Guest Post: Anthony Varallo, Welcome the Interruption

Anthony Varallo bio photoAs far as I can remember, it started about ten years ago, right around the time we finally broke down and got Wi-Fi in the house, after years of saying we would never get Wi-Fi in the house—who needs Wi-Fi in their house?—this strange new phenomenon so subtle and so barely noticeable that, at first, it didn’t even feel like a change at all; it felt like what we had always known: the wish to be interrupted.

It occurred incrementally, the wish, starting out as little more than an occasional habit.  My first recollection of it was sitting at home one night and trying to read a book without being able to follow what I was reading.  I kept re-reading the same passage over and over again, or turning to the back cover to read the blurbs I’d already read a dozen times, or checking the author’s photo for no real reason.  I got up and fetched a glass of water.  I made myself a snack.  I read the book’s jacket copy again, trying to remind myself what I was reading.  I opened the book again and realized I had no idea what I’d been reading for several pages.

And then I did something I’d only just begun to do: I grabbed my laptop computer from my bag, placed it beside me, and started it up.  Maybe, I thought, I should check my email.  Yes, good idea.  Maybe someone had emailed me while I was reading my book, and I hadn’t even known it, and that person was now sitting somewhere, eagerly awaiting my response.  Think of how thoughtless I would be if I continued to read my book without even knowing that someone had emailed me.  What if it was something urgent?  Surely the person who had emailed me something urgent would appreciate how quickly I responded to their email.  Impressed, even, by my availability and interest in their urgent problem, even—and this part they wouldn’t know; how could they?—as I sat in my home trying to read a book I was having a hard time following.  Thanks, they would say, for responding so quickly.

So, I sat my computer beside me and checked my email, a position that allowed me to keep the book open across my lap, should I want to keep reading it.  Three new emails arrived, all junk.  I deleted them, and then returned to my book, with the sudden sense that someone was watching me, perhaps approving of what I had done.  I had paid attention to the world around me all while secluding myself from the world, too.  No more lazy, introverted, solo reading for me, like I had done for so many years; no, I would read my book and be attentive to my email at the same time, in case anyone emailed me something significant.  That’s what a thoughtful, caring person would do.  Who would try to read a book while neglecting the world around them?  A wish to be interrupted crept into my consciousness, without me quite realizing it somehow.  I’d acquired a new taste for something, even if I didn’t know what it was exactly.  Someone, somewhere, interrupt me.  Please.

Nowadays, I seek interruption whenever I can.  I keep my laptop open to email, weather, news, and baseball scores.  I open my web browser before I pour coffee into my coffeemaker, before I make myself a slice of toast with peanut butter, before I would even think of reading a book.  When was the last time I read a book first thing in the morning?  Did I used to do that?  I can barely remember now.  These days, so much of my reading is done online, that the line between “reading” and nearly all other activity has been thoroughly blurred.  Eradicated, even.  To the degree that I’m nostalgic now, writing this essay, for a time when I read without my laptop nearby, without Wi-Fi up and running, without a new email demanding my attention: a special, low rate on a hotel I stayed at once, years ago.  A coupon for savings on pharmacy products I do not need.  Another petition to sign.

I look back to that time when I could read innocently, without the need for interruption, and wonder if I’ll ever return to that kind of simplicity.  And I would wonder about it even more, and question, perhaps, what it all means, but I’d rather not think about it now, with the day just starting up, my coffee still warm.  Plus, I need to go check my email.

2012 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize Invites Entries

Canadian literary magazine, The Malahat Review invites entries from Canadian, American, and overseas authors for its Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize. One award of $1,000 CAD is given.

The Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize is awarded to the best work submitted to the magazine’s annual contest for a genre that embraces, but is not limited to, the personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, and biography, all enhanced by such elements as description, dramatic scenes, dialogue, and characterization.

The award is named after Constance “Connie” Merriam Raymond Rooke (1942-2008), former Fiction Editor for The Malahat Review.

