Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Pungent Parlour

For a bit, my friend Aaron Cynic and I hosted a reading series called The Liquid Burning of Apocalyptic Bard Letters. We mostly just called it The Liquid Burning. It started when I released my novella Turban Tan, I was looking to do some readings, and I knew Aaron from the days when my old roommate Alicia would participate in zine readings in various spots throughout Chicago; storefront apartments, the old MoJoes coffee shop before it moved to West Belmont, before unfortunate ownership issues and its closure. I teamed up with Aaron because I felt his writing and mine would mesh well thematically, a apocalypse/dystopian reading. We grabbed some other readers, my friend Ian Randall, I think Marcus Gilmer read at that first one, so did Donny Rodriguez. I don't think I read from Turban Tan that night, I think I read my short story about sewage backed up on the streets of Nagasaki. We enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the wide range of pieces and each's take on apocalypse. We wanted to do it again, we wanted to keep the theme. 

For a year we did it at Matilda Baby Atlas, where we had done several Three Leaves Theatre fundraiser performance parties. It was the most colorful basement bar imaginable. Supposedly it was haunted - I learned of this several years after we had to move our reading series to Black Rock Pub & Kitchen after a redesign of Baby Atlas and a shift in direction made it a dance club. But we came to like Black Rock, it's wood paneled and fireplace warmed back room was perfect for a little gather of literary performance.

I think we did The Liquid Burning for 2 years or so. We had some good turn outs, some intimate ones with us gathered round the fireplace reading to each other, those were also special. We even one time had a noise musician whose large amplifier, on its lowest setting, shook the building and I thought that would be the end of our show, but no, we did a few more before Aaron and I each respectively had chock full life plates. Occupy Chicago was ignited, he was covering it for a variety of outlets. I became obsessed with revising my novel Votary Nerves, and moving apartments, and trying to close deals at my sales job so I could afford to contribute to mine and my girlfriend's household. The monthly Sunday kept falling on some sort of a Holiday (excuses, excuses), then 2012 rolled around, the time when an "apocalypse" themed reading series would have possibly thrived. But we let it run its course. I kind of wanted to move onto new themes, after all having a monthly reading series is a great motivator to create a new piece and share it, to hear it, and I felt like stepping outside of that kind of zone. 

I've been wanting to do a new reading series for some time, and damn, the year flew, we all felt it. But my friend Jeremy Solomon - who read at quite a few Liquid Burnings, been in many of our Wood Sugars live shows, does his own stand-up comedy, has written some novels - and I joined forces, got our shit together, and have something new going on at Black Rock Pub & Kitchen. Drawing on elements of a salon, we're keeping the themes a little more liquid than the apocalypse tones of the Liquid Burning.

To any in Chicago interested in checking it out at some point, please follow our Facebook page:

And interested in getting involved? We're doing this monthly and want to rotate in a nice variety of writers, please do drop me a line at jeffphillips dot thirdleave [at] gmail dot com.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Race Against Time

Last Thursday January 10th, I missed my bus. Did the bus tracker, it would be 12 minutes. Might as well walk the 15 minutes to the L stop. So I walked. The bus I would have been on, had I waited, arrived at the L stop vicinity a slight half minute after I did via walking. I crossed California Ave and it's good I crossed when I did, because if I had been on that bus, I would have been plucked up over the hood of a tan SUV that squealed around from the northwest intersection of Milwaukee Ave.

The SUV proceeded to push the petal going north. My first thought was, what fuck, you in such a hurry to get through a yellow light you'd run somebody down? A stream of 5-10 Chicago Police squad cars rounded the corner in pursuit, some unmarked cars in there too. Sirens pulsing, sight and sound of chase.

As I entered the L station some State Police cars raced up to join them.

While I waited for the ever delayed Blue Line, a fire engine went up to take care of some sort of business. This was some 5 minutes after the first fury of wheels.

An exciting morning. The news wasn't saying much for awhile into the morning. Though some people on Twitter mentioned Police helicopters in Lakeview, and @Marcusgilmer tweeted a pic of the crash at School and Paulina - That was it! There were the ramifications.

I thought, well that's feasible, from where I saw it at, not too far from that intersection, and  at it's speed, it would crash without a doubt within minutes. Then I read that the pursuit began on the west side of Chicago, around 4300 West Altgelt. Early reports said the SUV was pulled over for a routine traffic violation. Shots were fired at the police then it took off. So, it travailed quite the distance, and amazing work on the part of the driver to have avoided crashing sooner! I wonder if the driver had any prior getaway experience under their belt. I later read that it wasn't a "routine" traffic violation they were fleeing, but an attempted break-in of someone's van. More up-to-date story here, more specific "information" versus my frazzled eye witness glimpse -

They didn't want to do time so they fled. Given enough cop cars accumulating in this race, over the course of time, the perpetrators did not beat the buzzer. Time wins every time. 

My morning commutes have been pretty tame since.

