WORDS & MUSIC CLUB
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01. WRITER

Jason Kotarski


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

The Lillingtons: 
Black Hole in My Mind


04. WRITING

He sat at the small desk in the the corner of his bedroom surrounded by crumpled wads of paper with a fresh blank page in front of him. The desk was a hand-me-down from his older brother and it felt too small. When he adjusted himself in the chair he banged his knee hard on the underside of the single drawer in the desk. He sighed, rubbed his knee, and then sharpened his pencil. Again.

The young man couldn’t understand why this was so difficult. He could see the entire story in his mind: the wormhole, the spacecraft spinning out of control, the pilot waking up battered and bruised with stubble on his face from a beard that wasn’t there before the event, the cage he was in, a cell among row after row of other cells, the prison planet, the escape.

It was all there but he couldn’t figure out how to get started. The story wasn’t just about the details and events that occurred, it was about the feeling of being trapped but safe. About feeling alone yet curious. It was about being courageous. He tried and tried to write that opening sentence but every attempt ended up discarded on the floor.

He doubted himself. Maybe what he wanted to say wasn’t worth saying. Who would read it anyway? But then again, maybe it wasn’t for the readers anyway. Maybe it was just for himself.

He looked up from the desk and glanced around his room. The walls were covered with posters from his favorite movies; his favorite comic book characters; his favorite bands. These pictures gave him comfort, a stark contrast from the images on his brother’s walls; athletes and swimsuit models. These walls wore his passions like tattooed skin. He felt mostly out of place in the world. But not here in this space he’d created for himself from reclaimed furniture and pages torn from magazines.

He felt safe in his isolation but he knew that maybe there was something else out there for him. If he could just get his story started then maybe they would understand. Maybe he would understand. But how to begin?

With another look around his room for inspiration his eyes landed on the guitar he got for his last birthday. He wadded up the last piece of paper that was sitting on the desk. He tossed it towards the trash can but missed. He moved across the room. He picked up his guitar. He sat down on the bed.

He had an idea for a song.

 
 

01. WRITER

Edward Dolehanty


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Postmodern Jukebox featuring Nicole Atkins: 
Heroes


04. WRITING

From a crack in the concrete ceiling a light shines through, only a sliver, smaller than my breath, and smaller even still than my body has become. The light fills me with warmth, my skin pulsates in the radiating heat. I stayed awake all night knowing that it may well be the last time I gaze upon the sun, even if indirectly. I am in awe of the splendor, and I think of your smile, unchanged. Be it while basking in the sun, or in the face of fear. As the bullets whizzed above our heads, you clasped your fingers around mine. As smoke filled the air, all I could see was your smile. Your courage felt like victory. Even when we were separated.

Even when I was captured.

If you never meant to save me, know that you still did. That you were my hero. A beacon of stolen time and lasting love that I carried with me through all of this, and that I shall continue to bare, even in the next life.

The sliver of light fades from a crescent to little more than a single ray of heat. I gasp as if the air is thinning and swell with anxiety as I say my goodbye. I feel blessed for this opportunity, to feel human, to bathe in the sun, even if only through a crack. Yet, I feel cursed, because I am certain that I will never see your smile again.

All is dark again, but it does not take long for the sound of the latch followed by the sound of concrete on concrete. Sterile light pours in rancid and fluorescent, it stings my body and assaults my senses. It is as if I can smell the light, and it reeks of death, and I know why. I stand to greet them, but no words are spoken, only a bucket of water thrown to ensure that I am awake. I do not expect to be fed, I know for them there is no point. They have made their perception of my place in this world clear: far beneath their own, far beneath dignity, worthy of only extermination.

You are there with me, the same look upon your face as before, like a constant state of disbelief that mirrors my own. It is like when I was with you the first time, feeling shocked at finally seeing and being seen. Innocently, from the corner of your lips it spread across your glowing reddened cheeks and into your eyes beaming courage and victory. You tell me that it is time, and any fear that I was holding onto dissolves. I hardly even remember that I do not have a choice in the mater.

Still without words I follow them gingerly. They do not point their guns at me, they do not even look at me. We have finally come to an understanding, we can see the finality of our situation, or at least how it is going to end for me, and we have both decided that there is no reason to delay. They cannot see you, but you are walking by my side from windowless corridor to windowless corridor. The walk is shorter than I expected it to be, but I am grateful because even the few steps I am taking are exhausting. When we stop at the steel reinforced door I am nearly out of breath, but you are still with me.