The deadline for the 2012 Creative Nonfiction Prize is August 1, 2012 (postmark date).

This year’s judge will be Madeline Sonik. See Guidelines for more a complete description.

Previous Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize Winners:

A Visit to the Barnhart Studio

Barnhart Studio, a castle of metal and cinderblock, is tucked into a Mesa residential area. When I ring the doorbell, an unassuming man in a t-shirt opens the door: William Barnhart.

After a brief introduction, I am given a tour of the studio. William starts from the foundation of the building. From the tile work on the bathroom walls to the welding on the doors, most of the fixtures in the building are made from recycled materials, and they are all William Barnhart’s handiwork.

The very studio where William works is a reminder that art sometimes requires more than a table and chisel or paintbrush. The studio resembles a mechanic’s garage, a zone under construction, where a plaster sculpture waits to be completed. When I ask how long it takes to finish a project, William says, “It takes as long as it takes.” He shows me the swinging cranes that lift heavy materials, the giant fan he traded a painting for, and a room he is working on.

We walk and talk, and then we sit down in his office and talk about his work and about art in general. The following is a recreation of part of our conversation:

Superstition Review: Have you worked with art galleries?

William Barnhart: I did for a time, but not anymore. Art galleries insulate the artist from the clients, because if the client and the artist are communicating, there really is no need for the art gallery. I like the communication with my clients. I can put my studio down anywhere, and my clients will come to me.

SR: That’s true, you have an actual client-artist relationship. What kind of mediums and materials do you work with?

WB: I do prints, paintings, sculpture. I like working with bronze, making sculptures. You know, bronze, it’ll be around for generations.

SR: I read that the sculpture you recently finished has gold on it. Do you think the value of the materials you use adds something to your work?

WB: I definitely want to use quality materials in my work. It’s not necessarily the value of the materials but the quality of them.

SR: I know some artists try to make social commentary with their art. What would you say is the message you are trying to convey with your art?

WB: Social commentary is definitely not the focus of my work. I want my art to be universal, to transcend the bounds of time. It’s more about relationship issues, about human emotions and the drama of the figure. It’s about the human experience.

We discuss other things, such as his creative process and why he chose that particular area to place his studio. But when I take leave of William Barnhart, print-maker, designer, painter, sculptor—with “more stripes than the tigers,” to use his words—what lingers most in my mind is the image of the high-domed building, the living space, the vibrant place of craft that is itself a work of art.

For more information about William Barnhart’s studio and his work, visit his website.


Forthcoming: Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is one funny guy. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry and short stories, adult and young adult novels, and four screenplays, including the 1999 award-winning film Smoke Signals. He was the recipient of the National Book Award prize for Young People’s Literature in 2007, and the PEN/Faulnker award winner for his novel War Dances in 2010. Yet despite his many successes, Sherman Alexie maintains an easy going attitude and a witty, self-deprecating sense of humor. From my own experience seeing him speak at the kick-off of ASU’s Project Humanities last February, I can attest to the fact that Alexie really knows how to work an audience. When he read his poetry, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. But most of his speech was riotously funny, and whether he was recalling an anecdote about his daily life or poking fun at ASU’s president Michael Crow, he had the audience crippled with laughter.

What makes Sherman Alexie’s humor so outstanding is his fearless confrontation of difficult subjects. During his speech for Project Humanities he discussed racial stereotypes, sexism, and homophobia, always with his trademark wit. If you visit his website or follow him on Twitter (which I highly recommend), you will see the same thing: his unflinching willingness to speak his mind about social issues. Yet his convictions never overtake his artistic integrity. Instead they connect his work to the day-to-day world and prompt the reader to reconsider their assumptions about privilege, race, and class. Sherman Alexie is truly one of America’s most valuable writers, and we are very pleased to publish his work in Issue 8 of Superstition Review.

Visit his website at