In this interview, we talk with Naropa MFA grad, Renee Zepeda, about her book Boy Energy: Notes on Departure, inspiration, and wanderlust.
PT: Tell us about Boy Energy? What sparked it?
RZ: Boy Energy: Notes on Departure is my book about my travels and experiences as a first year English professor. It arose partly from being cooped up in my house in Pennsylvania in the wintertime and partly from wanderlust! Boy Energy was first inspired by one of my most energetic students. He was like a breath of fresh air whenever he walked in the room—the last time I saw him he made such a big impact on me; he rushed into the classroom in a whirlwind of energy and my first thought was: WOW, how can I create that energy myself?! I want to feel like a breath of fresh air when I walk in the room, too! Boy Energy is also partly inspired by my favorite album by Tori Amos—Boys for Pele—an album about the boys and men who brought her to her fire—people she felt passionate about—who inspired her.
By Hannah Jones
Mumbai airport has the strange effect of making you feel like a superstar as soon as you set foot in International Arrivals. You’ve been traveling for 48 hours, your hair is now standing up without the assistance of any product, and your clothing emanates the stale scent particular to a cabin after an overnight flight. All of this being as it is and yet the meticulous cosmopolitan atmosphere of the empty terminal makes you feel as if it is the deep breath before the storm of photographers awaiting your arrival in the blinding white of the sandstone courtyard. You have approximately thirty minutes to savor this illusion of glamour before you are through customs, have collected your bags, your driver has collected you, and you ascend the ramp to the Mumbai highway. Five more minutes and you are now driving through the outskirts of the world’s largest slum. The way your stomach drops when the little girl with no hand knocks on your window in deadlock traffic and asks for change is unprecedented, but it is not yet a symptom of culture shock.
You have been in India for nearly a week and are visiting a leprosy colony. Here, a man whose fifteen-year-old son recently died of polio invites you and your companions into the front room of his two room home with great sincerity. His wife prepares chai, she is smiling, always smiling and you cannot find the sadness in her eyes because she is so glad that you have come to visit, but you know it will be there once you have gone. Neither of them speak any English, but they listen with rapt attention as you find some paltry words of sympathy for their loss and equally limp words of thanks for their hospitality. You are secretly glad that they do not speak your language and try to give them greater honesty with your eyes as you slip on your sandals and depart. A hand on your shoulder, the translator explains that the father wants the young woman from the West to encourage his thirteen year old daughter to stay in school. Her parents will never be accepted- touched by a disease that has long since left them, they will never be contagious again, and yet their isolation is complete. They cannot read their own language. They want more for this pretty girl than the life that often waits for a pretty girl in the third world. She is still a child, not so good at hiding the sadness in her eyes- her brother was supposed to carry the hopes of this family on his shoulders. She does not feel ready. She does not feel she will ever be ready. The exhaustion that sets in after you have departed is as visceral, if less violent, than the horror of your first day driving through the slum, but this bone-tired feeling is culture shock.
You have been in India for three weeks and your students are so bright, there is so much in them - they are still young enough that their only asset is love. They bully and make peace and tumble and stand up again and again. They learn so quickly, they grasp what many children back home do not - education is a game, an ever-present and thrilling state of play. Many of them eat their only meal of the day in the school. They serve each other. No one eats until someone else has begun to be made full. In watching them at this routine, you are made full. During the day, the bruises and cigarette burns, the half-attendance, are a part of the day. Underneath the Indian sun, the days have no pale hours, no shadows complete enough for imagination to escape into. But in going back to the apartment, where you dream on their smiles and tears with equal weight, you wake up in the middle of the night and are the emptiest you have ever been. You are angry and guilty and sorry, so sorry. This too is culture shock.
You have been in India in month and just now has it begun to be a part of you, instead of apart from you. Up until now, the dogs warring outside your window, the complete sonic confusion at all hours, the scents and sights have driven you to swim against the current. It is contrary, all contrary, to what you know, but now you have begun to know. You pick up a word here and there. The colors are as bright as the nights are dark. The heat does not so willfully invade because you have begun to notice the breeze. You do not come home from the school with the sneaking sensation that you cannot bear it, you cannot bear the current of sadness, the completeness of the poverty. You have begun to realize it is just life and that it hurts and elates in its own time and that it unfolds to reveal that it is much the same at its core, no matter where you are. You sleep through entire nights. This is adjustment.
