Friday, September 30, 2011


I am lucky, I know. 

I attended one of the most expensive liberal arts colleges in the nation as well as an MFA grad program at another college, both based on my own merits and passions. I am not in debt for doing such. I have an apartment and health insurance and (currently) a job and food and clothing and hot water and  a car and some moderate savings for someone my age and with my resume. None of this would have been possible without the financial and emotional support of my parents and, going back even further, my grandparents and their parents and their parents and so forth. I do not pretend to be struggling in the same way that I have seen others struggle, especially those who have not been as fortunate in the supportive-parents department.

My generation certainly needs support in order to pursue the things about which we are passionate. Essentially, this means running the risk of having absolutely nothing to show for ourselves other than our creative/social efforts, our ideas and experiences, and a fancy schmancy degree, though degrees have become, in some cases, almost meaningless. What is life really about if we take away creativity and ideas and experiences and learning from one another? How can we ever hope to advance if we are not continually introducing new stories and images and patterns and perceptions and opinions and methods? In order to properly cultivate such things, we need an appropriate education, but in order to receive an education, we need money...and in order to make money, we need an education.

At times when I was unemployed and desperately hunting for a job I was not only "qualified" to do but truly wanted to do (what's the price of personal satisfaction nowadays?), I was lucky to have been able to save some money plus receive the support of parents who had wished me success in writing rather than  pushed me to follow a more "guaranteed" path. BUT THIS IS NOT THE NORM. More people than not are without health insurance, without homes, without jobs, without education, without pride, without hope, and without financial support. I have felt hopeless too, but my feeling of hopelessness about my worth in the job market as it currently exists, or my voice in the world at large, is nothing compared to those who have absolutely no support system to fall back on if they fail (and who never fails?)....those who are forced to turn to the government for help or relinquish themselves to working at, oh I don't know, KFC.

What I am trying to say is that living a life of doing what you actually WANT to do (for the good of yourself and others) is not easy and sometimes impossible. What I am trying to say is that I AM ONE OF THE 99% and I will stand with those who are broken and hopeless and cheated and lied to by the white collar diplomats of this know them: the leaders and politicians and businesses that have caused massive job cuts, extreme environmental destruction, deaths due to lack of health insurance, et cetera. The ones who don't give a second thought to those humans and animals affected by their actions. The ones who, in this democratic society, are only looking out for themselves. The ones who are controlling all of us and reversing or halting any progress we might have made. I was born in this country and I continue to live in this  country and here I am saying that I want change. No, I demand change, and so should you. This is OUR future we're talking about. There is so much more I can say...but for now, PLEASE read more (both words are links):

[first image is of me, second was taken at the Occupy Wall Street protest]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Disintegration Loops

I have to admit that I am rather late to discovering William Basinski, but I have always loved ambient music and the story of his Disintegration Loops completely fascinates me.

First of all, let's look at what a loop is (please don't mind my assumption that you, the reader, like me, the writer, also need a little definition). A tape loop is "prerecorded magnetic tape used to create repetitive, rhythmic musical patterns or dense layers of sound."

So we've got patterns and rhythms and phasing and repetition that can either stand on its own, aid a solo artist while he/she's playing live, or add background sound to any number of compositions. Also consider that "a measure of recorded magnetic tape is cut and spliced end-to-end, creating a circle or loop which can be played continuously, usually on a reel-to-reel machine." Sort of like a Mobius Strip of music!

William Basinski is an American avant-garde composer of ambient music who, throughout the 1980s, created many  experimental works using tape loops, as well as found sounds and radio static. While Basinski played with bands, collaborated on projects, and produced records, his most widely known contribution to music is these Disintegration Loops. And herein lies their incredible story, more of which you can read here.

Back in the early '80s, Basinski made some tape loops. Fast-forward to August of 2001 when he was living in Brooklyn and seeking to transfer these loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to hard disk. As he began transferring, he realized that the old tapes were disintegrating as they played, all of which he continued to record. In the liner notes of the four-disk Disintegration Loops, he notes that "the music was dying." He recorded his old loops into September of 2001...on September 11th, he was completing his process as the Twin Towers fell.  

