Curiouser & Curiouser: Who was the first girl you kissed?
Brien: I have no clue. And suddenly that’s really bothering me. I don’t recall or experience memories in the traditional way others do, to the best of my knowledge. A few years back I suffered a couple of brain strokes as a result of stress, and while I can’t be sure that was the catalyst for my poor memory I think it stands to reason. At the time I was driving the shortbus, yeah the shortbus, something like 11 hours a day. My boss had drawn up these impossible routes from Google maps that no human could actually complete in the time Google maps determined. But I had been out of work for 17 months during the recession and was so afraid of losing the job I just forced myself to manage. I was banging back like 3 large coffees, 2 Rockstars, a preload for the gym, and sometimes even a Redbull at night on a daily basis. Add the kids and their awful parents and let’s just say I’m lucky to be alive. My doctor couldn’t believe it. They said no one my age and in my health should have been in there. I work out like 2 hours a day and have forever, and he just said I should find a new job and he’d prescribe marijuana if it were legal here. My life was absolute hell during the recession, I had just graduated with a useless BA, was 29 with a spotty work history and significant criminal history, and applied to well over two-thousand jobs in the first year only getting three interviews. Anyhow, it’s not like I suffer a vast amnesia, I can recall pieces of my life in fact but fact only, no substance. For instance I can tell you what schools I attended and perhaps the names of my closest friends but I remember very, very few actual anecdotes to share and these days I forget people all the time. Probably because people bore the shit out of me. I do know the first girl who let me suck on her tits was named Ferguson, and we were both wearing Guns N’ Roses shirts, and it happened in the basement of the drummer from my middle school death metal band who later developed severe schizophrenia. So I have been thinking about her a bit more during the unrest is Missouri. Last I saw her she was a single mother working in a 711 in Indiana and looked sad. She didn’t recognize me and I didn’t say anything to her. I boxed for a long time as well, so that could account for some of the memory loss, but I was always tricky and didn’t take a ton of damage. I’m skeptical. It could also have something to do with the fact that I was a hard drinker from like 1996 on. I’ve calmed down a lot recently but I still put a lot of tequila away.
C&C: So it’s like you’re in Memento but with different tattoos and random memories of boobs? And what do you remember about your death metal band in middle school? And speaking of tattoos do you remember when/where you got your first one, and if there was a ‘why’? That’s more than one question but you get it….
B:I walked down to Grumpy’s for a few drinks before answering this and realized that they are almost the same question. What I remember about the band is essentially the core of why I started getting tattooed. This is pre-internet, mind you. I was born at the tail end of the 70’s and informed as an 80’s-90’s kid who identified more with the late 80’s-early 90’s aesthetics. Nirvana never meant anything to me. I was never really in touch with my generation. The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, even Green Day, I don’t care about it at all. My middle school death metal band was called Militia. We sucked. Actually, I sucked. I still do. The aforementioned drummer was a true virtuoso, which is common in people that later develop Schizophrenia. He was phenomenal, just playing along to entire Slayer albums beat for beat in sixth grade Anyway, I liked the Exploited and Misfits and Slayer and G N’ R and had only a fake interest in alternative rock. I think other kids could tell, I lacked their dissatisfaction and ennui. I was flat out angry. Still am. Pantera basically closed the book on metal in my opinion and there has been no legit rock since G N’ R. For metal, everything that came after was either too abstract, too theatric or too mired in sub-genre. Or too campy, and continues to be. For rock, everything that came after was flat out fake. I’m open to suggestions because I haven’t done a terrible amount of digging but if I see enough T-shirts I’ll check something out and I’m invariably disappointed. Sorry, went on a tangent there. But at the heart of that is there was a certain inaccessibility in both attaining and creating before technology was cheap, and it served as a filter so only the best stuff made it to market, from the most ambitious bands who really, really believed in what they were doing and were going to see it through no matter what, and by the time they did the songs had been worked and the entire presentation congealed into something cohesive and cool. Sure, there was some crap, but not like today. Today EVERYTHING is crap, and in 1995 if