INTERVIEW: David Licata

If you are a regular Paper Tape reader, you may know David Licata as the author of a “Other Leevilles,” short story we published in January, but David is not just an accomplished fiction writer. He’s a filmmaker, as well. His films have shown on PBS stations across the country and screened at dozens of festivals all over the world including New Directors/New Films (curated by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA) and the Tribeca Film Festival.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, we talk about David’s documentary in-progress, A Life’s Work.

PT: How would you describe A Life’s Work?

DL: A Life’s Work is a documentary about people engaged with projects they most likely won’t see completed in their lifetimes, projects that could have a profound, positive global impact. That’s the elevator pitch. I’ve been rethinking the word “documentary” because it suggests certain things that A Life’s Work is not. It’s more of a film essay about legacy, time, mortality, continuity, passion, and dedication. But I’m not exactly gung ho on the term “film essay,” either, partly because when you say it people either roll their eyes and think you’re pretentious and your film will be an unwatchable mess, or they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

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Saint No. 64

by Benjamin Norris

They say he used to live amongst the gulls, his haunches smeared with shit and regurgitated cuttlefish, heels hardened on wave-shattered ridges. His addiction was something quite different, then. Then, his strange psalms echoed into the tides, were dragged with waves along the spits, and returned to his dry lips over and over again, every seven seconds. His song was something which could only be howled into the sea, waist-deep in matted kelp, his jutted hipbones crystallized and misshapen with grey-green salts and the memory of land.

There were days when he came inland, pulling something of the ocean at the heel of his boot. Our parents spoke of when it started. Yours probably did, too. At first, it was something infrequent, an oddity. A reminder of the sea, and our debt to it; A man from the shore, coming to town to see what might change, to see what was staying the same. As the years went by, and as shops rose and fell and rose again with a swelling ferocity, the visits became more frequent. He began to stop for hours outside the bus station, and for days in the acrid hollow of the underpass. Within time, he was seen almost constantly, sat there with bottles kicking around his feet like driftwood, and later, with other paraphernalia. He no longer whispered his psalms and verses; he muttered them to anyone who should walk past.

They soon took him inside, and cleaned him up as best they could. They spent a fortune on programs and detoxes and god knows what else, and none of them were exactly sure why. It was the right thing to do, I suppose. He came out once, and fell straight back in again, immersing himself in the comforting sterile greens of the wards, washing his weathered body for hours with hard edged bars of institutional soap. A process of attrition and erosion under chlorinated tap water, a sanding down under watchful, matronly eyes until the skin showed through.

We met him properly, for the first time, in the foyer of that place. The heels of his shoes were fixed, and they no longer pulled the tides and the stink of oceans along with them. We talked at length, about many things. He mentioned the sea once, in passing, as you do. His voice was careful, precise, as if purposefully avoiding certain patterns of speech, staying well clear of rhyme and of weighted endings. He walked into town.

We saw him once more, three weeks later. It was a Sunday, and the rain was coming down hard on the English coast. He was spread-eagled across the granite cliff faces, naked and weeping and displaying a hundred thousand bleeding wounds across his back and feet. The grains of sand held in the waves took him apart, piece by piece. There was nothing left by morning except a man-sized nest, tucked behind the black stone, filled with feathers, and a diary nobody dared read.

Benjamin Norris is an author and poet from Bristol, England, whose work regularly appears in literary journals, magazines, anthologies and the suchlike on both sides of the Atlantic. He owns a language academy, and is currently working on his second novel and first poetry collection.

