Edward J Rathke

C&C: Climbing – Would you engage in a climbing contest with me? Say there were two trees side by side, similar in build, and I beat you? Would you be a gracious loser or a sore loser and claim ridiculous things like the branches were less evenly spaced or covered in excess sap on the tree you were dealt?

I would gladly take this challenge. In fact, I will challenge anyone to a climbing contest. Barefoot or shoed. I don’t really climb rocks, because it’s too weird to make friends with rocks, but trees? Yeah. A thousand times over. Trees are the kind of people you can trust not to drop you or push you off.

In the unlikely [impossible!] case that you did beat me, I would accept it and crown you Queen of the Climb, which is a title respected east of the Mississippi, probably. Though, maybe later, when telling someone else, I’d make my loss more heroic, by claiming you to be a 6’3″ amazon with hands so strong you could crush bones to dust.

But, yeah, the climb is on!

C&C: Does anyplace feel like home? And can you see ever see yourself staying in one place?

It’s funny, being asked this now. Even just a week ago, I would’ve said, No.

Home is a concept that just never fit well for me. I grew up in a city I never felt was mine, in a house that was only that. Family’s a hard thing for me to pin down, too. Biology, sure, but the only family I’ve ever felt was mine was my late dog, Lily Belle, and now with her gone, I mean, yeah. And what is a home without a family? It’s a place, I suppose, but, more than that, home is a state of mind or maybe an emotion, I think, more like Love or Death than it is like an address. But we need a home, yeah? Or probably we do. Hard to say whether that’s true or not, but I searched for one. Looked for it everywhere. All over Europe and all the way to the otherside of the planet just to see if maybe something clicked only to return with even less of an inclination as to where to look next. I thought maybe I’d go to South America, maybe try living in Japan or Hong Kong because Japan, while not feeling like home, felt like nowhere else in the world. I remember being completely lost on this sacred mountain in Kyoto, the sun dying, the cicadas screaming, drenched in sweat, and just thinking, There’s nowhere in the world that I’d rather be at this moment. It was an enormous feeling, like being filled by Moonlight, this calming sensation, the tide rolling within.

And so I had looked for so long, for my whole life, for somewhere just to rest my head and feel like I never had to leave. Waited for the world without and within to line up, come together, for the beauty I felt all around to rest inside me, give me that calm, let me share in the Light, in the Dream, and then, wholly unlooked for, I opened the door to a hostel room in Nice, France just seven days ago, and there she was, waiting for me.

And I don’t know if this can last, but I want it to. More than I’ve wanted anything before in my life.

C&C: Have you ever typed on a typewriter as opposed to a keyboard? Other than just for novelty?

I actually have not. I’m not even completely positive that I’ve even seen one, to be completely honest. Until I was probably twenty I could barely even type. I still can’t. Not really. Or, rather, not properly. I’m all index and middle with the occasional pinky or thumb thrown in, and somehow I can make pretty good speed that way. No idea how many words per minute, but when I get writing I burn pages down by the fistful. But, yeah, was always a handwriter, couldn’t even think on a keyboard, but now I dance upon them and it’s difficult for me to go back. Pens are all clumsy in my hands and now I prefer the keyboard.

But, man, a real life typewriter? I mean, surely those still exist, yeah? I almost feel like how my students probably felt when I told them that they’re younger than the internet.

C&C: Lefthanded or righthanded?

Naturally righthanded, but I’m pretty proficient with both. I’m a slow lefthanded writer and it’s kind of sloppy, but I do all right. I taught myself how to pitch lefthanded when I broke my elbow maybe ten years ago. Batting in baseball, I was a switchhitter, too. Mostly, I think, this all comes from playing baseball with my little brother in our way-too-small-to-play-baseball-in-backyard. Because it was just the two of us and we were being two different teams, we needed to invent extra players. So each batter had a different stance, a lot of them were lefthanded hitters [which was unnatural to both of us], and even the pitcher sometimes would be a lefty, just because why not? I mean, what kind of a team only has righthanded pitchers? Even as little buddies we knew that was silly, and so we tried to make the teams realistic. I even think I had a completely lefthanded team, if memory serves, which it might not. But, yeah, technically righthanded, but I’m okay lefty, and actually prefer to do a lot of things lefthanded, like driving and other such things that demand directioning.

C&C: What’s in your pockets?

I literally just dumped my pockets, so not so much. Cellphone in the left front, a pen and marker in front right with 1.30 euros, and then wallet in the back right. No cash inside.

C&C: Have you ever been in love. How many times?

Oh man. The big one, yeah? The don’t hold back question that begs for me to hold back, if only not to embarrass myself and maybe some other people.

I’ll be honest, though. Or as honest as I can be, and maybe it’ll help me sort out what these things mean, if they mean anything, because probably they do.