Friday, January 4, 2013


I spent much of last year reading, and plan to spend much of the coming year doing even more of it, so I've laid down some reflections.

I wasn't much of a reader when I was a kid. I avoided it when I was younger so I could play baseball, other sports, make believe in the woods, etc. I didn't have the attention for it, I suppose I was restless. When I was 10 I got into the idea of making movies, and messed around with my parent's camcorder. At this time I learned that a film director was a profession, and I decided that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I shot a bunch of little movies, some comedy, some sci-fi, creating space ship sets in my basement, some clay-mation. Mostly these were made up as we went a long, though in early high school I started to experiment with writing a variety of short screenplays, some shot, though many remained as exercises in writing the form. When I was 16 I acted in my friend James N. Kienitz Wilkins' movie Fight A Force of Friendly Fire. I had heard some actor interviews talk about "method acting" and I was curious, I investigated this "technique" some and decided I would try some method acting out on this film. I feel with some surges of intensity I alienated some friends, though it was a rush, I was addicted to it, I decided I had more fun acting, being on screen, on the stage, so I decided more so than a film director, I wanted to be an actor. 

These days I focus more on myself as a writer, though I do some acting from time to time, mostly in our Wood Sugars projects. But my time exploring film and acting was an important period to put me on a path to explore myself as a writer. Some of my writing experiments began as a way to develop new material to act in or shoot on film, such as my early collaborations with Daniel Mac Rae. It was a great experience to act in new material he was writing, and see his pieces progress through various drafts along side the rehearsal process. I learned a lot about writing from him. 

The relationship between reading and writing is a tight one. Most accomplished authors when imparting advice to writers mention they should read, a lot. To be a serious writer, is to be serious reader (as paraphrased from many different authors). The reason may be obvious. Writers create using language, and reading is important in building up a command on language, in exercising the imagination. Some times painters have to stock up on paint. I also think it's important to actively engage in the form you enjoy creating in. If you don't enjoy reading, then how do you expect anyone else to enjoy reading what you're writing.

As mentioned, I didn't read a lot as a kid. I had spurts though where I enjoyed it. In 5th grade I enjoyed Goosebumps and Michael Crichton. In 8th grade I wiggled my way into an Honors English class, as most of my friends were smart kids and I wanted to fit in. My teacher, Mr. Berry, however changed the way I thought. Mr. Berry seemed to have a bohemian past, on his wall was a banner "No Matter What We Study, Everything is Connected." I remember many engaging philosophical class discussions. Each week we had to write "lit logs." They were a sort of informal book report, where we'd write a letter to a classmate, they would respond, all in conversation about the books we were reading outside of assigned class reading. The vibe of class discourse, for perhaps the first time in my life, got me thinking, or attempting, to think deep, to really examine human nature, the meaning of life. I was also going through puberty, so maybe my brain was also going through complimentary changes. Through writing these lit logs, though on a weekly basis I didn't have the time or reading speed to finish every book, I found myself genuinely curious about books, and had a blast talking about them. 

In high school, well, I spread myself thin with sports and extra curricular activities, and making some movies, that I barely read what was assigned for class, though I did make every effort to. Many evenings I'd fall asleep with a book open. 

I started to take reading seriously again in college. Many of the great actors seemed to be voracious readers. Dustin Hoffman, Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, all seemed to mention literature throughout various interviews. Tom Hanks I believe kept an active book list on his MySpace page. I felt that, to further myself as an actor, I should probably deepen my "sensitivity to language." Naturally, in theatre school we read a lot of plays. I read some novels and poetry on the side, trying to correspond reading choice material to parallel an acting role, to perhaps expand my understanding of a character perspective or time period. For my role in Magnets: Hyena Daniel Mac Rae recommended Cormac McCarthy's Child of God and Outer Dark, as well as Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares. Such books buttressed a visceral thought process and inspiration toward bringing the character Jerry Thompson to life. This, over the years, led to my interest in authors as artists, just as for a long time I was quite interested in various actors, or film directors before that. And this of course led to my urge to throw down more writing of my own, and not just as material to shoot. I found a thrill in language sometimes being its own means to experience a story. I began to see literature as a mind expanding drug. Words, stimulating imagination, put the author inside my head, while at the same instant, I was put inside their's. 

I have a lot of writing goals for 2013. Though as active as I want to be as a writer, I want to be even more active as a reader, pushing myself further, eating up more pages than I ever have. One, because I quite enjoy it. Two, because I'd like to keep growing as a writer, and as a person (reading has been linked in brain studies to increased empathy). I also find; the more actively I read the more fluid word choices feel as I write.

I will be writing some more about my reading. Much in the vein of those lit logs, some posts here may be, not as a book review or a book report, an exploration, a further dialogue about literature. I remember watching Martin Scorsese's documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies where he showed clips and talked about the movies that inspired and influenced him. I'd be interested to do something similar here with novels and short stories and essays as I continue my own journey through the creation of literature.