Smoking with Mike Young

Read the Story December 15, 2006

“Only my father’s pockets hurt.” Of all the places for this brilliant flash to begin, it starts here. Why?

I woke up a couple weeks ago, and I tried washing my face in the sink. But every time I tried to move my head, this jabbing pain filled the left side of my neck. Nodding? Pain. Twisting? Pain. It was so bad that I didn’t even remember to wear a collared shirt under my sweater. I had to be somewhere at 7:30, and the person walking with me nudged me and pointed at the sunrise. Which was lovely, I guess, sneaking up over local elms and schoolbuses. But I was in too much pain to notice.

Now, of course, I feel awesome. Soon I will forget the entire incident. People chop off their thumbs and then complain when they have a cold. Not to sound too emo or anything, but we are sometimes able to forget our history of pain in favor of whatever pain’s immediate. A nice trick, right?

That last line—”We are before what follows”—has such a richness of meaning. What does it mean to you?

Well, we all owe debts and bestow debts upon others. Of many flavors and strains. This phenomenon is especially common between sons and fathers, as has been documented elsewhere.

You’ve devoted a lot of your time to flash fiction, both as a writer and an editor. What attracts you to the flash form? What do you hope to see happen with flash— both as a product and a process—in the future?

I like its proximity to poetry. There are a pair of Frank Stanford stanzas from a poem called “Tale” that I just thought of. The first one: “We could tell when strangers were around / From what they drank.” In other words, I like when brevity and lack of information serves the process of figuring out. Stories seem better when they’re secrets. Strangers seem stranger when they’re trying to lie low.

And the second stanza: “The girls waited in the orchards / There was no need to lie.” We know why the girls are waiting. We know who’s going after them. Even if we believe in a billion different outcomes or actions in the orchard, we are able to settle on something thanks to that line alone. No need to beef it up. No need to lie. So sometimes I like stories with a stark lack of “lies,” embellishments, couching, clarification, whatever. Sometimes the truth doesn’t need apologies.

In terms of flash’s future, I am pretty confident about its arrival and maturation. I know it’s sort of trite or a cop-out to bring this up yet again, but flash seems apt to match the attention span of me and my echo-boomer brethren. And I don’t just mean how long we pay attention to things. I mean how long we, on average, can get stung by poetic gestures and appreciate them. Not to say I won’t love reading Pynchon’s Against the Day, but it will be a different love. I will not lose myself as hard or see as many things during the whole experience as I might in a good paragraph, a riff, a flash somewhere in the middle of the book.

Still. Generational schmenerational. Who knows if this is just a thing of being young. Always and forever. Maybe that means flash is a good way to get young people—who already read novels—into short stories?

What’s up with NOÖ Journal? Any chance of a famous professional lady wrestler doing something, say a pictorial, for the journal?

We are chugging along. Publishing incredible incredible incredible authors and artists, which makes me feel so lucky that I could climb inside my oven just to test how blessed I am.

We are about to release our sixth issue, which will tickle all sensory organs and invent new ones, and we’re harboring big plans for the future. No lady wrestlers in the works, but hey: last time SmokeLong asked me about NOÖ, we weren’t really sure about distributing the print version beyond a few rural counties in Northern California, right? Now we’re up and down the West Coast and hitting spots like Athens, GA and Columbus, OH. I think NOÖ being free helps folks distribute it with relatively few headaches. Being free helps. This concept has been documented elsewhere as well.

If you don’t know what we’re talking about: http://www.noojournal.com.

The 2005 Edge Annual World Question (www.edge.org) asked a question that the BBC called “fantastically stimulating.” One year later, we ask you this same question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

That’s a beautiful question. I believe a lot of relatively minor things, obviously. Like that milk isn’t good for your skin. But I think I believe in the inherent beauty of our ability to believe in things that we can’t prove. Even though I have no idea what “beauty” means, or how to complete the concept of “prove,” or what it really is to believe in anything at all.

About the Author:

Mike Young does have a famous professional lady wrestler for a relative. He co-edits NOÖ Journal (www.noojournal.com) a literary/political magazine. Some of his newest stories and poems appear in Juked #4, elimae, FRiGG, and the Avery Anthology.

About the Artist:

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist (21 November 1898 - 15 August 1967).