ONE QUESTION: Alex Behr

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Hyptertext Magazine asked Alex Behr, author of Planet Grim, “What question do you wish you’d been asked about your work?”

BY ALEX BEHR

Why did you include found text in your collection?

Long ago I interviewed author Tom Bissell about video games after he published Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. I asked, “Do you ever play like you’re playing for the designer? You’re a Catholic boy, so do you feel the designers are looking down on you?”

He said, “There are certain moments when you play a game and find a hidden area or a secret thing, something that the designers put in there for the really diligent or really observant. You feel like you and the designer are passing each other in the hallway, and you exchange this glance.”

I feel that spectral glance when I read personal notes found in San Francisco. I lived in the Lower Haight throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. My rule: if I picked up something, I had to keep it or put it in the trash. I couldn’t drop it. My husband walked ahead of me, as if he didn’t know this hunched-over person with the ratty shirt and jeans, skuttering after dirty paper blown into an even dirtier gutter, even though he was picking up his own vibrations from strangers that came out in the form of doodles on Post-its: like screaming, peeing, old gelatinous men with no legs. (I collected his Post-its, too.) In that era I hung out with art-rock deviants who collected and published found notes in fanzines (Bananafish) or recited dialogue from secret recordings of two drunk men named Ray and Pete. The rants became poetry through chronic repetition (“Shut up, little man”).

When I was putting together the collection, the found notes became talismans for the voices I wanted in my fiction: they were obsessive, full of hate, full of lust, or crazy, but had a syntax and vocabulary I could never duplicate. I was stuck in my culture, socioeconomic destiny, and gender. The glance from the found notes can be as potent as photos put up for the missing (the absent one looking at someone with affection, now posted and stapled as a charm against the worst fate). I hope the found notes in Planet Grim glance at each other and at the stories around them. Because once I moved to Portland that “found” era ended. The flowers are gaudy and full-volume voluptuous, but not the people. Their secrets don’t leak out on paper scraps. We bow our heads to screens: our prayer books.

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Alex Behr has taught creative writing residencies at Portland, OR, high schools through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program. Alex’s work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Tin House, Salon, Nailed, Mutha, Bitch, Manifest-Station, and other publications. She has performed nationwide in the comedy show Mortified. She can be found online at alexbehr.com and on Twitter @alex_behr.

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