Living Wake

By Nate Chang

“Redwood,” his family had taken to calling him, but he really didn’t care that everyone around him jibed at his age, despite the fact that he was on record as one of the ten verifiably oldest people on the planet at 114 years. But Eugene Cravitz had reached a point in his life where he didn’t give a fuck. His parents were gone, everyone he knew growing up was gone, his children were gone, and the only people left in his life were reporters looking for a puff piece, and the odd grandchild or great grandchild looking for a handout. Everyone thought it necessary to shout around him, even though his hearing was perfectly satisfactory. His eyesight was fine if he had his glasses on, his mobility was exceptional – no wheelchair, no walker, no cane. The only thing that had dulled with his age was his taste, which he had killed with 60+ years of non-stop hot food that bordered on unsafe levels of heat, and was typically loaded with peppers, curry powder, or various other methods of awakening his aging taste buds. He had also subsisted on at least three rations of bacon a day since the day he joined the U.S. army in 1917, much to the chagrin of his doctor, who had, for the past thirty five years, attempted in vain to ascertain how someone could consume so much bacon and a) not be obese, and b) not be dead. But in his recent decades, Eugene Cravitz had made a virtual career of not giving a fuck, starting when he realized, on his 95th birthday, that he had been collecting Social Security checks for 30 years, and had probably made at least one person at the bureau quite upset that they’d had to keep writing checks to the same man, in all probability, for their entire working life at the bureau, and would retire from the bureau, still having to write him checks. But he didn’t give a fuck about anyone – not his family, who seemed only interested in his possessions and the three million dollars he had made investing fortuitously in major defense contractors – not anyone at the Social Security bureau, not his doctor, not the nurse his doctor sent round once a week to see if Old Redwood had croaked, the nurse had been given secret instructions by the doctor to pilfer anything of value should she find Redwood deceased, though throughout her twenty five-year tenure with Eugene and his doctor, had yet to enact the plan, had even developed a grudging respect for the man and, in her advancing years, had often wondered what it would be like to fuck a man as old as Eugene.

The nurse had left two hours earlier, much to Eugene’s delight. For his part, he’d often wondered what it would be like to fuck someone who hadn’t yet begun collecting Social Security, though if he were to be perfectly honest, he would’ve admitted that he found relationships distasteful, and much preferred his Sterilco-brand artificial vagina – it asked so little (or more appropriately, it asked for nothing,) and yet gave so much. Regardless, Eugene was in the mood to remove his Sterilco-brand artificial vagina from its home in his closet when another knock sounded at his front door. Two knocks on his door in one day – an incident without precedent for many, many years. Upon answering, Eugene was nearly swept to the floor in a flood of his relatives, all wearing black and ignoring him completely, fanning out into his house, and taking stock of his possessions with clipboards adorned with spreadsheets. Columns with names abutted rows with Item, Value, and Going To.

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The Fruit of a Christian

by Traci Dolan-Priestley

“The Fruit of a Christian” is from a collection in-process tentatively titled Mountain Voodoo.

My inability to keep my mouth shut started early on in my life, and most often it happened in church. My grandparents were higher ups at Tinney’s Branch Freewill Baptist Church (Amen). That there is an oxymoron, because they ain’t nothing freewillin’ about being a Baptist. I spent a lot of time sitting up straight and following along in my “Precious Child and Holy Hymns of the Baptist, and All Others Shall Rot in Hell, Especially Catholics” book which was guaranteed to force feed Christian ideologies as surely as squeezing my nose together would make me open my mouth.

Trouble was, I didn’t exactly agree with all the things my holy hymnal said. I wasn’t really sure what was wrong with Catholics, other than they were allowed to drink wine (but so had Jesus), but my Mamaw called them a bunch of drunks and made my Papaw stop drinking his Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m still not sure if the greater sin was drinking beer, or drinking Pabst. God will have to figure that out for me.

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Birds Call, Dominik Mosur Listens

By Elizabeth C. Creely

Dominik Mosur stood in the middle of schoolchildren, who were busily running through San Francisco’s Randall Museum’ wildlife exhibit. A tall, powerfully built man with a mild expression, he wore a tee shirt that read  “Made in Poland”. Mosur was born in Poland and although he has the laid back attitude and accent common to most coastal Californians, he pronounces his surname with a distinctive Eastern European lilt.

Just then he looked tired. “There aren’t usually this many kids at once,” he explained. “I think there are actually two classes here at the same time. Someone’s always gotta be on the floor with all these kids.”

As an animal care attendant for the museum, he’d also dealt with an emergency that morning: a sick Great Horned owl.  The Randall Museum, which functions both as a natural history museum and as a refuge for the city’s wildlife, has had the owl in residence for many years. (Born blind, the owl would have died in the wilderness.) The stress of transporting a sick owl to a wildlife vet showed on Mosur’s face. “I’m pretty behind right now,” he said.