the cover had a bunch of demons or eviscerated corpses there was a good chance the album ruled. Now nothing even attempts to take itself seriously, and I think metal should take itself seriously, otherwise how can you be making that style of sound and writing those style of lyrics? Evil doesn’t have a sense of humor. If I want a parody I’ll listen to Weird Al. Or any modern “rap.” Before I go off the rails again here’s the second part of the tangent: Tattooing, at the time I made a deep personal choice to be absolutely covered in ink, it represented a wholehearted rejection of society. It meant you weren’t going to hold a normal job or live a normal life. Your parents didn’t escort you and sign a waiver. It meant something profound and distancing from everyone else’s dreams and ambitions. It was a serious middle finger. There would be none of this tattoo acceptance in the workplace nonsense, none of these idiotic television programs where milquetoast folks get their grandparent’s portraits on their soft skin, and no fucking sports team tattoos, that’s for damn sure. As an American you were promised two things in that era: going to college would guarantee a comfortable middle class life and a tattoo would prohibit that. Unfortunately both proved false. Now you’ve got stock brokers with sleeves and guys with neck tattoos who’ve never been in a street fight. Worse, they’d call the cops. As a bouncer, I’ve seen those guys often sue over a broken nose suffered in a fight they picked. I know this. So tattoo culture is sham now. You have all these emasculated pussies dressing up like tough guys, getting on social media to cry about stereotyping “us” as “bad people” when they ran out and got the mark of a “bad person” stereotype. They don’t represent me. That really, really pisses me off. From where I am standing this is MY stereotype, and if you are out there rallying to change that, to convince society that we are nice normal folks, you are stealing something from me. Something I sacrificed a lot for, and I don’t mean money or skin space. These fucking ladyboys fighting for their tattoo rights, trying to change public perception of what it’s about like it started with them and it’s theirs to redefine. Those people are idiots, plain and simple. If you’re not an outlaw biker, a gangster, a fighter, a punker, a felon, a rocker or a vet I don’t think you have any business getting a tattoo. This isn’t your thing to trample and fuck up. Fuck your lotus flower and your family portraits. And coi fish, seriously, you are not a samurai. And arguing that it is symbolic is also a sham, the only thing Japanese imagery on a Caucasian symbolizes is “stupid round eye.” No matter what you think, they don’t actually “mean” anything. And especially fuck your Bible verses and crosses. This is indicative of that oblivious, misguided typical American sense of entitlement. That pisses me off the most. The way people just appropriate and annex elements of cultures that are relevant to people they are not part of and do not understand, that in all likelihood have rejected and would reject them, and adopt them with no respect to the people who they are stealing from or posing as. The absolute worst are the “only god can judge me” scripts that have become pervasive as UGG boots and spray on tans in the Midwest. Not only is it bogus, but it’s false. I am judging you, constantly. And the result isn’t good. So, you ask why? I never, ever, ever fit in. When I tried I failed. I even tried going straight as an adult and obtained degrees and all that jazz, the haircut, everything, and still the normal world had zero interest in absorbing me. I couldn’t even get a job moving furniture. But I was always a talented and creative delinquent. The freaks and, yes, the geeks, were more my people. But I always straddled a social line between the outcasts and the world of kids who were socially better off. I still do. But I knew I would never be the dickhead attorney golfing with the judge. On the other hand I wasn’t going to live in a trailer, work in a factory and knock up some tramp named Tonya either. I saw those guys, the Hells Angels and scary gangsters at the pool hall as something I understood at a very young age as a place in society I could fit. They were clever and bold, and refused to be intimidated by life, or by the fact that society outnumbered them. I was prepared to make those sacrifices for that reward. I could play that role all in. These identities aren’t the results of marking one’s self, but in the world I lived you earned your right to begin getting marked. And I did. Holden Caulfield said it best, I hate phonies. So, yes, I remember where I got my first tattoo. And it wasn’t some hospital-clean shop that catered to me with bottled water and required a bunch of forms and a photocopied ID. And why? Because I only have two speeds, chill and kill. If the wreck I have made of my skin doesn’t communicate that to you, evolution sent you to me for a reason.