The passage opens, and they shove me through. As if there were a magic barrier the apparition that has comforted me so disappears and I am alone, but it does not last. In the room before me there is only one direction to go, forward onto a wooden scaffold painted black, though chipping. With each step I take the wood creaks beneath my feet as if the floor is already poised to fallout from beneath me. At the edge of the platform I see that I have an audience, men dressed in black. I look out into the crowd, into their eyes one after the other, but I never see their faces. All I can see is you, smiling. I am so glad to see your expression that I do not notice as the rope falls around my neck, or when the floor at last gives out beneath me.    

 
 

01. WRITER

Stephen Wisniewski


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Prince: 
I Wanna Be Your Lover


04. WRITING

Prince died of an accidental overdose of the opioid pain medication fentanyl. He had lived for a long time with severe chronic pain from a double hip replacement that was required as a result of years of performing on stage in high heels. That sounds more pedestrian and mild than it should, but it seems in poor taste to qualify debilitating chronic pain by saying that both the performances and high heels were absolutely fucking magnificent. You can see footage of Prince rehearsing with his band The Revolution in 1984, crafting a stage show, doing the splits, sliding, dancing, earning the shit out of all that pain. Making it beautiful.
It was explained to me as I signed a stack of consent forms that I would be given fentanyl as part of an anesthetic cocktail to induce twilight sedation – a fanciful-sounding term that meant that I would not be fully unconscious, but would be sedate enough to allow the procedure to go smoothly, and allow me to wake up free of any memory of what had happened.
And so the last thing I remember is playing Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” in my head as they shot fentanyl into my IV.

Not very long ago, I learned that I have a genetic mutation that indicates a high risk for early forms of gastrointestinal cancer. My mother found out she had it by accident, and her diagnosis came with a form letter that would let family members know that such a thing existed, and that they could also be tested for it. I had a 50/50 chance of also containing this malfunctioning gene. And it was easy to discover that I did. And so the only thing to do was to be put under twilight sedation and thoroughly scoped from both ends of my body to see what my cells had been up to. I’d never presented any symptoms and had always been in excellent health, so there was every reason to believe that my cells were behaving. There was every reason to expect they might not find anything.

What they found while I was drifting in twilight were lots of polyps. Lots of little places that my cells had decided that they would experiment with division, for no other reason than the fun of it; no other reason than that they knew all along that they must. They were just following the instructions they were born with.
Doctors removed them on the spot, but there were so many growths that I still need to go back again to get the biggest ones, the ones that were so unexpected that doctors hadn’t safely prepared to address them.
When I woke up, a nice person was there to explain all of this to me. They explained that given my particular genetic glitch, each tiny cellular experiment that they removed came with a 70% chance of becoming cancerous if it wasn’t identified and addressed. I would be doing this once or twice a year now for the rest of my life. And then I made an appointment for my follow-up procedure.

This is not an emergency. Not right now. Right now it’s an inconvenience.
This is nothing like twenty years ago, when I would be regularly shaken out of sleep by my lover’s father to hear that she had spiked a fever in the night, and that we needed to go to the hospital immediately, because her blood might be septic. I was living with them, staying in her sister’s old bedroom that now housed dozens of porcelain dolls made by her grandmother, and now also housed me. She had leukemia, and her blood cells were doing all kinds of dangerous experiments. I’d get shaken awake often, and every time, it would mean that she would live in the hospital for two weeks. We would all watch the same movie on TV over and over again. I’d eat the desserts off her tray that she was too sick to eat anyway. I would help to keep a spiral notebook, recording everything that went into or came out of her, so that we could all imagine that there was some rationality to this insane body horror. I was glad to do what little I could, because we were in love.

Twenty years later, when I emerged from twilight, she was there, as strong as I was sleepy. We are in love. I still had Prince somewhere in my head.

I am fine. But as someone who has been lucky enough to have stayed largely out of hospitals and general anesthesia, to suddenly encounter the thing that might kill me was…strange.
Because it’s not out there – probably not, at least. Not a knife point, or alligator, or airplane debris. The call will come, so to speak, from inside the house. Our cells now continue to do the millions and millions of things that, in aggregate, make us all exist as bodies that walk and talk and take up space in the world. And then, perhaps, some of our cells will decide that it’s time to do some wild thing that was in them to do all along. Divide into infinity. Experiment with destroying each other, or themselves. Follow instructions.

 
 

01. WRITER

Eric Doucette


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Pedro the Lion:
Slow and Steady Wins the Race


04. WRITING

If the universe is ever-expanding, then what is it expanding into?
Is it a void?
Then what happens to the void?
Is it taken into our universe?
So, is it part of our universe?
Where are we now?

