The following is an excerpt from S.D. Chrostowska’s novel, Permission, which was recently published by Dalkey Archive. 

Composing a work boils down to creating favorable and even extreme conditions for the emergence of an idea and the precipitation of that idea. Real physical and physiological conditions for tapping into one’s inspiration or, indeed, the lack thereof. All day yesterday I carried in my head the intention to write, but could not find the right conditions for it. I could not even tell if I was under the influence of inspiration. Fed up, around four o’clock, I made my way to the Centre for the History of the Book, where for the next few hours I waited and then listened to a public talk by a world-famous scholar professing to break the pattern of euphoria and depression about the future of the book. He promised to make a “sober,” “philosophical” intervention into this “bipolar prophesying” prevalent in academic circles, but achieved little more than an inventory of existing ideas—without pushing the question of the future of the book far enough to really “make a difference.” In his closing statement, he paraphrased Wilhelm von Humboldt—the university is the only institutional place where the different tonalities of the different enthusiasms of different generations can inspire each other—which later sent me in search of Humboldt’s memorandum of 1810. The lecture ended, a poor man’s reception commenced in a darkling room, whose only appointment, besides a table and rows of empty shelving, was a maquette of the building we stood in (appendaged to the main library), and within a quarter of an hour the last of the lecture’s attendees had dispersed. I, too, promptly left the place, which with each passing minute became physically more oppressive, as I imagined the scale model containing this same room with another miniature of itself, and so on into infinity. I headed over to the book stacks to escape this boxed-in feeling, which bodes poorly for inspiration, to browse through some of the titles mentioned during the lecture. Strange, I reflected on the tram ride back, how much I worked to get inside the university, putatively erected in the Romantic vein—upon freedom and isolation—and where the entire world unrolled itself like a map, as it must to birds in flight. Now—after years of opening doors and closing them quietly behind me—I am left with the abstract sensation of standing inside one of those Chinese boxes, which as you know contain only smaller and smaller versions of themselves. On getting home, I dipped into Humboldt’s writings and found it inspiring fare.

There is a fuller and more immediate effectiveness of a great spirit than that possible through his works. These show only a part of his being. The entirety flows pure and wholly through his living personal self…. Written works—literatures—then take it mummified, as it were, over those gaps which the living effectiveness can no longer leap…. However great certain thoughts and works might be, it is hard to bear when the human being seems to disappear in them, when the truth of feeling is sacrificed to the artistic product, when the person yields himself completely to his work with an egotism that can’t be gainsaid.

I woke up the next morning just as the Good Friday pageant began drawing small knots of people outside my house. Year in year out, I have been the involuntary spectator of this fervent re-enactment of the passion, crucifixion and entombment of Christ, which glides just past my window and is entirely framed by it like a moving picture. I always soak up the drama in spite of myself and, exactly like last year, stood inside looking out and hearing the frills of fanfare, the plaintive song of old women clad in raven-black, the intermittent barking of Roman soldiers as they flogged the Son of God down this narrow street. As the parade wound its way around the bend, I caught the last glimpse of a life-size effigy of the Messiah lying in state on a catafalque, which inexplicably was my cue to resume this note.

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Children of the Valley

The following is an excerpt from this month’s film issue, an interview with Mike Mills about his film A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone. Read the full piece on and get access to the film from this month’s issue of the magazine

Mike Mills interviewed by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

The children of Silicon Valley tech workers—the preadolescent offspring of Apple engineers and Cisco consultants, restaurant cooks at Google and PR managers at tiny start-ups—sit dressed in dark jeans and freshly washed hoodies, describing the world as it will look and feel seventy or eighty years in the future. The questions that prompt these predictions come from behind the camera in the bemused, encouraging voice of the filmmaker Mike Mills. Mills asks the kids about their relationship to technology and how it will shape the world they’ll inherit: will there be more or fewer poor people in the future? Will people be smarter? How will nature change?

The children’s answers are charming—as any speculative conversation with a curated group of eight- to eleven-year-olds is bound to be—but as they raise questions about the environmental, economic, and social legacy of Silicon Valley’s comprehensive influence on their lives, their predictions take a darker turn. The film, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone, was commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and appeared as part of a temporary installation Mills created in a vintage costume shop in Los Altos, California, where he also produced a broadsheet reprint of a 1976 issue of the Los Altos Town Crier combined with “official documentation of the formation of the Apple Computer Company.” That exhibition closed in March, but the film is now available to Believer readers through May 1, 2014

Mills, whose feature-film credits include Thumbsucker and the Oscar-winning Beginners, started his career making experimental documentary shorts like Deformer and Paperboys(about skateboarder and artist Ed Templeton and a group of Minnesota paperboys, respectively). As Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the SFMOMA project’s curator, points out, A Mind Forever Voyaging is a part of this lineage of portrait films, and like those two early shorts it offers “an empathetic view of suburban America” in its current iteration.

This conversation between Mills and Gideon Lewis-Kraus occurred during his recent visit to San Francisco for a screening of the film.

—The Editors

THE BELIEVER: What one immediately notices in the film is that this is a pretty ethnically diverse group, but it seems, given that one knows this is taking place in Los Altos, that they’re pretty socioeconomically homogenous. I counted just two working-class jobs among the parents, and I’m curious how you made those decisions about casting and what kind of group of kids you wanted to come up with.