Michael Heumann writes: "He and his friends went on the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching the slow death of one New York and the slow rise of another, all the while listening to the death of one music and the creation of another....The music, however, is beautiful, subtle, sad, frightening, confusing, and ultimately uplifting. What's he created here is a living document: a field recording of orchestrated decay. It sounds like nothing else I've heard, yet, at its core, it's the simplest and most familiar music I can imagine."

On her blog, writer Amy Rose shared one track from the Loops as part of her three-song playlist. There are many more tracks available, but I think this is particularly peaceful and hypnotic.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Miranda July's The Future

Miranda July: writer, actor, performance artist, director...and oh how I love her brain. 

Well, to be more specific, I love the quirky sense of humor that emerges in stories and films; her willingness to expose personal fears and flaws, thus bringing authenticity to a storyline; and her boundless creativity, which never seems to hinder her ideas and always pushes the audience/reader to consider new possibilities in fiction and film. Have I gushed enough?

This summer, I happily attended one of the premier showings of Miranda's latest film, The Future, at the IFC Center. Much like the stories in her collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You --- which reveal small moments of tension, sadness, and awkwardness in the lives of rather odd individuals --- The Future's main focus was the relationship between Sophie and Jason; in their mid-thirties, the two have been dating for four years. Not unlike Miranda's first film, Me, You and Everyone We Know, Miranda plays the female lead. But while Me, You and Everyone We Know jumped around to unexpected scenarios involving different, yet interrelated, characters, The Future maintains its focus and appears more linear...but that isn't to say it's in any way "the norm!"

See, Sophie and Jason feel obligated to adopt a cat with a damaged paw... his name is Paw-Paw (and Miranda does his cute little voice). The only problem?: they're afraid that becoming responsible for this ill (and existential) cat will change their lives for the worse, and they're convinced they need to achieve some goals before Paw-Paw invades their home. For Sophie --- who quits her job as a dance teacher for toddlers --- that means creating 30 dances in 30 days and posting them on the internet. For Jason --- who quits his job as an at-home computer repair guy --- that means walking door-to-door selling trees...a job that doesn't pan out quite the way he imagined when he chanced upon it. He does, however, meet an old man named Joe (from whom he initially buys an old blowdryer, as advertised in the PennySaver) who offers him sage advice about how he is just in the "beginning" stages of his relationship with Sophie, and how the two of them will likely do terrible things to each other.

Jason decides that he and Sophie are, like most people, too dependent on the internet, so he has it turned off for a month --- a truly funny scene that involves the two of them making last-minute, desperate attempts to look things up before the internet's shut off, and prompts a conversation in which they try to figure out how they will now get information. Despite all attempts to better their lives and perhaps their romance, neither Sophie nor Jason is what one would call "happy"...though the nuances of their relationship are adorably personal and suggest that they are meant for each other. But those collective fears of the future, of change, and, in some ways, of themselves are truly holding them back.

Sophie is often paralyzed by her own inexplicable fears, as evidenced by her (hilarious!) attempts to  record new dances. She turns to an old tee-shirt, named "Shirty," for comfort. During one panic attack, she decides to call the number of the artist on the back of a drawing, which Jason has purchased at Paw-Paw's animal hospital. The phone call leads to Sophie shouting out the window to see if Marshall, the artist, can hear her. It also leads to a pretty severe  "oops" between Marshall and Sophie. And here's where things get even weirder.

On the night Sophie feels she must confess to Jason, he touches her head and literally stops time --- this occurred earlier in the film as a game the two of them sometimes play, but now time has stopped for real. Not only that, but the moon is talking to Jason through the window, and the moon's voice is old man Joe. This break in time --- and break in the film's realistic, albeit odd, narrative --- leads to an alternate universe wherein Sophie is with Marshall, and Jason, too afraid of what Sophie is about to tell him, realizes that he has stopped time permanently and must try to fix the world. In Sophie's alternate life, she lives with Marshall and his daughter; while some things seem idyllic, her former life keeps creeping up on her...most noticeably when Shirty tracks her down. There is no simply no escaping the girl she once was. And all the while, Paw-Paw tries to be patient, as he waits for them to take him home.