Does it happen along time's path?
Or, over you, does it pass?
Have you been strayed upon this planet?

Is it your attacker in the dark?
Everything evil known for
Misanthropic optimism for your
foreboding situation.

Could it be you?

 
 

01. WRITER

Jonathan Diener 


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Hot Snakes:
Candid Cameras


04. WRITING

I don’t know exactly how it happened or honestly when it happened, but it did. It did and it’s terrifying. I don’t know how I’m writing this without them seeing, especially if I’m the one seeing it too. I don’t have much time, so I’ll make this brief: the future is here and we’re all fucked.

The ocular implants were the logical extension of Bluetooth technology. The sweaty monsters at the gym and the runners were sick of wires getting in the way while they listened to music and worked on their god-like physiques. The rest of us—we never asked for it—riding the subway or sitting in coffee shops followed suit. I guess it wasn’t that bad—at least at the time.

Then having to hold your cell phone to look at it instead of pretending to pay attention to your friends, families, clients, bosses, etc. became too daunting of a task for our feeble humanoid forms. When the tech came out to see your phone’s operating system directly through your line of sight… well, I knew it would take off. And so did the investors. Those evil fucks.

We were already paying close to $2,000 for our phones and their plans every few years, but implants were cheap—like, REALLY fucking cheap in comparison. We started seeing the major companies fading out and then Facebook developed FaceFone. While we were laughing at the dumbest name in history, the company was getting ready to take over the world.

Soon YouTube, SnapChat, all of the social media apps weren’t at your fingertips—they were hard-wired to your brain. Worried about a hacker getting a hold of your credit card information? What about your social security number? Now imagine them hacking into your memories, your thoughts, your motor functions. It was about a year into FaceFone when we started hearing about the kids in Russia bombing capital cities. Senior citizens in retirement homes in Florida setting the buildings on fire and locking themselves in. You thought cat videos were annoying? You thought telemarketers were the end of the world? Imagine never being able to turn off advertisements in your own head. We couldn’t do anything to stop it.

They had our information and instead of simply controlling our lives they started taking them one by one. Population control.

Advances in technology gave us electricity, but in the wrong hands, we get a nuke. We’re in the next revolution and it all started with those shitty glass rectangles glued to our hands. They were always filming us, listening to us and tracking everything. Now they know everything about us and we’re defenseless.

Oh god, I don’t think I have much time left. So if you’re listening, please, I need you to know that if you’ve ever had the juicy, cheesy, iconic Big Mac it’s alright if you want to start smaller. The new Mac Jr. is a single patty with no middle bun. Available for a limited time. I’m lovin’ it.

 
 

01. WRITER

Chris Thibodeau


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Moses Sumney:
Don’t Bother Calling


04. WRITING

I really should put this thing down.

How does something so insignificant have such a stronghold on my downtime?
I check it just before bed and immediately after waking.
On the couch, in the bathroom, right before driving long distances, and after I’ve arrived.
I even check it while my laptop powers up.

Like something important has actually happened in the last 10 minutes.

Do they call it a cell phone because we are imprisoned by them?

I remember when this luxury was not even an option. Utilizing pay phones, collect calls, answering machines, and pagers we communicated just fine, it just took longer.

When I was in drivers training, I would call my mom collect to let her know when to pick me up.

Will you accept a collect call from: “Comegetme”?

Charges declined.

There’s no denying the convenience, but you cannot ignore the potential consequences.

With great power, we ignore our responsibilities.

Endless distraction, instant disconnection.

Is there any hope that we will ever be free? Or, will we become so dependent on this technology that we eventually implant it into our bodies?

True cellular technology.

 
 

01. WRITER

Brian Stout


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Constantines: 
Soon Enough


04. WRITING

“Years from now, they will make water from the reservoirs of our idiot tempers.”

In "Soon Enough" by Constantines, the expectant father paces from room to room, praying for a daughter, because women are winning the tournament of hearts. He is gifted with a son, and he jumps ahead many years to think about this child as a man.

I imagined fatherhood through this song, a highpoint on a beautiful record about the lives most of us lead, quietly remarkable feats like working all the time and loving our families. I never imagined specific characteristics about my hypothetical son, except that maybe he’d look like me or that we might run through the backyard making movies on a Saturday afternoon. Not even what his likes and dislikes might be.

The cells my wife and I shared would make him, and that those cells would make him perfect.

But what do you do when cells don’t act right, when they don’t cooperate?

