across the island, pouncing on backs of deer. She eats their meat rare, blood running down chin, and smiles wide. Around the fire with her new fur-coated family, a burp escapes her lips. She feels none of the guilt that plagued her during her years in the cutthroat business world. When a search party shows up, however, Angie must decide whether to rejoin the human world or remain in the wild. Which one, she wonders, is more savage?

 

Midwestern Gothic

 

I talked to thMidwestern Gothic issue 22 literary journale good folks at Midwestern Gothic about life in middle America, Kurt Vonnegut, how to know when work is complete enough to send out, and taking showers. They interviewed me along with many other, better writers who contributed creative writing for Issue 22 of the literary journal, which came out in July 2016.

My story “Scavenger Hunt” is about a reporter who’s a skeptic on a journey with his once-close youth group friends from high school. My piece is near the end, so make sure to read cover to cover.

Check out the interview, and then get the magazine!

My essay on remodeling

bad jobs and bullshit anthology

The great folks at The Geeky Press have published my essay “Prodigal Remodeler” in their new anthology, Bad Jobs & Bullshit. The collection contains fiction, CNF, and poetry about those less than satisfying jobs that everyone has had to work. And, though I might be a little biased, there’s some great stuff.

Mine talks about that stuff, yeah, but it also talks about working with my dad and—sort of, sometimes—missing the rewarding parts of remodeling.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

At age four, I began riding to work with dad in a series of rusty trucks and vans. I started working with him full-time at age seventeen, and continued full-time until age twenty-one. Then I went to college to pursue writing, which was the beginning of the end for my construction career. But I continued to swing a hammer twenty to thirty hours a week.

I hated how my thin arms would heat up, muscles straining to lift cabinets or carry lumber or break shit. How we’d demolish entire rooms down to nothing but bones and dust, just to rebuild them. How the saw would kick and many times could’ve taken my hand. How the sawdust would spray into my mouth.

Important note on eating sawdust: There are many flavors—take your time to savor each one, recognize the differences between a fine oak and cheap pine two-by-four. It’s an acquired taste.

You can get the book on Amazon (a free Kindle edition is out for Prime members) and Barnes & Noble. You can also add it on GoodReads to make that end of the year reading goal!

‘Get hammered, write better…’

And other quotes from my first year in an MFA program.

james-figy-mfa

Paper: “First day of [grad] school! When I grow up, I [still] want to be an astronaut.”

While working to survive the first year of grad school, I scribbled down some notable quotables in class, at events, wherever. Some good ones popped up as I recently flipped through my notes.

The notebooks held a professor’s joke: “‘Get hammered, write better.’ We’re all going to get tattoos that say that.” (At least, I think it was a joke.) They had visiting writer Susan Power’s twist on the write-what-you-know axiom: “When I write what I need to know, need to feel, need to experience, I step outside myself.”

Here’s a smattering of others.

1. Susan Power’s craft talk

“There’s this myth that the writer sits down and they type, ‘Chapter One,’ and the piece just rolls on forward.” Later, she added: “For me to get to my best work, I have to be feeling something. It’s not purely intellectual for me.”

2. Literary editing and publishing

On the origins of literary magazines: “They’re always born in some passion, but often born with some grievance. … You have to have passion because there’s no money in it.”

3. Fall fiction workshop

On how setting shapes character: “Where we are is who we are.”

4. Form and technique in fiction

On chasing an idea: “Let go of worrying whether it’s stupid or not because that’s not what artists do.”

5. Contemporary prose

On mainstream/genre versus literary fiction: “Some of this [tension] I think is between our emotional response and our intellectual response.”

6. Steph Burt’s craft talk

On “talking object” poems: “Poetry can give you things the world doesn’t have for you.”

7. Spring fiction workshop

“If there’s not trouble ahead in a story, I’m probably not interested.”

8. Professor’s research presentation

Writer’s comments on own short story: “I’m like the lovechild of Walt Whitman and Don DeLillo.”

9. Form and technique in fiction (again)

Why writers can’t be lazy: “We are in competition, as storytellers, with ten million screens.”

10. Contemporary prose (again)

Why writers, especially in MFA programs, must care about more than craft: “Isn’t that the importance of indulging your rebellion—that you have something to say?”