I think about love a lot. Maybe too much. Trying to sort where it fits in my life, how it fits there, what it means to me, how I relate to such a concept, how I feel about such a concept having the potential of existing. It’s enough to drive a body wild, swept up in a hurricane of emotional and existential quandary.

There are different kinds of love. And I don’t mean like maternal/fraternal/whathaveyou. I mean–okay, so to make it easy, I’ll just make a big distinction between Love and love. Cool? Cool.

I have fallen in love with every girl I’ve ever met, and even some I haven’t yet. This love is momentary, and in that way, it remains perfect. It may last a minute, the length it takes her to turn away, to blink, to sneeze instead of call me by name. It may last a weekend, this obscene and beautiful bubble that bursts the second you part ways though it seemed so strong when touching. I fall in love often. I’m reckless with my heart and I break my own against reality’s shoreline more often than should be reasonable for a man so optimistically misanthropic. The way she smiles or bites her lip, the way she says my name or refuses to, the way she dances, the way she looks bored and yawns when I hoped she’d sing, the ways she moves, the ways she touches me, the ways she doesn’t, the way she never even looks at me. I’m hopeless and dangerous. But that’s what this is for, this momentariness. It’s not about Love. Not really. It’s barely even about attraction and it’s definitely not about sex, at least not for me, and maybe it’s not even about the girl I tell myself I’ve fallen in love with for the night, for the month. It’s about this reality constructed around this impermanence, built because of that transience. And I have lived a transient life, a sort of foppish vagabond. There’s a japanese term, mono no aware, and it’s something I’ve felt all my life. This beauty that exists, and the sweet sadness that comes when beauty fades. Cherry blossoms are sort of iconic and related to that term. And I have chased Beauty. Chased Her everywhere. Rimbaud sat Beauty on his knee and reviled Her, but I only long to touch Her, to become one with Her, to feel that Light, and be a moment of the Dream.

And so, yes, love, it’s everywhere and it’s all around and it’s perfect because it’s built to fade and become only the ephemera of memory. And memory is our whole life. These moments make all that we are and all that we will be.

Love is the sun while love is the moon.

But Love becomes trickier, and I think it’s what the question’s really asking. If you had asked me this a week ago, I would’ve said, Once. But I would’ve made the caveat of my late dog, Lily Belle.

For the last fifteen years, she’s been here with me, through every nervous breakdown, through every bottomless depression, through all the happiness and sadness of my life, she’s been here, keeping me together, keeping my heart beating. And it beat because of her. She saved my life a thousand nights over, and even still, I hear her, can feel her, and I long to be with her again, and maybe she’s waiting for me just across the otherside. And I don’t believe in life after Death but I believe in her. To think about her makes me all teary eyed or straight up bawling. I didn’t think I’d live through the night she died and definitely not that first week. I wept for days, inconsolable, but I’ve recently been able to come to terms with her Death. I never thought I’d care about any person even half as much as her.

So the first human, yeah? I was sixteen and maybe I still am, sitting in the park all night, smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, wishing the sun would never come, praying to just feel her in my arms for a few hours more. She’s had a rather significant effect upon my life and maybe all the worlds I’ve made inside my head and all the words I’ve written have been to console myself, to make reality worth staying in since I must live without her. And maybe that’s sad. Probably it is, to Love someone and not have that returned. To meet someone you believed was perfect for you and to know that you’re not perfect for them.

So it goes.

But then I found her. And I’m afraid to say too much. I’ve never felt this way before. About anyone or anything. Like a maelstrom within. The moment I left her in Nice, I knew nothing would be the same, that I needed to see her again, that I needed to be with her. I cried on the train back to Paris and cried more on the flight home over the Atlantic. I had been keeping a travel journal for my trip through france because I had never done that before. A lot of it ended up being about Lily Belle and about my history of love. And then it all culminates in this. In meeting her. In leaving her. It was the happiest and saddest weekend maybe of my entire life. And so I filled out this notebook, all eighty pages in my cramped script, the last 30 or so pages being all about her, this woman I had only known for four days, but needed. She’s inside me, restructuring me from the atom up, creating worlds I never knew existed. It’s like I had spent my entire life asleep, dreaming, and then I opened my eyes to her. Like I spent my life staring at my feet believing it to be all of existence and then she raised my face to the sun and the stars. I burn for her. I burn because of her. I feel absolutely drunk, and we’ve been only able to communicate through facebook chat, each fingertip to key reaching thousands of miles across the ocean, and I’m swimming, barely able to see or breathe.