Hannah Jones is a certified Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) instructor currently working to improve English literacy among slum children in a community in India. People can follow her adventures and mishaps on her travel blog at: http://bookingpassage.wordpress.com
Paper Tape will be reading submissions until May 31, 2013, and our theme during this reading period is myth.
If you could bust one myth, what would it be?
By Ron Heacock
I did not ask for the gun, but I am honored to have received it. The dogs knew the boy was there before I did and although they tried to warn me, I could not understand. You see, like most rural residents, my dogs are my alarm system. Of course they create a ruckus over almost any disturbance; it doesn’t have to be a threat. The Little One doesn’t see very well and, for some mysterious reason, the others think that she is some kind of early warning system. She hears a pipe ping or catches the shadow of a fluttering leaf and it’s a four alarm fire. The other two idiots just react and amplify.
There is a different kind of barking that they indulge in now and again. That’s when a usurper has crossed into their domain. Traditionally it is another dog. People in my county know better than to wander uninvited onto someone else’s land - you might get yourself shot. When the dogs detect a trespasser they go berserk, like a motion detector has been tripped; some faint seismic activity, invisible and silent to my dull senses, causes repeated alerts at all hours.
By Mike Correll
Freeway traffic flows like the endless current of some black bottom river, cars and taxis swimming in the smog choked channels. Reflective street signs materialize in the darkness, electrified by advancing headlights. Underneath the overpass the sound of rubber on asphalt throbs to an irregular beat, a congested industrial heart.
Birdie slept here often, inside her dark alcove. During the day she perched and drank or smoked a little rock. She fancied it the perfect place: just a short trek to the nearest spanging spot and a quick hop over the fence, down the hill and through the park for a fast getaway.
She was dozing when it happened. Tweekers dozed (in her seasoned opinion), never quite asleep, yet never fully awake. Tires squealing above her head tore her from this borderland. Filtered through the asphalt it sounded like a scream. The sound was metallic, sheet metal in the mouth of a giant.
A black sedan sailed into her line of sight, flying off the overpass and arching downward. Its front bumper crashed into the street below, glassy eyed headlights exploding, electrical nerve endings showering sparks across the dark pavement. As the back end dropped, one wheel, bent on its axle, snapped off and continued to roll up the street. The car rocked backwards on its three remaining wheels. Exhausted it came to a creaky stop and let out a steamy sigh.
The editors at Paper Tape will be reading submissions from January 1 - March 1, 2013.
During this reading period, the theme for fiction and nonfiction submissions is the crossroads.
The crossroads is a place of meetings, choices, changes, and transitions, a liminal place where identities blur and are defined and souls are bought and sold.
Submissions may address some, all, or none of these aspects of the crossroads. There may be a literal crossroads in the work, or the theme may only be hinted at.
Play, explore, meditate. We look forward to seeing what you come up with.
For more about what we’re looking for and to submit, visit our submissions page.
It’s been a good season, but we’re going to be taking a break until January to give our staff a rest for the holidays.
Thanks to all of our authors and artists for making us what we are. We really couldn’t have done it without you.
Would you like your work to join them? Paper Tape will begin taking submissions again on January 1st. So, review our submissions guidelines, and we hope to hear from you in 2013!
Three things give Annabeth Leong a feeling of perfect peace: punching a bag, having an orgasm, and taking communion. Writing is a more tumultuous experience, but she loves it anyway. Annabeth has written romance and erotica of many flavors — dark, kinky, vanilla, straight, lesbian, bi, and menage. She particularly enjoys playing off myth, legend, fairy tales, and fantastic history. She believes passionately in freedom of speech, rights for people of all sexual orientations, and freedom of religion. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, blogs at annabethleong.blogspot.com, and tweets @AnnabethLeong.
In this interview, we talk about shame, sex, fairy tales, and what it’s like writing erotica for charity.