Kara Vernor is the author of Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, published by Split Lip Press. Her work can be followed at karavernor.com.
It was great to ask her a couple questions and to re-present her story “Sacs” which was first published by Vol. 1 Brooklyn on September 9, 2018. “Sacs” uses an ecological metaphor for relationship malaise, but somehow I feel it also predicted 2020 and things like murder hornets.
Have you ever had that reading moment that’s a ‘light bulb’ for how you want to write or maybe even ‘permission’ to write a certain way, a sign that the impossible might be possible? One of our best Flash Monsters!!! examples was the impact reading Miranda July had on Leonora Desar.
I haven’t had “that one” reading moment that gave me permission to write like I’d like to. I’ve had a series of those moments, each one further inching open the door to what’s possible. I’ve had them every year or two, beginning in ’91 with Jim Carroll’s spoken word, which helped shift me from music toward writing. I hadn’t read anything truly funny and profane before that, and I was enamored. The Rose Metal Press anthology, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, made me feel like I had a home when I turned to writing more seriously, and particularly the lead story, Kathy Fish’s “The Next Stanley Kubrick.” Lord, I love that story. It’s likely tattooed somewhere on the inside of my skin. And then on after, so many writers have continued to widen my understanding of what’s fair game, writers like Jim Dodge, John Jodzio, Etgar Keret, Lindsay Hunter, Maggie Nelson, Kazuo Isiguro, Annie DeWitt, David Sedaris, and Kimberly King Parsons. Also the language-centric Noon crowd: Schutt, Davis, Williams, etc.
You mentioned Miranda July was that earthquake of sorts for Leonora, and I didn’t list her above only because I was a fan of hers before I’d read her writing. Her music, performance art, film, etc. rearranged my brain first. How does anyone take her in and move on unchanged? I write most often beneath a piece of her art that hangs above the bed in my home office. It’s a pull-down vinyl shade that says in big, black letters, “If this shade is down I’m not who you think I am.” To me, it’s a license to put “who I am” aside, to be as weird, surprising, good, bad, etc. as I want to be.
Your chapbook came with a song list. The Flash Monsters!!! talk a lot about pop culture influences like David Bowie or the movie Heathers. What have been some of your favorites lately and have you seen Betty on HBO?
My absolute favorite thing since the pandemic began has been a Facebook group called “Music Lovers Smackdown.” It was started by two guys who were in some of my favorite local punk bands when I was in college. Politics, the pandemic, etc. are not allowed; instead, super saucy music takes that we hope will provoke argument but rarely do are what reign. Like, I posted, “You can fuck’n run your ass the hell out of here if you don’t love this song” along with Liz Phair’s “Fuck and Run.” It’s all corny shit like that. Sometimes we celebrate something earnestly, too. I like songs that involve chickens, and when I asked about people’s favorite chicken-referencing songs, I got 32 responses, many of which were songs I hadn’t heard. Unlike Twitter, everyone assumes goodwill. Plus it’s all people who were into a hyper-specific music scene pre-internet when music was word of mouth, so it’s been a really good time watching people reference bands that almost no one I know now has any idea about. It’s given me a hideout from the cavalcade of crap that is our reality now. It’s also put me in the mood for music nostalgia in general, so I watched the Beastie Boys and the Go-Go’s documentaries and thoroughly enjoyed them both.
Other documentaries, unrelated to music, that I’ve liked recently are I Am Not Your Negro and The Game Changers. I also take in a steady stream of shows in the genre of “women and girls kicking ass” and have been into the “a’s” lately: Absentia, Hanna, Marcella. I don’t watch movies all that much anymore, but I did really like The Rental, which had more plot and character development than the typical horror flick. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it. I also went back and watched Running on Empty, one of my favorite movies as a teen. I hadn’t seen it since high school. River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton–swoon. And since you mentioned Betty, yes, I devoured it. It’s an absolute light. It brought me back to being that age, when my girl friends and I skated all around town, made zines, brewed our own beer because we didn’t want to drink the man’s beer, and basically lived to smash the patriarchy and get laid.
“Sacs” was originally published by Vol 1. Brooklyn, on September 9, 2018.
Sacs by Kara Vernor
He poked the drying jellyfish with a stick and flies scattered. “Looks like a fake tit,” he said. “Like someone was jogging along and it flopped out.”
With the tangle of seaweed around it, she thought it looked more like a testicle, sac-like and hairy as it seemed, but she didn’t argue. He had brought them here to this just warm enough seashore so they wouldn’t argue.
“Leave it alone,” she said. “Why do you have to mess with it?”
She was trying, but she wasn’t perfect.
They smeared each other with coconut-scented lotion and then read atop striped towels on a sandy knoll before nodding off. When she woke, what felt like years later, they were both buried to their waists beneath sand that had cemented.
“Baldwin,” she said, jostling his shoulder.
“What,” he groaned, but then, realizing, his head shot up. “What the hell?”
The beach was deserted except for the jellyfish, which had multiplied and were strewn as far as she could see. Flies—possibly millions—hung over them like the dust of disturbed dirt.
“How long were we asleep?” he said.
“Can you get out?”
He strained to no avail. He’d stopped lifting weights a few years ago.
“We’re fucked,” she said.
“Don’t make it worse,” he said.
Night came and they slept again. She dreamed of jogging women—in yoga pants and sports bras, in red swimsuits and black spring suits, a superhighway of women along the shore. Then the men came, weaving through them in swim trunks and Dolphin shorts, their testicles shaking loose, slipping down their legs and onto the sand.
“Baldwin,” she said in the morning. He was already awake. They were buried now up to their necks. “I think they’re testicles. If they weren’t jellyfish, they’d be testicles.”
“That’s what you want to say to me right now?” he said.
They were on their stomachs, their faces turned to each other.
“We could be stuck here forever,” she said. A fly landed by her eye and she blinked it away.
“We won’t be,” he said. “That’s improbable.” He was looking past her.
She turned her head and scanned the empty beach for signs of life.
“Someone else will come by, won’t they?” he said quietly, and she recognized what she heard: a latent notion, something he’d said to himself several times.