I’ve met a lot of women in my life, from all over the world, and none of them, not a single one, does to me what she does. It’s insane but it makes sense to me. The only thing in a lifetime of wandering, of dreaming out loud, of imaging perfection, trying to create Beauty and be with her, only to meet this woman and realise my visions were all rags, the color faded, the fabric torn. She shines. She’s Light. To be apart, even this short time, even after only just meeting her, is unbearable, and so I’m already on my way back. Probably in April. I’ll be there by the time this is published, and she’ll read this, and I’ll be embarrassed and pretend, maybe, that a different, wilder ydde wrote this while I tugged on his shirt, telling him, No no no!

But the craziest thing, maybe, is that it’s all right here on the table. I’ve never been so open with anyone in my life or had someone be so open with me.

My friends can barely believe it. Their little ydde grown speechless but can’t stop talking about this woman, this beautiful creature I met, so much more perfect than I could’ve ever imagined.

And I don’t really know what any of this means, but I’m happy. Like I’ve never been before.

C&C: Is it easier for you to write long form as opposed to short stories?

Interesting. Now, I’d say long form, which is so very strange to me. Just a year and a half ago, I had never written anything longer than, I think, 16,000 words. I told myself, You know, ydde, sticking to short stories, no shame in that. In fact, might be for the best. Most of the best writers did their best work short form. And, like, what’s even weirder is that most of my stories around that time were under 1,000 words, but just a year before that I found it almost impossible to write anything shorter than 5,000 words. Though, I mean, that last bit was mostly due to inexperience and just being shitty at writing. But the more I wrote the shorter I got until I was writing stories without verbs, without sentences, just images flashing. Punching the reader with vision after vision, like a film made of close ups of objects, and telling a story that way.

Then one day, I sat in my bed and made a little joke to myself: ydde, I bet we could write a novel by Friday.

I didn’t think much of it the rest of the night but then I woke up the next morning–Monday–and started flying on the keyboard. And then by Friday afternoon I had a novel. Even still, about eighteen months later, I’ve made almost zero changes to that first attempt. It was like I was on fire and the visions took over and I was caught in the Dream, breathing it, being it, and everything just poured out of me whole and complete and perfect. I’m still quite proud of it, though I’ve done almost nothing to try to get it published.

But, yeah, four complete novels, five novellas, and two incomplete novels later, I’d say my brain just works at the long game these days. I think short stories are easier for me to write, but, even there, now I’m mostly at the 500 word length, which is funny because my novels are getting longer, but I treat the novels very much like I do short stories, in a sense. The same rules apply to both, except there’s more freedom and responsibility in novels. With a short story I can just go wild and juxtapose disparate images or scenes or whatever and put all my faith in the reader to find the ribbon within that’ll clear the picture. And there I can try to just carry the burden by making the words pretty or making them sticky. But novels are tricky, because, essentially, you want to do the same thing. You don’t want to tell the reader what or why you’re doing what you’re doing. You hand them all these pages and let the narrative happen within them, let them create the narrative from all the breadcrumbs you dropped in the forest. And it’s not to be unclear, but to be demanding, because I believe readers hate it when you give them the baby in the basket. I think they want the basket given but then want to create the baby themselves. You give them as much magic as you can to inspire them to pull significance or beauty or whatever from the starlight you shined in their direction.

Be a prude. Make the reader work for it. She’ll thank you for it. She’ll want it more. She’ll love it longer. She’ll come to you with open arms and share all that she has and create a novel you never could’ve imagined. A novel beyond words. Beyond spaceTime. An experience as well as a novel.

Running through my novels is this mythology. There are creatures who can perceive the Dream of all existence, but cannot understand it. And then there are those who cannot perceive but can comprehend the Dream. And maybe that’s the goal that I unintentionally built inside of all these novels. I can see the Dream but only the reader can understand it. It’s our Dream, but it took me to see it just as it took the reader to comprehend it.

C&C: What’s your favorite kind of candy and why?

Are we talking all candy? Like, do you count chocolate as candy? I don’t. Not really, because chocolate’s chocolate, but, if we’re talking chocolates, Kit Kat’s are the best. But only when eaten properly because there’s this secret little substance that’s between the wafers. Like delicious wafer mortar. So it’s kind of a process to get to it, removing the chocolate and then dissecting the wafers, but it’s worth it, probably.

But if we’re talking candy candy, which, to me, means has flavors like blue and purple and red and orange and yellow, then, yeah, gummy bears. Always and forever. Not only because they’re delicious and bears but because you can lick them and stick them to pretty much any surface imaginable. Some kind of magical candy bind. Also, yeah, so very and completely terrified of bears. Like, I’d say unreasonably so but people who aren’t afraid of bears are hopelessly irresponsible. Bears are legitimate real life monsters. But, yeah, loves me some gummy yummy. But also those ring shaped things that’re kind of orange and yellow? Those are delicious, and also classy sugar rings for your fingers. Or, man, too, starbursts. I lost a tooth in a starburst. No idea where it went but I probably swallowed the tooth and maybe it’s still inside me because I don’t recall it, um, you know, leaving…me. But, okay. Candy? Best kind.