News of my wife’s pregnancy came at the end of a year-long struggle of tests, treatments, and monthly disappointments, the day after we had our initial consult for IVF. In our thirties, we felt the clock ticking, despite the headlines on Us magazine and others assuring us that we had at least 20 more years of prime baby-making ahead of us.

My wife sent me a text of a pregnancy test. “Pregnant,” it read. I immediately packed up my things and headed home to celebrate. From visions glimpsed during prayers, we were certain we were going to have a little girl. It’s what we knew. Our hearts told us. We thought God told us.

Expectant parents only want to hear one thing: Your baby is healthy. Nothing to worry about. Your cells and his cells got along fine and now you’ve made this little being who will change at least two lives forever, likely more.

On the morning of my wife’s first ultrasound, we were surprised to learn four things.

1.     The little girl we had seen in our dreams was going to be a little boy.

2.     Our little boy would have Down syndrome, which we knew next to nothing about.

3.     A condition called a hygroma was threatening his precious little life. The next few weeks would be critical, but there wasn’t much that could be done to increase the odds of his survival.

4.     The hospital staff expected that we would decide to end the pregnancy.  

Our cells made something unexpected. Something scary and anxiety-inducing. We were angry and terrified rather than elated and excited. This after all those tests, all those medications, all those tears.

Other couples spent their days painting nurseries and collecting gifts. My wife spent a month counting kicks in her stomach while we tried to come up with a name for our little boy. We wondered if we should carry on with the baby shower plans, if we should pick out a name. We also began our research on Down syndrome. We had nearly all the joy of expecting a child sucked from our lives. The life the song made me imagine seemed to be gone.

Thankfully, the hygroma shrunk by the end of the summer, and we were able to look forward to the birth of Noah again. We made it through the worst part. We would be able to call his name and hold him. And that was enough at that point. We had his whole life to learn about Down syndrome.

On October 24, 2013, Noah Grey entered the world smiling. He has many of the expected struggles for an individual with Down syndrome, but he also has remarkable health and an indomitable spirit.

He brings joy every day. He loves dinosaurs, music (anything from “Uptown Funk” to Chance the Rapper), and Up. He drives his little sister crazy. He has impeccable manners. He gives the most amazing hugs. He’s learning to swim and playing t-ball.

Soon enough, work and love will make a man out of him. I’ll get to have those conversations. I’ll get to be there for his firsts. The cells that initially made our world come crashing down found another way forward. And it’s a beautiful path.

 
 

01. WRITER

Sam Moore


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

They Might Be Giants:
Cells


04. WRITING

I was heating up a cup of ramen noodles when another version of myself popped out of a wormhole in the trash can of my kitchen. The trash can had started shaking as if a small critter had stumbled into it and was rifling through for scraps. More curious than scared, I removed the lid and looked inside. There was no trash bag full of trash, just a layer of undulating space/time that had filled it like liquid. It was bright and swirling, a celestial bucket of weird soup. The portal glowed and lit up the kitchen in a strange, green light. Then, a hand reached out from beneath the layer of swirling mass and out climbed myself.

“Oh, hey. What’s up?” Other Self said after tearing through the fabric of reality and climbing out of my garbage. Other Self looked a lot like me, except his skin was a pallid blue and his eyes lacked pupils. Other than those minor differences, it was pretty close. He wore a black shirt with a skull on it like a real badass.

“Not much,” I said. “Just making some ramen. You’re me, right? Are you from another reality or something?”

Other Self scratched his chin in contemplation. “No, that’s not exactly right. You’re not far off, though. I am you, in a sense. In order to accurately explain what’s going on here, I will have to ask you two questions. One, are you familiar with the concept of cellular death and regeneration? And two, can I scoop a bite of them noodles?”

The microwave beeped and I removed my 39 cent cup of noodles. Steam was rising out of the paper cup. I blew on it to cool it down and considered Other Self’s question. It was kind of a weird thing to ask me after showing up out of nowhere. I handed over the paper cup of cheap noodles to Other Self, which he graciously accepted.

“No, I can’t say I know too much about cells. What does that have to do with anything, though?”

Other Self swirled up a chunk of noodles onto his fork. He took a bite before they had properly cooled, burning the hell out of his mouth. The noodles dribbled out of his scalding mouth and down his chin back into the cup like a cascading waterfall of worms. He yelled “shit” very loudly several times before answering my question.

