Elizabeth Bruenig is the guest. She is a staff writer for The New Republic. Her work focuses on politics and religion.
Really excited to have Elizabeth on the program. I've been a big fan for a while now and feel like she is already, at the ripe old age of 25, an indispensable voice in our political discourse, and on the topic of religion. She first came to my attention (and you'll hear me mention this in the monologue) when she submitted an essay to The Nervous Breakdown several years ago. She must have been twenty or twenty-one at the time. Something like that. The quality of the writing blew me away. To see her have the success that she's having now is really wonderful, and not at all surprising. In our conversation we discuss her personal history, growing up in Texas, her religious upbringing and her conversion, in college, to Catholicism. We talk about God, Augustine, the nature of belief. And of course we talk about politics. Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the GOP shit-show. All of it.
In the monologue, I talk, as I said, about the history of my Elizabeth Bruenig fandom and then I get into Election 2016 and start rambling and don't stop rambling for roughly fifteen minutes. You're welcome, America.
This is one of the most devastating reading experiences I've had in recent memory. Ruth Wariner's childhood in LeBaron, a fundamentalist Mormon colony in Mexico, is almost beyond belief. That she was able to survive seems miraculous, and the fact that she has now transmuted the horrors of her youth into a book is, I feel, an act of real heroism. When she showed up at my door, I was a little rattled. I had just finished the book and was still processing it. Ruth and her husband pulled up in front of the house and got out of their rental car and...the word that comes to mind is "sunny." They are sunny people. I feel like Ruth has the right to be ultra-goth and cynical—after what she's been through, it seems like she should be allowed to chain-smoke everywhere she goes, including in hospitals and on airplanes—but that wasn't the sense that I got when I met her—not at all. She sat down in the garage and we talked for an hour about all of it—Mormonism, polygamy, child abuse, the prison of belief, the deep pain of loss, the love of family, time, healing, catharsis, you name it. It was a good hour. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.
In today's monologue, I recall how I raced to read Ruth's memoir and wound up listening to the audiobook version at double-speed, and what it did to my head. I also pay a little homage to Glenn Frey of The Eagles, yet another Baby Boomer rock icon, gone, it seems, too soon.
Margaret Malone is the guest. Her debut story collection, People Like You, is available now from Atelier 26 Books.
Really enjoyed meeting Margaret. She showed up at my door and I almost felt like I knew her already. There was something familiar about her. We have a friend in common. Maybe that was it. She used to live in LA. Maybe that was it. We're roughly the same age. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was a combination of all of these things. Anyway, she seemed familiar and it was easy talking with her. We've been through some similar stuff as parents, too. Trying to have kids. How harrowing that can be. And then she and I talked about some difficult health issues that her husband faced, and what that was like. We talked about Portland, too. She lives in Oregon now, and is involved in the literary community, and so on. We talked about other stuff, too. Margaret is a gem.
In today's monologue I talk about the Powerball lottery and the death of David Bowie. And social media grief.
Chiwan Choi is the guest. His latest poetry collection is called Abductions, available now from Writ Large Press.
First episode of 2016. Here we go. Though technically Chiwan and I spoke in late 2015. He came over. It was cold. He was in a t-shirt. I offered him a coat. He said he was fine. I couldn't believe it. I felt like a sissy. He sat for the hour and seemed unaffected. Maybe something's wrong with me. Anyway it was really fun talking with him. We've met on a handful of occasions at literary events around Los Angeles. He grew up in LA, is very active in the literary community here. He was born in Korea. He lived in South America on his way to living in Los Angeles. He's an immigrant. His family immigrated. A sense of dislocation has been with him to a degree for all of his life. Or for most of his life. I think that's true. I hope I said that right. He can obviously say it better than I can. We talk about those parts of his life, among other things. I found his stories about being a child and moving around really touching. Listen to it. You'll see.
In today's monologue I talk about the holidays. And Star Wars. I talk about Christmas trees. And the shame I feel over how few books I read last year compared to some people.