C&C: SO THEN, WHAT WAS THE FIRST TATTOO? And where, both shop/garage and body location. Jesus you can ramble but you forgot to answer the question.
B: No, you just asked if I remembered when/where and if there was a why. Next topic.
C&C: Yeah I’m following up. That’s my point. Answer the fucking question.
B:I am choosing to move the conversation forward per my agent’s advice.
C&C: It was a crappy tattoo and you don’t want to tell me about it?
B: If you don’t have any crappy tattoos you’re a poser. Unless you have no tattoos, then you’re not subject to that judgment. I don’t trust a tattooed man without at least one shitty basement job, it means he’s always been a spoiled princess and waited to do things the “right way,” which, again, I feel is antithetic to the entire spirit of being an American outlaw. I’ve been tattooed in a basement, a kitchen, a band rehearsal space, a trailer in rural Wisconsin, and a living room at 8 a.m. after being up all night on… Redbull.
C&C: Much better. Now we can move on. Do you wear glasses? And how do you map stories if your memory is all messed up?
B: I got Lasik. It was the best money I ever spent. I didn’t drive much for a few years and my vision sort of slipped without me noticing. Then one night I was borrowing a friend’s car and realized I couldn’t read shit. I think I was 25. I had always loathed the feeling of contacts lenses, especially during allergy season, it prevented me from doing so many things I wanted to do, even motorcycle related stuff and especially any trips requiring lengthy stays away from home. I was just miserable. Then a few years ago I got into a brawl with some tourist bros from the university at a bondage bar and had someone hold my glasses. I got maced by security, the whole thing turned into a bloody circus and she took off with them. Little did I know she felt I owed her money over some squabble and refused to return them, so I learned a lesson. Well, several. The first is never trust a bitch. The second is take care of your body first and foremost because it isn’t merely your vehicle through life, it is your tool and your weapon. To answer your second part, I don’t necessarily map plot. I don’t really focus too much on plot. I usually start off with a setting or some philosophical statement I want to present and devise a method to present that statement in metaphor through character interaction with each other or a setting. I realize that sounds like the essence of plot, but I mostly work in short form, and while I’m not aping Raymond Carver I think my better work tends to lack plot in the way his did. Plus, I can’t get anything with a real plot in with under 10,000 words. For example I am working on a piece right now that is a single scene set in a museum at a dinosaur exhibit. My characters are on a first date. They are following an elementary school class who are on a field trip. One of the kids has an allergic reaction to their snack, and if you can’t see the parallels I am working with already you should probably go back to reading Hunger Games.
C&C: I don’t believe any of that bullshit you said about the two speeds, Chill and Kill. That sounds like an image thing. Where’s the in-between space, like photos of seen of you actually smiling, that’s not relaxing and that’s not anger? What do you call that setting?
