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"We Were Down" by Jason Porter, recommended by Electric Literature

We can’t wait to host Jason Porter at our Feb. 24th Sackett Street Writers’ Reading Series at BOOKCOURT.

In the meantime, check out an excerpt from his upcoming novel, and take the ‘Sad Survey’

recommendedreading:

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Issue No. 84

EDITOR’S NOTE


The narrator of Jason Porter’s “We Were Down” has a groundbreaking theory: everyone (including you) is depressed. And he doesn’t mean that we’re depressed in a benign, smile-and-carry-on kind of way. He believes he has discovered a secret. Like aliens passing for humans in They Live, morbidly depressed people are roaming the earth, disguising themselves as emotionally healthy. The narrator’s convictions take the form of a sadness survey, and with questions like, Why are you so sad?, it’s no surprise the survey gets him fired when he distributes it at work.

To wonder why, and how, humanity is ailing is not an investigation unique to this story’s narrator. It is, perhaps, the prevailing question of the novel. “What’s ailing us humans?” is a popular thing to ask because it can be answered a million different ways, many of them correct and none of them comprehensive. (Now is a good time to mention that “We Were Down” is excerpted from the novel Why Are You So Sad?, out in January.)

Jason, as a writer, is emotive and diligent, with descriptions that are as satisfying as plunking a coin in a slot. The narrator’s wife, in response to learning of his ideas: “She kissed me on the forehead like she was putting a stamp on a letter”; an image on a pamphlet for phone-in mental health services: “Her red mouth is so close to the phone is looks like she is going to smudge the receiver with lipstick.” And, when the narrator finally answers his own survey, it is a devastating description of a life that “fades or crumbles into broken parts that I can never reassemble.”

Recommended Reading readers have their own opportunity to take the survey here. The author of the best answers (as determined by Jason Porter) will win a free phone session with a certified life coach, a bottle of gin from the NY Distilling Company, and a signed copy of Why Are You So Sad?.

If there were a survey contest in “We Were Down,” the winner would be Ms. Fellowes-Albrecht, a wealthy performance artist who wants the narrator for a happening. At a dive bar the two become mutual recruits, he with his survey and she with her performance. They face off like counter-rampant creatures, each making the other more alive. Which is what Jason Porter does for us, challenging, prodding his reader to a happier, more awake state.


Halimah Marcus
Co-Editor, Electric Literature

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We Were Down

By Jason Porter

Recommended by Electric Literature

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Schlitzy’s Haus is not big on lighting. The food comes smothered in shadows. The walls are covered in shingles and the shingles are covered in dirt. I stop in on my drive home because I don’t want to see Brenda yet. I’m not even going to call her. It is Wednesday. She’ll be watching her hospital program on the television. That is my justification. She doesn’t need me when she is with the doctors. She eats food out of cartons close to the screen and gives the medical staff advice on their relationships. They listen to her in ways that I can’t.

Unlike my wife, I am at the far end of a long beerhall table, sitting with a frosted mug and a stack of surveys from my place of work; covert questionnaires I distributed to my colleagues without any permission from my superiors. It is an extremely important project that has nothing to do with my job as an illustrator of furniture assembly manuals. As it turns out, using company stationary and forging other authenticating details in order to extract personal information from coworkers is frowned upon. But I still think it was worth it. What I was after was a scientific method to confirm a grave suspicion that has been haunting me. What is my suspicion? There is no pretty way to put this: We are all very sick. And I don’t mean sick like the man leaning over there against the video poker machine who looks like he had too many shots of Jaegermeister, except that I also mean that man. He no doubt drank himself to ruin because of the dreadful weight of the disease that is inside all of us.

Let me explain. The truth of it came to me a few nights ago, as I struggled to fall asleep, and my consciousness lingered in a halfway house of anxiety that bridges my waking and sleeping worlds. I was on my back, in bed, controlling my breathing, looking up above me. The ceiling fan was spinning. I was trying to empty my mind, trying not to think about taxes, and hair loss, and the peeling paint on the exterior of our house, trying to slip away into a restful nothingness. It was there in the less explored regions of my mind that I found something. I found the dinosaurs. This is what they told me: It started like this for us too. We were down. Nobody noticed because it was gradual. It snuck in like fog. We were moody and sluggish and complacent and we were too busy eating things to take notice.

I rolled over to get my wife’s opinion on the matter. I said, “Brenda, is it me or is every single person we know depressed?” She let out a dramatic sigh and very slowly closed the gigantic children’s novel she had been reading. She kissed me on the forehead like she was putting a stamp on a letter, and said, “You are,” and then as she turned off her light, and shifted onto her side, facing away from me, she said, “I’m not.”

Read More

Spotlight on Sackett Street instructor and poet, Molly Rose Quinn.

Molly’s 6-week POETRY WRITING workshop begins the week of Feb. 10th, meeting on a weeknight tbd in Williamsburg.
Register here: http://sackettworkshop.com/schedule/ 
Or email sackettworkshop (at) gmail (dot) com to apply.

We love this poem by Molly—DOLOROSA—published by Four Way Review.
Check out the audio version on the same page, read by Molly.

Molly Rose Quinn was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, where this poem takes place. Her poetry has previously appeared in Two Serious Ladies. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of LUMINA. She produces literary events at Symphony Space in Manhattan and is a poetry editor for The Fiddleback.

Spotlight on Sackett Street instructor Scott Cheshire, author of the highly anticipated debut novel HIGH AS THE HORSES’ BRIDLES.
Scott’s 8-week Fiction III Workshop begins mid-February and meets on a weeknight tbd in Long Island City. 
Register here, Or email Director Julia Fierro at sackettworkshop (at) gmail (dot) to apply.
Check out Scott’s wonderful interview with Jessica Keener, up at Tottenville Review where Scott is the interviews editor.
We are big fans of Tottenville Review, where several of the editors and contributors are Sackett Street writers, both alumni and instructors, including Alex Gilvarry, Jessica Soffer and Kaitlyn Greenidge.

Spotlight on Sackett Street instructor Scott Cheshire, author of the highly anticipated debut novel HIGH AS THE HORSES’ BRIDLES.

Scott’s 8-week Fiction III Workshop begins mid-February and meets on a weeknight tbd in Long Island City. 

Register here, Or email Director Julia Fierro at sackettworkshop (at) gmail (dot) to apply.

Check out Scott’s wonderful interview with Jessica Keener, up at Tottenville Review where Scott is the interviews editor.

We are big fans of Tottenville Review, where several of the editors and contributors are Sackett Street writers, both alumni and instructors, including Alex Gilvarry, Jessica Soffer and Kaitlyn Greenidge.

Books by 3 Sackett Street Writers on Flavorwire’s “15 Most Anticipated Books of 2014” list!

What’s Important Is Feeling, by SSWW instructor Adam Wilson (Harper Perennial, February 25th)

Cutting Teeth, by founder/director Julia Fierro (St. Martin’s Press, May 13th)

The Vacationers, by SSWW instructor Emma Straub (Riverhead, May 29th)