“There are only two kinds of work,” a co-worker at the apple orchard likes to say. “Too much and not enough.” This past month has done nothing but prove my buddy’s point. Two days after the release of my new collection of stories, Cream River, an essay discussing the surprisingly difficult genesis of that book was featured in Glimmer Train’s monthly bulletin. That essay, “A Weapon or a Crutch” caused for itself a bit of a stir: it was amazing to receive so many supportive emails from strangers who had experienced similar battles with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. This particular whirlwind of interest culminated in a shout out in Jane Friedman’s blog, both a huge honor and an honest surprise. My worry all along had been that such frank discussion of my long-standing mental health issues would come off as alienating and sound like little more than an overly-confessional pity-party. I’m happy, once again, to have been wrong.
Meanwhile, the Word Portland monthly reading series released a new anthology featuring the work of over a dozen of its past contributors. The book, Be Wilder, is a truly beautiful collection of stories, poems, essays, and drama. I’m pleased and flattered that my short fiction “The Happiest Place on Earth”—a story of family, house fires, and STDs—is a part of such a gorgeous anthology.
And now, with the multimedia freak-out Do Not Pump Gas in the Presence of My Corpse—a live NPilar event in celebration of Cream River—approaching creepily on the horizon, the online journal Switchback (who previously published my story “Eyetooth”) has just today released my story “Toledo” in their broody 22nd Issue. Which means there are now two books you can buy and two stories you can read for free, both fiction and non-fiction, not to mention a new record and one or two disconcerting new video pieces, all coming out in less than a month. I’m hitting all my bases. All my bases are hitting me back.
This is all way too much. But it more than makes up for this past summer’s long dry spell. I’ll be grateful while it lasts. I’ll be humble when the wave crashes and recedes.
This past Friday, after an accelerated and oddly painless process, the new pocket-sized edition of stories Cream River (and it’s conjoined musical twin, Blind Pelican’s Whiskey Dick) valiantly burst forth into the world. The consequent celebration—in the industrial cavern where Downeaster Editions is headquartered—was nothing short of amazing. The packed house was treated to stories of failed redemption, songs of willful self-sabotage, a deluge of Genesee Cream Ale, and handmade fauxreo cookies loaded with a whiskey cream filling. There was also some near-nudity. And books. Brand new, delicious little books.
Over the next several months, there will be more events to celebrate the publication of this creepy weirdo. Some will be straight-ahead readings. Others will be meticulously planned exercises in crowd manipulation. At the moment, all will be in the northeastern United States. If you are not so specifically localized, or just can’t wait to get your copy of the book and record, you can order them together now through the Publication Studio online store. The book is available as a $10 perfect-bound paperback or as a $5 ebook. The record comes as a digital download with the purchase of either book format. The more savvy independent bookstore might also have a few copies in stock.
You can read an excerpt through Goodreads, listen to a sample song, or watch this ridiculous book trailer. You can also act on faith. And of course, all good words—whether shared in an online forum, bullhorned in public, or whispered in the ear of the one you love most—will be greatly appreciated.
This ranks among the harder publication credits to cite. In January of 2015, I began working with the jeweler/metal-smith Cat Bates on a cross-disciplinary project. The focal point of the piece was a cast wrist-cuff fashioned after the simple, pragmatic design of an oarlock, a particularly appealing shape that resonated with certain experiences from Cat’s childhood summers on the island of Monhegan, off the coast of Maine. After several months of hashing out ideas—and, more often than not, finding immediate, organic consensus on even the more outlandish aspects of the project—we arrived at this final piece: a brass bracelet wrapped in a muslin bandanna screen-printed with a short piece of fiction based (very loosely based) on Cat’s childhood experience. The stitching on the bandanna was done by Lillian Harris. The silk-screening was performed by Jenna Crowder (with whom I’ve collaborated a time or two before). This is likely the most elegantly beautiful artistic endeavor of which I have ever been a part. If you like hand-forged jewelry and/or wearing literature knotted around your shoulders, this might very well be the thing for you.
Eight stories about getting everydamnthing wrong. Proudly wearing your self-infliction for anyone to see. Defaulting to the lazy way out of even the easiest situation. Staring your last chance straight in the eyes and blowing it nevertheless. Taking to the vacant, wide-open road and still skidding headlong into the ditch.