I love when a film or story can break form and still find its way back to "normal" so that its believably is not completely lost. Sometimes, when a film goes off the deep end, there is  no turning just spirals into "huh?" territory. Other times, things become too logical and explanatory. In The Future, however, Miranda seems to already anticipate her artsy and open-minded audience, thus allowing her to present impossibilities and still bring us firmly back to the  land of the (mostly) big explanation needed.

In the Q&A session, Miranda revealed her creative process and the evolution of this piece, from script to performance to film. She spoke about creating a sort of visual language as well as symmetry --- in casting Hamish Linklater to play opposite her as Jason, Miranda assumed the audience would feel that Sophie and Jason belonged together aesthetically; on the other hand, she and David Warhofsky (who plays Marshall) look absolutely wrong.

Miranda also revealed that Shirty was based on her very own precious tee-shirt that travels with her from city to city and hotel to hotel; and just like Sophie, Miranda often feels trapped by her own anxieties. By exposing some of the things about which she personally feels ashamed, Miranda has allowed viewers the chance to analyze and maybe even accept their own idiosyncrasies. She also told us that that Joe was an old man she met when she went door-to-door to meet people who had advertised in the PennySaver! He ad-libbed a good percent of the role!

One of the most poignant moments (which also pushes the movie further toward "art film") is the dance Sophie performs inside her tee-shirt, while living in Marshall's house. Miranda discussed how this dance emerged in her performance, and how she felt it was a pivotal moment for Sophie --- she is literally wrapped in her past self as she hurdles, like we all do, toward some kind of  future.

--amy dupcak.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview Series #7: Scott Alexander Hess

Scott Alexander Hess knows a thing or two about sex...and thank god for that! His literary novel, Diary of a Sex Addict (published by JMS Books), is a dark and incredibly racy portrait of a gay man for whom sex acts as a drug, comfort, punishment, and sometimes even a sport. 

Scott is no stranger to pushing the envelope. One of the plays he's written and starred in, BJ, explored transgenderism in America and won an NYC Fringe Festival Jury Award for Excellence. He's performed one-man shows in a myriad of settings, penned screenplays, and is now hard at work on his third novel. Almost all of Scott's  creative works contain a lustful mixture of grit and glamor --- harsh realities and gruesome details coupled with exotic parties, sparkling clothes, or simply beautiful, dreamlike images. 

I first met Scott at the very start of The New School's MFA program, where we both studied Fiction. It is with great pleasure that I continue to devour the pages of his many evocative projects.

Quick Look:
May 25
Living in:
Manhattan, New York
Originally from:
Saint Louis, Missouri


No-Alternative: Let's start by discussing your novel, Diary of a Sex Addict.  What is this book about, and what makes it a unique take on sex addiction?

Scott Alexander Hess: The book is a snapshot into one wild, sex-drenched, dark month in the life of a New Yorker. The blurb I wrote for the book jacket sums it up pretty well, so I’ll share that...

Witty, dark and explosively carnal, Diary of a Sex Addict chronicles a gay New Yorker’s month long descent into a circus of anonymous hook-ups as he struggles to erase the pain of a failed romance, and the routine of a soul-numbing day job. Written in prose that is at once poetic and unabashedly lewd, Diary offers a glimpse into a forbidden fringe world of longing and debauchery that ultimately reveals the narrator’s fervent search for something to fill a profound emptiness.

Diary is told from the perspective of the unnamed protagonist --- the sex addict of the title. Why did you choose first-person narration for this story? Also, do you think that, despite our addict's poor decisions and risky behaviors, he remains likeable and sympathetic to readers?

I chose first person because of its immediacy. I want the reader to feel, smell touch and experience the depravity and intensity of the story as much as possible. Along those lines, while the narrator does reprehensible, even violent things, I feel the subtle, underlying anguish that guides his decisions help make him at least relatable, if not likeable.