Mosur has the distinction of identifying the most bird species in one year in San Francisco County and has mastered the art of bird identification by listening rather than looking. This is sometimes the only way a bird can be identified. Songbirds like the Pygmy Nuthatch measure three inches in size and roost in the tops of mature conifer stands. “If you’re lucky, you might see one fly by,” observed Mosur, sounding doubtful. Listening for bird calls depends on a sonic atmosphere uncluttered by anthropogenic noise. In San Francisco, this can be a challenge.

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The Buffalo Hunter

by Larry Lefkowitz

On the keelboat going up the Missouri, Clearfield and I became friendly. Normally, I don’t think he would have been interested in me — it seemed buffalo hunters were only happy with their buffaloes for company. (I wasn’t surprised, the smell that emanated from him was enough to discourage anyone — the French crew gave him a wide berth because of it.) But the combination of the Frenchmen avoiding him, the fact that they avoided me, and the fact he didn’t like “foreigners,” soon made us companions. The nose adjusts to smells–even what I gathered was buffalo smell; and Clearfield was a valuable source of information to someone like me, in sore need of it. Sometimes he could be unnerving, as when he would suddenly pop off with his buffalo gun at some lone tree or other object that took his fancy. “Gotta keep in practice,” he explained. This practice of keeping in practice scared the pants off the Frenchmen. The first time he did it, the captain of the boat asked him to discontinue it, but he threatened him to “use you for a target if you don’t get back to runnin’ your boat instead of your mouth.”

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Make Me Over

By Maya Lionne

I started telling fortunes for ten bucks a shot after I ran away from home, Dinah began, her fingers taking their time to scrawl her thoughts on the white college-ruled notebook paper that had yellowed with age in the years it sat on her desk almost totally unnoticed. “No, that’s too recent,” Dinah said out loud, to no one in particular. “Gotta start further back.” Writing her story was difficult, despite the fact that she’d known of Tanya’s impending 18th birthday for several months. She’d procrastinated on finding a gift, and even when Bridget had approached her regarding a book composed of everyone in the house’s stories, Dinah hesitated writing her own. But why? Continue reading

Familiar Shore

By Jim Ross

I am standing on the beach at North Captiva Island, Florida. It is 4:30 on a July afternoon and I’m gazing at the most beautiful natural sight I’ve ever seen. The sun shines onto the sea, making the Gulf of Mexico look like a giant sheet of wavy green velvet on which a million diamonds sparkle. Before me is a strip of white sand. Behind me is a dead tree, perched on the edge of a protected preserve overgrown with palms, sea oats and salty scrub.

Like most Florida residents, I grew up someplace else. I was raised and educated near Chicago and came to Florida during college for reporting internships at the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald. At age 21 I returned for a full-time job at the Times.

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This Word Is Church

by Harmony Button

This essay is the first in our new feature “This Word Is” where writers meditate on a single word and its meaning through sound and memory, anecdote and etymology. 

One Sunday morning, my brother and I woke up early and, while our parents were still asleep, we changed all the clocks in the house an hour forward.

“Oh well,” we said, when the adults came downstairs. “I guess we’ve missed church today. There should be scrambled eggs and Smurfs instead.”

By the time they figured it out, we really had missed the service.

This move became known as “pulling a church” or “churching it.” My wary, clever mother learned to ask if I was “churching one over” on her.

I tried, but unfortunately, it never worked again — not for the dentist, not for the doctor’s, and definitely not for church.

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INTERVIEW: Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve writes about the favorite recipes of famous writers at her blog, Paper & Salt. A comparative literature major, she works in book publishing by day and cooks in her tiny Manhattan apartment by night. She has written about food and books for the Daily Beast, Huffington Post and, among others.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, Nicole talks about Paper & Salt’s process and origin story, her cross-country adventure, and what’s on her reading list and going on in her kitchen.

PT: How would you describe Paper & Salt?

NV: Paper & Salt recreates the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction. I describe it as part food and recipe blog, part historical discussion, and part literary fangirl-ing, which is probably as close to a cogent description as I’ll get!

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