Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bringin' back the funny, albeit circuitously:

I have written intermittently for the estimable and crackling literary collective, The Nervous Breakdown, for the past two and a half years. Brimming with talent both quite well-known and ascending, I recommend TNB to anyone who values high quality writing presented from a panoply of views. Next Sunday, it launches in a new format, about which I and a number of others are quite stoked.

Two months ago, Brad Listi, our fearless editor-in-chief (and author of the bestselling novel, Attention. Deficit. Disorder.) asked me to call him. The new non-fiction editor, my oft-noted, brilliant, hilarious, and cherished friend, Eric Spitznagel (whose weekly online Vanity Fair column you should gulp down like M & Ms and can be found here: had recommended to Brad that I fill one of three associate non-fiction editor slots. I love and respect TNB and was thrilled at the prospect to work again w/ Eric (who I first got to know when he was my editor at The Believer). The more Brad limned the details, the more enthusiastic I became and I readily accepted. All players involved know the parameters of my health and my position, like all the associate editors, will involve helping to establish content, in my case, non-fiction, one week a month.

Shortly thereafter, TJ died. Last week, I asked the non-fiction team and Brad if I could step aside until after the holidays, given the circumstances and that I'm in no frame of mind to properly edit anyone. And the depth of kindness from all four of them was incredibly moving. Each advised me to take the time I need and maintained the position is mine when I'm ready to return. I really can't convey how appreciative I am of their understanding as people and friends and colleagues. I am astoundingly fortunate in this regard.

Here is the most recent piece I wrote for TNB, on October 5th. TJ had already left for the North Cascades and, of course, died the next day, but as I've written of a number of times, the official "worry" time he gave me for this trip was late afternoon October 7th. So when you see me responding to comments on the 5th and 6th and morning of the 7th, it is because, obviously, I didn't yet know things were awful and awry.

I realize most individuals read my work, in part, because they (flatteringly) find it funny. And I know I haven't been particularly funny lately, nor has anyone expected it of me. Still, here, in a roundabout way, is a return to form. And, of course, the "best friend" mentioned in the piece is TJ. One of his many nicknames for me was "Jack" and for himself was "Neal". As he often said, "I'm like Neal Cassady and I run around and do things and then you write about them and immortalize me, like Jack Kerouac." (I'd already interviewed TJ for one of my Esquire features, published an essay about him twice that was later included in a well-received Seal Press anthology, and had a short story about him included in the now-defunct literary journal, Rivet.) He quite enjoyed when I wrote about him and while all artists, essentially, have to "take" permission as ethically as possible, TJ gave me his explicitly and repeatedly over the years. As he said, warts and all, his life and the intersection of ours was mine to write about anyway I chose.

Which is just one of the many gifts with which he left me.

This one's for you, Neal:

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