You mentioned that the book takes place over a mere few weeks in the life of the addict. What made you decide on this specified time frame?

I wanted one icy, sex-drenched burst in this man's life, so I chose one frigid month in December. I think sustaining this type of destructive behavior for too long could utterly exhaust the reader. I hope to take the reader on a wild ride, and to whirl him/her to a peak of perversity, before it all crashes and they ideally lay spent, post prose orgasm.

Is there ever a time when you feel you've gone too far in your work? Do you ever feel the need to hold back and restrain yourself? And do you ever worry about readers' reactions to such raw, erotic, and sometimes brutal scenes?

No, I don’t. I am blessed that my post-graduate school writer’s group (the ponies) keeps me on the beam in terms of what is working in the narrative, and how it drives the story. There are times I have made changes because an action by the narrator is so reprehensible that he could lose all sympathy with the reader. Some narrators (like Patrick Bateman in the brilliant Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho) are so incredibly drawn they can get away with this, but not often. This type of holding back though is based on allowing the reader in, not on whether such action is too extreme or erotic.

Have you ever surprised yourself through writing and editing Diary of a Sex Addict? Have you experienced a moment of personal discovery or reflection while creating this harrowing tale?

I think with everything I write I do discover more about myself. I tend to float into a netherworld when I write. I lose myself in the work, as the character. I rely a great deal on stream of conscious writing, my mentors being William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, among others.

How is Diary of a Sex Addict different from your previous novel Bergdorf Boys, which was serialized in Ganymede Journal? And how does the novel you're currently writing, Jockey, differ from them both?

Bergdorf Boys is a lighter romp, though with a few dark edges. It was my first novel, so the feat of creating the novel itself was an accomplishment. Jockey is very different --- a mainstream and poetic novel.

All of my work deals with people who are a bit on the fringe (sex addicts, or a jockey who by trade must be small and weigh under 120 pounds all of his working life). And there is always a sense of the sensual in my work --- in Jockey, it is the boy’s gut level relationship with a horse. So that ties the work together on some level. But I can vary greatly in the use of language and topic. The rhythm of the book, the tone and language are determined by the narrator’s voice and the flavor of the book (erratic sex addict in Manhattan vs. a 12-year-old boy in rural Arkansas in 1918).

With novels, screenplays, plays and stories under your belt, plus Jockey halfway done, you're quite prolific! What is your writing process usually like? How do you get into the right mindset?

I don’t wait for a mindset, because if I did I’d talk myself out of writing. I set time to write, I sit down, I write. Discipline is key and I trust that what needs to flow will flow.

You are also a gifted performer. Has singing, acting, and performing in drag enhanced or inspired your writing life?

I think my experience as an actor has helped when it comes to really getting into the head of a character in a novel. . .and living his life.

How do you think being gay in New York has influenced and informed your creative projects?

Well, I was gay in Missouri when I popped out, so….I don’t really think much about my sexual preference in relation to my creativity.

What was some of the most helpful advice --- writing or otherwise --- you have ever received? And do have any advice for aspiring writers and artists?

Sit down and write. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could write. At one point someone said to me “sit down and do it,” which was incredibly simple and incredibly helpful. I also really was inspired and kicked in the ass by two life changing and amazing books: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way.

Which books, films, and places have inspired your work the most?

Travel is incredibly inspiring and cracks open my brain. I loved Egypt and Rome. Films are a constant inspiration. I’m currently re-watching two amazing films: Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill and Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky. To write, I read. Constantly. My mentors are McCarthy, Faulkner, Alan Hollinghurst, Jean Genet, and many more.

How do you plan to celebrate the release of Diary of a Sex Addict, and what are you most looking forward to with the book launch?

I want everyone who reads this interview to come to the book launch party at NYC Therapy Lounge. It’s going to be truly outlandish. All details are at and you can also read an excerpt of my novel and reserve a copy of the book. The ebook is out in September, the print in October. 

(photos courtesy of Scott Hess)