B: No bullshit. Are you familiar with the film Melancholia? Lars von Trier’s thesis is people who suffer from depression are better suited to handle extreme crisis. As a result of miring in worst case scenarios day in and day out, when the world around them falls apart and normal, well-adjusted people crumble, this is another ordinary day for a clinically depressed person and they are better equipped to manage. Although I am not currently depressed I have been for many, many years. Deeply. And that, teamed with anxiety and generalized rage (I think all people of high intelligence experiencing low levels of accomplishment suffer generalized rage) is what led to my health condition. I am MUCH better now and the whole heart thing is a non-issue. My brother was so angry he lost his hair. No joke. He flies off the handle about all sorts of little shit, but you’ll see later in my response that it’s not actually little shit, it’s the combined force of EVERYTHING. Then he found a way to chill out, started smoking weed, and it grew back, but not until he got cancer. He was so mad he got cancer. I was so mad I had two strokes. But I digress. I’m only equipped to deal with chill and kill. I thrive in high stakes situations. I have done some stuff I cannot disclose for fear of serious time, but trust me, I do insane shit. My balls are bounce-castle sized. When my memoir is complete and the legal amount of time has passed to protect me from retroactive prosecution you’ll read about some of this. I’m totally zen about a building collapsing around me or having to fight several guys at once. No sweat. I have zero concern for human life and laugh when I see people hit by a bus. When people have family members pass or children die I have absolutely no internal reaction, I do not know what to say because I feel absolutely nothing. But I can’t cope with the daily grind of a shitty boss breathing down my neck, traffic, being denied a glass of water at carry-out food joint because they are nickle and diming you to death on bottled water, or even when people hold the door for you when you’re an inappropriate amount of steps behind them and basically force a “thank you,” which drives me nuts. I’m drunk in those photos or simply going through the motions of smiling. I am not smiling on the inside. Or perhaps I just flung at lit match in some annoying bitch’s hair or tagged some dufus with an ashtray for wearing an idiotic slouchy beanie in 80 degree weather. These simple daily annoyances, forcing verbal interaction with me when I enter the gym or even someone not using their turn signal BEFORE they begin to brake, makes my blood boil. I have tightness in my chest and trouble breathing because someone nearby in the gym is wearing a personal fragrance, not only because it stinks, but because it is inconsiderate. And that’s the funny part, I am ultra considerate. A paragon of civic virtue. My driving is impeccable. I follow every rule that keeps society moving smoothly and try to be a low-impact presence. That will be the death of me, simple daily interaction with humanity. But if the apocalypse hits I am going to be sitting pretty, personally fulfilled while grinding my enemy’s bones into the sand, subjugating their women and eating their children.
C&C: Your resignation to your own anger and pessimism is very comforting in a sick way. But you go out, you have friends, where does this fall on the chill/kill spectrum, and how you feel about human interaction?
B: That’s chill. And I rarely go out and I honestly don’t have many friends. Most of them have turned into different people, got married, or like football, which I simply cannot abide. FUCK THE NFL. The NFL needs its own social media platform because I have unfollowed every single person that posts “da bears” or “skol vikes.” That shit is the worst. I live in MN but am not a native Minnesotan, and unless you know what that means I cannot explain it to you. But I don’t think they do either, because the culture of Minneapolis has fully lived up to this relatively new idea of it’s identity over the last 5 years, which consists of being out of shape, riding a two-thousand dollar bicycle in the middle of the city street with no mirrors (even in winter), local craft beer that usually tastes like a liquefied heap of goat excrement, wearing a ridiculous slouchy cap that looks like a reservoir tip condom on your head even in eighty degree weather, beards in place of a personality, somehow affording a “cabin up north” that is actually a legitimate mansion on a lake, and boooooooring baseball. Now in their 30’s, many of my friends have kids and are reverting to their Minnesotan roots, families, etc., which I have zero interest in even if the option were there. Point being, I am the odd man out. Now, If you think I can handle being packed into a crowded bar with a bunch of rude idiots you’re misinterpreting the photos you you see. I cannot even stand live music anymore. Every time I go out on a limb and see an event I regret it, unless it is at a certain event center I shouldn’t mention by name where my old roommate has pull so we get exclusive VIP balcony suite. I can cope with that. Put it this way, I don’t go out on weekends. I sit home, eat well, drink tequila and watch UFC. I play a little fantasy MMA game on Kountermove.com. If it weren’t for weekly UFC events I don’t know what I would do with my weekend time. Maybe ride, but that’s dangerous as fuck around here nowadays because of the massive influx of unlicensed Somalian drivers who use their minivans to turn the streets into a fucking gauntlet. Basically every rider I know has been hit by a Somali in the last 4 years. So I am a hermit.
C&C: What about sex?
B: We’re not getting into that.
C&C: Why? It’s the natural progression of the conversation.
B: Because anything I say here is just going to give me a headache down the road. Can’t we talk about writing, authors I am currently into, the state of the world, something else?
