The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience NYC!
1. Kristi Goldade, a Reseacher and Editorial Assistant at the Jewish Daily Forward; Ogtap, an Archivist at the Shevchenko Scientific Society; and Nathaniel Page, who respirates and doesn’t participate in the cash economy.
For those of you who left NYC for the holiday weekend, you not only missed out on some badass air conditioning at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, but also a Literary Experience from The Nervous Breakdown, co-sponsored by Emergency Press. I was really excited to get to attend a TNB Literary Experience event; I can’t lie that I felt a little nostalgic for home. Combine that with a line-up of Moth veterans Edgar Oliver and Elna Baker (The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance), and the wonderful Emergency Press authors Chad Faries (Drive Me Out Of My Mind) and Lenore Zion (Stupid Children). They talked mormons, playing with barbies, baby Jesus, and eleven-year-olds.
The last kajillion or so readings I’ve attended have boasted pretty healthy turnouts, numbering well past 50, so the much-appreciated break from not only the bustling city but a crowded lit event was really welcomed. I felt closer to the readers than my fellow attendees, and is a much more intimate experience than, say, Literary Deathmatch. After we hung out for a bit, TNB contributor and host Tove Danovich introduced the evening’s first reader Chad Faries, author of the memoir Drive Me Out Of My Mind from Emergency Press. Faries read several excerpts from his memoir, which cover everything from his very early love of Barbies and his first “sexual experience” to getting a tattoo from his stoned aunt Holly. “My pee-pee was about half the size of Barbie … everyone was getting a little worried.” Faries’ tone communicated his disbelief in the ludicracy of his family but also his deep love and belonging in it, a tone all people with crazy families should adopt. Let’s just hope Faries’ “rocket” doesn’t get “damaged in the atmosphere” anymore.
1. Writing wisdom is everywhere from everyone, dudes. 2. Elna Baker: “Um, I don’t have a hymen anymore?”
Elna Baker was next, and was my favorite of the night for this sole reason: her piece was about Mormons. Herself an ex-Mormon, Baker’s piece hit home for me and I totally wasn’t expecting it. I grew up next to a Mormon temple and had a lot of Mormon friends who experienced the same regression of faith Baker did. Baker performed a monologue about visiting her parents in Siberia to tell them she’d lost her virginity, during her “Mormon Rumspringa.” “Mormons believe in a particular thing,” Baker began, “that families can be together forever. I was going to tell [my parents] we had very little time left together.” Baker didn’t get to tell her parents she “didn’t have a hymen anymore” in person, intimidated by their violent reaction to the news that Baker now drank alcohol regularly. Eventually Baker did tell her parents, though not the part about it happening at the Chelsea Hotel in the wee morning hours. Baker’s delivery was similar to Faries’, in that they both acknowledged a formative past that was hard-knock but wouldn’t trade it for another. After her piece, Baker invited Edgar Oliver to read a Billy Collins’ poem “The Afterlife,” which was the perfect epilogue to Baker’s piece. “They’re moving off in all imaginable directions, / each according to his own private belief, / and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal: / that everyone is right, as it turns out.”
1. Lenore Zion: “I felt sorry for all of them because all the girls looked like antiques, and all the men looked like Abe Lincoln.” 2. Edgar Oliver: “the first mirrors I remember were empty, and blue and round.”
After the break Lenore Zion, a fellow Californian, read from her upcoming Emergency Press title Stupid Children. Zion’s excerpt was the shortest of the night, which finds a young Zion at a strange Nativity Scene recreation. “I was the baby Jesus … I like to blame my lack of Christian knowledge on my Judaism, but I don’t know shit about Judaism.” Wherever this was, I want to be there. The was a crib protected by barbed wire with Bible pages affixed in the sharp nooks, and “bonnets. Fucking bonnets.” Playwright, actor and poet Edgar Oliver closed out the night, and it was awesome. Oliver’s voice is like the Cheshire Cat lived through the punk explosion in the ‘70s — somber yet lively, frolicking in nostalgia and melancholy. Oliver’s first poem, “The End of Summer,” was my favorite. “I wish I could go back to school again, / so I could dread coming back to school.” Another zinger was this line, which reminds me of the song “Cemetery Gates”: “Lying on a tombstone / pretending to be dead / in love with the world and myself.” After he thanked us, Oliver walked off the stage to continuous applause, which prompted my first ever literary encore. From “The Brooklyn Public Library”: “I always enter by the Children’s section. / I have no child but myself.”
Be sure to stay tuned for more TNB NYC events coming soon, and also Elna Baker and Edgar Oliver on Brad Listi’s Other People podcast. Special thanks to Tove Danovich for inviting me out, and letting me use her iPhone when my camera decided to take a nap.
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: A Memoir
by Elna Baker
by Chad Faries
by Lenore Zion
— Ryan Chang is Staff Writer for The Outlet. His work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Art Faccia, and elsewhere. He is in the internet here and here.