From the Foreword, written by singer-songwriter Ben Trickey:
“Every aspect of living life is traumatic. Sure, there are the obvious things we consider traumatic, like the haunting memories of a bad-touch uncle or the souvenir tinnitus from a roadside IED. These are the big moments in which you think of yourself as two different people: the you before the thing and the you after the thing. Moments you can clearly point to and say, “That is what changed me to who I am today.” […] But what about the smaller details? Life’s little traumas. Every minor detail in living life can be traced to the enormity of existence and the absurdity of being aware of it. […] At the end of this long line of cumulative growth and destruction, we are the meat that knows it is meat and falls in love. […] I believe Doug Milliken has a firm grasp of life’s little traumas. He takes his chunk of loving meat and hangs it from a butcher’s hook on display for the world to read.”
CREAM RIVER is the literary twin to the four-song EP by Blind Pelican, WHISKEY DICK. Each purchase of this pocket-sized edition of stories comes with a digital download of the album. Like the two halves of a black and white cookie, the book and record are a unified piece of work, a single vision interpreted through two distinct media by two confused personae. The only way to get one is to buy the other. You can order them together through Publication Studio / Downeaster Editions come October 30th, 2015.
Early in September, I had the honor of moderating a conversation between Richard Iammarino and his daughter, Alexis Iammarino, two phenomenal artists who not only consistently blow me away with the range and quality and depth of their work, but who I also consider myself lucky enough to call friends. Our conversation—about spontaneity, mastery, and decapitation as art-form—appears in the October issue of The Chart, Maine’s newest journal on art and art-criticism.
At one point in our discussion, Alexis describes both herself and her father’s creative practice:
It’s being an artist compulsively. You’re not saying, “Well, today, I think I’d like to do this.” […] It’s not some sort of choice that you make. At a certain point, you’re either a very disciplined individual, or you’re totally compulsive.
You can read the newest issue of The Chart—featuring interviews, studio-visits, and analysis of recent exhibitions in Maine—for free at this link.
This past week, the fine folks at the Stoneslide Corrective—who, over the years, have published three of my stories, including “Poptimistic” and 2/3rds of my chapbook Brand New Moon—awarded me first place in their annual short story contest for “Hyacinth & Waxwing,” a piece about death, quantum physics, and the finer points of having a bowel movement in private. According to the editors:
“Hyacinth & Waxwing” […] is a story that speaks of the ordinary in a hushed voice and yet touches a range of penetrating emotions, from grief to wonder. While as focused as a still life painted by an old master, “Hyacinth & Waxwing” looks through the everyday to the eternal.
The story will appear in a future installment of the Stoneslide Corrective, likely next spring.
As the summer declines through August’s swampy downswing, things have gotten hectic. I won’t bother listing the minutia, as most of this furious whirlwind of activity is of no general interest, but amid these past weeks of rampant change, two happenings of note have passed.
Firstly, my story “Blue of the World”—which last May took first-place in Glimmer Train’s “Family Matters” contest—has at long last been published in the new autumn issue of that very same journal. This beautiful edition (their 94th issue) also features work by the masterful Stephen Dixon, as well as a picture of me at five-days old. So there are multiple incentives to checking out this issue, which can be ordered here.
Secondly, the Chart—Maine’s newest online journal for art and art criticism—featured in its inaugural issue a brief rundown of The Royal Open, “a contemporary mash-up of salons, drifts, and Sunday promenades” that I co-curated with the performance artist Genevieve Johnson. To learn a little more about The Royal Open and see documentation, please read this article by Chart co-founder Jenna Crowder.
Praise for TO SLEEP AS ANIMALS
"[...] it is impossible not to be the weird kid in Milliken's Reno. To Sleep as Animals is a mystery about characters succumbing to their spaces, how such a rugged landscape sustains so many strange and dangerous lives."
"A disturbance of a very specific flavor...Milliken's writing is urgent yet finely considered--a literate pleasure."
~Carl Skoggard, author of Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood circa 1900.
"A distinctive and often vertiginously frightening psychological landscape... bracingly disturbing."
~Megan Grumbling, author of Persephone in the Late Anthropocene.
Praise for BRAND NEW MOON
"[T]hese stories...glow with some sort of holy light, as if every moment were magic, like footage of your family picnic on super 8."
~The Portland Phoenix
Praise for WHITE HORSES
“Douglas W. Milliken takes his time unveiling the savoring of the moment in a narrative of extremely gracious intimacy. The dignified personal. Expert surreal grounded prose. Pragmatic poetics that serve the whole. This man is a master of simile. And it never gets old because the associations are always complex and unexpected. Worked accuracy but seamlessly so. Wow throughout the heartbreaking sensuality. Its core a felled forest of need. The title story, ‘White Horses,’ cannot be improved, which is another way of saying it is perfect.”
~Melody Sumner Carnahan, co-founder of Burning Books.