C&C: The whole point of these interviews is to not focus on writing. Have you read any of the interviews?
B: I don’t remember.
C&C: You sort of get the luxury of saying that since you had strokes and your memory is all messed up, I guess? How convenient! Is that the same deal with sex? You can just pull the brain injury card?
B: No seriously dude this is off the record. We are not discussing women at all or my private life thereof. OK? Information age, people google you, and then everything becomes about them, they internalize every comment and create clues of flippant remarks, and I have run into a LOT of trouble with my mouth online and future women. This is a NO ZONE. Next question.
C&C:I sort of like how this went from an interview to you basically refusing to answer questions. It’s interesting. If you agree to let me keep this stuff in I’ll give you some final questions.
C&C: Don’t be pissed! This is a good interview.
B: Of course it is. I am interesting.
C&C: And uncooperative.
B: I have like 30 more minutes to burn. Send me something to respond to.
C&C: How do you respond to rejection?
B: Is this still about sex? I do not get rejected.
C&C: Literary rejection, Casanova.
B: Let’s be real about rejection. Every successful writer tells other writers that it is just part of the process and the only productive outlook is to accept the feedback that your work needs improvement. But that’s bullshit. That’s like saying it’s always the guy’s fault he can’t get a boner. Sometimes a woman simply isn’t getting him revved up. Reviewers can be morons with a chip on their shoulder that reject you because half of the draw for them is having that power and turning their jealousy into something tangible. And you know when that is the case. You do. You know when you submitted something good, refined and worthwhile that fits a market’s criteria. Unfortunately the vast majority of rejection slips are impersonal and give you no indication. There are the rare ones that include a few reasons, and in those cases you have a better gauge of the selector’s aptitude and whether you want to take their advice to heart. I recently got a rejection on a very, very good piece and they provided excerpts from the feedback of 5 readers. Yeah, 5. All 5 said the same thing. You might think, well Piechos, then they were right. You should listen to them. NO! That’s like saying zombie fiction is worthwhile because millions of mouth breathers spring a chub over it. That’s the classic jump off a cliff scenario. Fucking garbage movies get 5 starts all the time, and people actually like the Walking Dead and that show is unwatchably stale. They were WRONG, and were inundated by a very strict idea of what story is. They all said the same thing because they had all attended the same classes and were knocking me based on this same sad, limited notion of story. Story isn’t necessarily plot. The change and journey can be within the character, or how the characters relate to one another, or even the change in the setting can represent the change necessary to communicate story. There are higher concepts beyond the plot that qualify as story. Story can be communicated in many ways. So, yes, I learned something. I learned I was creating something that deserved a market with higher literary merit and there are in fact people who won’t “get” what you are doing because they’re dim and limited. Don’t knock yourself over that. Writing is nothing if not masochism, but you can’t take every flogging as if it is a lesson from a greater mind. Move on. Move UP. Find the place you belong. Pandering to lesser people will only get you writing for some utter tripe like Family Guy and miserable, knowing you are capable of something more, something personally fulfilling. Ultimately my point is we are living in an era where every one of society’s pillars have been torn down or are crumbling, so a blind deference to authority in this arena is equally as silly. If anyone really knew what they were doing readership would still be at an all time low thanks to infotech, but new and interesting things would still be breaking through despite this and there would be more than one young new literary hero every ten years. At the same time we live in an age of great social and professional impotency. We know our politicians are corrupt garbage and our country isn’t even a democracy anymore and we are essentially living in a police state, are well-kept slaves, but for the most part we just accept our inability to escape the two party paradigm or wrest control away from scum in charge. We realize that cops are completely insane and have far too much power in the USA, and all we do is repost memes about it, at the very best. And as legal weed goes through more and more the industry is being legislated as the exclusive domain of the rich, allowing only multimillionaire’s to grow and sell, so the new boss is the same as the old boss. What I am saying is all authority should be questioned if not outright rejected. And if you really want to make a difference, subvert it. Lately I have been reading through crates of old Playboys trying to get a feel for what they accept in terms of fiction. Sam Lipsyte had a story in 2004 (I think) that stood out to me for two reasons. The first is that it didn’t resemble anything else I have read in Playboy. The second is I am already a fan, and I am confident that Mr. Lipsyte’s approach to first person narration, building them within character confines and how their limited world view molds the language (especially similes) and story are very similar to my own theories and practices. He’s awesome and reading his work fills me with confidence. And he made it into Playboy with a completely whacked out piece unlike anything else I have found in a decade of Playboy (so far). That’s my goal for 2015, to at least query and get Playboy to consider my work. I want to tackle some relevant contemporary issues and find like-minded readers to share my rage. And that one totally biased and wrong rejection bolstered my confidence and resolve by showing me I was BETTER than the people rejecting me, I don’t need to write flowery prose about some profound hunting trip with my father where I learned the value of all life or whatever and get it published in Ploughshares (No, I never did that but it seems to be the norm), and to move onwards and upwards and shoot for the moon.