I’m just going to say blue.

Because blue is always the best.

C&C: Where are you?

Read that completely the wrong way and had a momentary existential crises. Um, at this exact moment, I’m at my parents’ house in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. A few days ago I was in France. A few months ago I was in Korea. A few days from now and I’ll be in Chicago. A bit after that I’ll be in Ohio and then maybe DC and then New York and then down around and through the south all the way to California and then up the coast to Portland and Seattle and finally back to where I am at this second, probably. Or that was the plan, but maybe now I’ll be back in France within a few weeks. If I could, I’d be hopping on a plane in a few hours and arriving in the morning.

C&C: Tell me about your love for ballerinas.

Good question! This might take me a while.

Polina Semionova (Swan Lake)


There are different forms of artistic language. Or, rather, not just limited to artistry. There’s vocal, acoustic, visual, and kinaesthetic. Vocal is the lowest form, I believe, because it’s the least true, the least accurate. That includes written language, as well, where maybe we tend to be a bit more accurate, but, even so, there’s so much of existence that can’t be expressed properly with words. Beckett said words are all we have but words fail us. Constantly. And probably that sounds strange to hear from someone who devotes so much time and energy to words, both written and spoken. But its very form is its limitation. It’s bound by itself, always forced to be imprecise by its own nature.

The others–acoustic, visual, and kinaesthetic–are substantially better and more precise. I would value kinaesthetic the highest, because bodies simply cannot lie. And ballet is the height of these three forms of language, to me. In this manner, for me, ballet is a pinnacle of artistry. Even just the music alone has the power to change your life. It’s not opera but it’s of the same order, wandering the same plateaus. Give me strings and keys! A violin can reshape the world, steal a soul, create one. And then when you get swept up by a cello or swallowed by the standup bass, or any other such instrument, I mean, all of life weaves through you. The boundaries of my body disappear and I become all the things that are outside of me. Unity, yeah? That feeling of oneness with all existence within and without you. But, so, yeah, even the music is enough to drive Beauty into you, to share in that Light.

Then visually, even without sets, ballet hits me so hard and so completely. The lines and the movements, the simplicity and the drama. Its utterly beatific. Transcendent. It captures all that I’ve ever hoped to achieve in my own fumbled attempts at artistry. That perfection of language. The bodies, the angles, their lust for air, their gravital relationship, and just the beauty the beauty the Beauty!  It saves me. It gives me peace. A tranquillity, even as I’m bursting from all that it fills me with.

Though I suppose I’ve not even begun to answer the question yet. So ballet is, to me, this height of art, maybe even just Art. Ballerinas, then, are its hands and feet, its breath and heartbeat. How could I love someone so deeply and not love that which makes her?

And I do love ballerinas. The shape of their legs, the poise of their bodies, the length and lines of their necks. That grace. That beauty. Seemingly so effortless but really the culmination of a lifetime. A lifetime chasing Beauty only to become Her. Even that transformation’s quite elegant and ecstatic in my head. Of course, not all ballerinas are equal, and even amongst favorites there’s difference. The character and artistry that individuals bring to different parts, to different performances of the same part. I can’t claim to be any expert of ballet, but I’ve watched a fair amount of it. Polina Semionova is certainly my favorite with Marianela Nunez not too far behind. If I remember correctly, they’re with Berlin and London, respectively, though I think I read that Miss Semionova’s moving on after this year. And those two, above all others currently dancing that I’ve seen, just stand out. Immensely. Physically beautiful, but more so in the artistry. Their brilliance is what shines more than their beauty. I’m in awe of them at times, the ways they can make me feel, the way they can open up worlds deep inside my heart, blooming inspiration for my own future stumbled attempts, fighting with the words that bind and free me, Prometheal. Or maybe Sisyphus is a better metaphor.

Anycase, ballerinas, to put it simply, they’re embodiments of perfection. They’re children of the Dream.


3 responses to “Edward J Rathke

  1. Pingback: curiouser and curiouser « The Life and Opinions of edward j rathke

  2. “Then visually, even without sets, ballet hits me so hard and so completely. The lines and the movements, the simplicity and the drama.”

    I wonder what ballet would be like without music. The lines and the movements would still be there. But I’m not sure about the drama.

    I was in attendance at the Boston Symphony one night when a piano soloist performed a John Cage piece called 4′ 33″. The audience watched & waited as the virtuoso sat silently at the keyboard for 4 minutes and 33 seconds—then stood up, bowed, and departed…creating the first ever musical vacuum in the local concert hall.

    Eddie’s cool. I enjoyed the interview.

  3. Pingback: And Daddy Tomato Stomps Him and Says “Ketch Up” « Miss Ohio

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