I don’t remember exactly when, but sometime in the mid-aughts, I fell in love with The Sea and Cake. And, as the summer of 2022 now officially drifts into fall and I ritualistically put The Biz on my turntable, I am reminded of a peculiar story that refuses to leave my subconscious. This description gets loosely thrown around all the time, but I truly believe that TSAC is a band that you either love obsessively, or listen to only very, very casually. I would argue that there is no in-between, as detractors are quick to dismiss their jazz pop, bossa nova (occasionally drifting into ambient) trappings as mere pleasant, background muzak. The one caveat to this rule is that their music is, admittedly, one that tends to lend itself to seasonal autumn and springtime listening. And even though I think Oui, The Biz and One Bedroom are all terrific records front to back, they are a rare exception in one regard. I would probably recommend a newcomer instead try a curated compilation of their best material.
Dirk’s ad for an assistant didn’t ask for a CV or cover letter, just a short email explaining one’s interest in writing. I said I liked the idea of learning a little bit about a lot of things, rather than a lot about one. Perhaps a pedestrian mentality for someone fresh out of high school, but Dirk told me my message stood out. “All the other applications were bullshit,” he said.
Dirk was in his mid-thirties. He had sandy curls and, despite now working as a finance writer, the firm hands of an Australian raised in the country. He wore dark sunglasses the day we first met, but this funereal veneer was betrayed by his mouth. His lips were quicksilver. A warm smile could morph into a vicious sneer and back again.
Kinderkrankenhaus — On Forging a Neurodiverse Future Without Words by Hunter Liguore
In an unknown time, in an unknown location by the sea, a child is left by its parents at the kinderkrankenhaus, a cavern-like, isolated place, where every now and then, it’s common for a child to let out a momentary shriek or a sustained single-note hum. The newest arrival, Gnome, doesn’t know why they’ve been brought there, especially after learning this is a place for the sick… or is it?
Unlearning the Law: Novel Lessons
by Martha Anne Toll, former lawyer, current novelist
Myriad lawyers transition from litigating to literature. I am no exception: I recently published my debut novel, THREE MUSES. Before that, I attended law school, practiced law, and worked for many years in social justice and the nonprofit world. Each of those jobs involved intensive writing where I had to learn how to present arguments clearly on the page, and to advocate for strategy and policy positions. I sharpened my research and analytic skills as I tried to present the incontrovertible. However, as I was becoming a novelist, I realized I had to unlearn the writing practices I found most useful in my time in the corporate and non-profit world. I have thus identified three rules in fiction that may come in handy for others following a similar path:
Catholic school, sixth grade, early into ’96. Boxy desks, white-board markers, snowflake decals decorating windows. A piggy bank named Nicholas and pet chameleons in a tank. A classroom of girls and one unfortunate boy, all wearing maroon and gray plaid.
We are sitting at our desks when Christina presses play on the stereo, filling the room with a serrated guitar riff. The singer’s voice sounds frayed, the music lazed, a melody lurking somewhere underwater. Low “hello”s build to a crescendo of screamed vocals and fast-paced drums. I look down at the lyrics Christina photocopied from the liner notes. What does “libido” or “mulatto” mean? Why does the title mention a deodorant that doesn’t appear in the song?
Layers of color streak by as the train rushes north. The gray of the Hudson River lies beneath the greens and browns of the pine trees, all under an orange and lemon sky, all moving in different directions. The water flows south, the trees hold steady, and the sun slips into the evening. Syracuse is still a few hours away, plenty of time to relax, listen to music, and enjoy the ride. I’m going to visit my dad. This will be the first time I see his new room in the memory care unit.
On a Saturday morning a few summers back, I wore a purple dress so my dead grandmother would recognize me. In the already relentless heat of a Monmouth County July, we awaited the arrival of a medium my mother invited to the house I’d grown up in, a woman who could pull messages from the stratosphere of that great otherworldly realm. “Heaven” was convenient shorthand for the place where, I was told as a child, all my dead relatives had ascended to. I used to imagine them floating around up there, covered in white powder and draped long cloth—like Jacob Marley or Stevie Nicks.
We started playing Rock Band a couple of years ago. My kids and I arrived late one night at my brother’s. We were aiming for eight but landed at eleven. We caught a second wind and Casey asked if we wanted to try Rock Band. Video games make me grumpy for all the stereotypical geezer reasons, but it was late and my defenses were down. Plus, we’d never played the game before. I figured after a song or two we’d run out of gas, but we had a blast. We stayed up past one stumbling through various classic and alt rock songs.