“It’s like this,” Other Self finally said after letting his tongue cool down. “The idea is that every seven years, all of your cells gradually die and are subsequently replaced by new ones. In theory, this would mean that the you you are now isn’t the you you were in the past. Cell for cell, strand for strand, a different creation altogether. At least, that’s the common belief. It’s sort of an urban legend. It’s not exactly true, but it’s close. Not all of your cells die and get replaced every seven years. Most of them do, but never all, and not in seven years. Still, the idea is pretty interesting, don’t you think? You’re basically an entirely new being every several years.”

I leaned back against the kitchen counter and took a good look at Other Self. “I think I follow. But what does this have to do with you popping out of a wormhole in my trash?”

Other Self blew on a forkful of cheap-ass noodles and shoveled them, successfully this time, into his mouth. “Cause that’s what I am,” he said with his cheeks full, pointing the fork back at himself. “I’m a version of you that is made up of old, dead, replaceable cells. All of those cells die and go to a realm where we form into Other Self’s of You. I’m an amalgamation of a bunch of your Past Self. A blended up, mix-matched, schmorgesborg of old cells that took this form.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said.

“Dumb stuff is cool,” Other Self said with a straight face. “But you’re missing the point. I teleported through your garbage to deliver a message to you. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important.”

“Alright. If it’s so important, and you traveled all this way, I will hear you out.”

Other Self opened our fridge and stuck his head in. He certainly liked to make himself at home. I heard some items being shuffled around recklessly as he searched for whatever it was he needed so badly. Other Self emerged with a can of beer in each hand. He cracked one open, letting it fizzle loudly before taking a large, slow glug. He emptied the first can in one go and let out an exaggerated sigh like the cheap piss-water he just downed was the most refreshing cup of life-giving nectar he had ever tasted. Then he moved onto the second can.

“You’ve forgotten something important,” he said, leaning against the fridge. “You remember me very well, actually. You remember all the little, stupid, embarrassing things I’ve done. You remember the mistakes. Those random memories of wholly insignificant moments that drive you nuts when they wash up on your cognitive shore like trash. You remember the confusion, and trying to figure out who you were. Who you are. But you’ve forgotten this: you’re not me. You can learn from me, from those mistakes, but you’re not me. You’re literally a different being altogether, remember? And if I have to show up every now and then to remind you of this, I will.”

I stared back blankly, my mind scavenging around for the appropriate response. Other Self waited patiently while I processed everything that had happened in these past few minutes, trying to find the right words.

“Give me that beer” is what I landed on.

Other Self handed it over and I took a swig, letting its icy coldness burn my throat. It tasted like acid rain that traveled through city gutters directly into a metal can.

“Why do we even drink this?” I asked Other Self.

“Because a 30-rack costs like five bucks and we’re broke,” he responded, burying his head back into the fridge to grab more. He was right.

“I’m glad you showed up,” I said. “I think I needed to hear that.”

“Of course you did. That’s why I showed up. You know, like I already explained.”

I downed the rest of the alcoholic gutter water and put the empty can next to growing collection on the kitchen counter. “So what are you gonna do now? Just head back to whatever dimension of Past Selves you came from?”

Other Self shrugged. “Nah, I think I’m gonna stick around for a while. You wanna get drunk and play video games?”

“Obviously,” I said.

 
 

01. WRITER

Michelle Lukezic


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Chon: 
Perfect Pillow


04. WRITING

Mind the partition.
Alone in a cavity bounded by space.
Converting your energy into my electricity.
Autonomous and self-replicating. 
A quiet unfilled rectangle in a messy spreadsheet.
I own a section of our geography,
where atmosphere behaves as one.
A defined existence.

 
 

01. WRITER

Robb Anthony


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Man Man: 
Van Helsing Boombox


04. WRITING

trapped and betrayed
slapped in cuffs
left in this cave

no sight, no sound
like a dog in a pound
about to be put down

life and the like are all gone
look to the walls and the marks I’ve drawn
and what you’ll see is its less than three

 
 

01. WRITER

George Lukezic


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

U2:
Beautiful Day


04. WRITING

What it is Worth

I am just a niche

A portion

A part of

Without me the Greater Mass goes on

But with me things could change

Just by one action in my life that is all

In the end we all end up in a tomb

A vault

A chamber

But maybe my life meant something to the Greater Mass

 
 

01. WRITER

Bill Cleveland


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Clown Core:
Google Your Own Death


04. WRITING

We have been given
A ruined and fetid world,
Yet beauty still grows.

 
 

01. COVER ARTIST

Bryce Mata


02. THEME

Cells


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Radical Face:
Welcome Home