C&C: So, ideally, where is all this writing going to get you? What do you want? Money, fame, respect, to be left alone, what? If you could outline your results, after all the time and brainspace you’ve devoted….where would it put you?
B: I think this has parallels to my entire complaint of the “right reasons.” One of the big reasons I can’t handle other people is while we may be enthusiastic about the same thing it is rarely for the same reasons. I went to see Jenny Lewis recently at First Avenue and the crowd were awful. They were all there for the stupid pop songs the Current have on rotate from the shitty new album, not the wonderful stuff she did on her prior albums, when these people had never heard of her. Most had never even been to First Avenue before and I overheard them discussing it. First Ave is basically the heart and soul of Minneapolis music, and these were suburban tourists just cramming their polo shirt wearing pleated khaki cargo shorts asses into the place for an artist they didn’t know dick about that the trendy local radio station sold them on. These were Pedal Pub people. Awful, entitled suburban white folk with no soul who do whatever the Current (aforementioned awful radio station) tells them to. And their overwhelming presence ruined it for me. The other day I was sitting in a massage chair at the gym watching Futurama. The guy next to me laughed at all the points I felt were pedantic and the material I found funny did nothing for him. Granted, I thought Fry and Leela throwing bricks at a hippie was funny along with everything the crotchety professor says, but this guy laughed about the vegetarian lion being emaciated. It was a concept easy to grasp for him. Or maybe the schadenfreude in me is too strong to be objective, and besides, I like animals. When it comes to writing nothing you mentioned is my real, ultimate goal. Sure, I want fame, recognition, success, but with mass appeal comes a hard truth that what you are producing at least 50% sucks. And you have to live with that, like Palahniuk does when he fields idiotic questions at his readings that make me cringe. You have to think, “I have failed. If this person read that into my message, I have failed.” And workshopping with other writers I respect helps me with that. When I get comments that someone likes parts I felt were weak I have to edit them out. I am not writing to that audience. But me, I love the process. I love molding an idea into something I can be proud of. I enjoy building, exploring my ideas and making this art. I guess I’d like to get some fanmail that appreciated the pieces of my work I am proud of. Gus Moreno always “gets it.” I workshop with him all the time and he sees the stuff I want to communicate, so I want readers like Gus. He should review more often for the public. I would like to find myself invited into a world of like minded writers I can trade work with and build friendships. I’d like Sam Lipsyte to read my stuff and trade some short stories. I would like to know Jonathan Franzen and bitch about hipsters with him over lunch. I would like to somehow get Gordon Lish to edit just one of my stories, and like it. I would like to do something that reaches a level of popularity high enough that the City Pages (MPL’s version of the Village Voice) interviews me so I can shit all over the gentrification and phony identify my city has developed. I would like to come up with enough fresh ideas and create from them a novel that is exciting and engrossing to write, for the rest of my life. And, of course, I don’t want to have to deal with being rejected by a ton of markets that I don’t even like that much, which I have to submit to just to get my name out there because there is no real home for the type of fiction I write.