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An Interview with Filmmaker and Actor Mike White

The following is an excerpt from from this month’s film issue. The full piece is available to read on

Over his sixteen-year career, Mike White has written seven films, all of them bittersweet, black comedies about characters who fail horribly in their attempts at self-improvement. These include The Good Girl, Orange County, Chuck and Buck, andSchool of Rock. White has also directed one film (Year of the Dog), and has acted in the majority of his own films, usually volunteering to play the most hapless, unappealing characters, the kind of role well suited to his pallor and discomfiting grin. After some early writing for Dawson’s Creek and Freaks and Geeks, White eventually found a place on television with the new-age corporate dramedy Enlightened, which he created and wrote in 2012. Though it lasted for only two seasons on HBO, the show enjoyed critical praise for its writing and for Laura Dern’s anxiety-driven performance. I visited White at his home in Santa Monica. He had recently returned from a well-deserved Hawaiian vacation.

—Toph Eggers

THE BELIEVER: I’m curious about how you end up acting in so many of the films you write.

MIKE WHITE: I don’t come at it as an actor who is writing his way into his movies. I’m really coming as a writer who ended up acting in certain things—kind of like I backed into it a little bit. With Chuck and Buck, the director really wanted me to do it, and then, because I starred in that film, it kind of set a precedent. I actually think it’s helped me as a writer to have to act. It’s only when you actually start putting yourself out there that you appreciate the anxiety that comes with having to try to sell a line, or with trying to own a character.

BLVR: In Hollywood, even though the vast majority of both creators and critics lean pretty liberal politically, they still get queasy about any story heavily featuring left-wing politics or social issues. And yet in both Enlightened and Year of the Dog, you managed to make some interesting points about social issues (animal cruelty, corporate greed, mental health) without coming across as preachy.

MW: It’s hard to say. I think that those movies, those shows, have still been criticized for [preachiness] in some sense. LikeYear of the Dog—when we got our first round of reviews, in New York and LA, the critics seemed very positive about the movie. But as you got deeper into the middle of the country, suddenly there was a lot more hostility. So I do get criticism. But at the same time, Enlightened was an example of trying to see something from many perspectives. And while I guess my affinity is with Amy [the main character], I see the arrogant side of her, too, and the narcissism that comes with that I see in myself. So it’s about trying to be as honest about the character as possible, while at the same time wanting the audience to take her seriously. But I think the problem with Enlightened was that if I had made Amy a little bit more of a hero, then maybe it would’ve gotten a bigger audience, but I also think that would’ve undercut what I was trying to do.

BLVR: Is being heroic boring?

MW: It’s not boring. It’s more like I want to write something that feels true. I don’t always get along even with the people I love in my life. I’m happy with a characterization I’ve written when I’ve revealed someone with as many of their good sides and bad sides, and I’ve tried to be sympathetic to them, and honest. No one is purely heroic.

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Post-Empire Strikes Back

The following is an excerpt from Lili Anolik’s essay, Post-Empire Strikes Back, from this month’s film issue. The full piece is available to read on


DISCUSSED: Sodomania, A Bug’s Life, A Fictional Work of Fiction, Super-Subtle Intertextuality, Twitter, Picking Fights with Dead Guys, Fifty Shades of Grey, Movies Made by Committee, Ellisian Perversion, The Unsung Swordsman of the Year, Listless Southern California Girls, Striking a Pose and Holding It So the Terror Doesn’t Show, Batwing Lashes


I thought I had The Canyons’ number.

Last winter I picked up Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis’s faux-memoir-slash-Stephen-King-gorefest-rip-off-slash-surprisingly-moving-story about fathers and sons. In it, the central character, Bret Easton Ellis, writer of Less Than Zero and American Psycho, is working on a new book called Teenage Pussy, which will, he promises, contain “endless episodes of girls storming out of rooms in high-rise condos and the transcripts of cell phone conversations fraught with tension and camera crews following the main characters around as well as six or seven overdoses… There would be thousands of cosmopolitans ordered and characters camcording each other having anal sex and real-life porn stars making guest appearances. It [would] makeSodomania look like A Bug’s Life.” At the end of this description two words were flashing in my brain: oh and wow. I headed on over to Amazon, all set to place a rush order. Teenage Pussy, though, wasn’t available on that site or any other. Turned out it was a fictional work of fiction. Tough luck for me, I guess.

A few months later I came across a piece in the New York Timescalled “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.” The article chronicled the troubled young actress sometimes keeping her shit together though mostly not while shooting what has been described variously as an “erotic thriller,” an “L.A. neo-noir,” a “psychosexual drama,” and “cinema for the post-theatrical age,” scripted by Bret Easton Ellis, directed by Paul Schrader, starring, in addition to Lohan, porn star James Deen, and financed in some crazy way I only vaguely understood but that seemed mainly to involve spit, string, and the popular funding-platform Kickstarter. As I raced through the story, my excitement mounting, I became convinced that this movie (The Canyons) was that book (Teenage Pussy).

Art wasn’t just about to imitate art. Art was about to cannibalize art, then wear art’s skin like a flashy new suit.

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