I. Metazen as e-youth manifest
We’re in the midst of a Copernican revolution. It’s occurring between two realms: the digital and the analog. At first we built the digital as a model of the analog. It was a re-creation of our fleshy lives amplified in some ways and, we found, deflated in others. But now the digital has become a place all its own. It’s hit puberty. It’s looking in the mirror and seeing that it's its own something. It’s seeing that its father isn't always right. It’s saying to itself Yes, goddamn it, I’m going to sneak out the window and smoke pot with those boys Mom hates and I’m going to listen to The Clash. Really loud.
The first time I felt the digital realm’s puberty was after I reviewed a short story by a writer named Corey. The story reached out to me. It connected with me. It built something. In my review I called Corey 'she.' When I wrote about her I guessed at her gender. Her bio didn’t indicate either way, I couldn’t find anything on Facebook and she hadn’t published much else. I had no way of knowing. After the review went up, I received an email from Corey thanking me and, PS, that he’s a dude. I apologized, but didn't mean it. I'd read his story, words on a page, and there was nothing except Corey’s voice. Gender wasn't there. Somehow the problem of gender in the analog world, that constant mess of expectation and unconscious structured rules and ordering, dissolved. The digital realm was smirking at me.
At that time I’d been reading Metazen for several months. The 'About' section narrating the story of the zine struck me. I liked that it was started in a drunken mess by its sad editor, some Canadian guy named Frank. I read the descriptions of Frank and imagined him sitting, smoking, reading, watching a film. I imagined him in jeans with scruff on his chin drinking canned beer in the glow of a computer screen, flickering in his browser between Gmail and Facebook and MySpace trying to slog through submission after submission. I decided to do an interview with him for fictiondaily.org. With little other research I sent along some questions.
Frank gave solid answers to my questions. I went about my business. Then I saw an interview with him at the Toronto Quarterly. I saw Frank's picture. Frank is a woman. My heart raced. The dissolving, smirky feeling I'd felt with Corey’s gender was nothing compared to the joy I felt when I read that Frank is actually Francesca. My ignorance, my presuppositions, my analog being--my entire consciousness!--got a swift kick in the ass. It was like I'd read a living Buddhist koan. My soul got pantsed. I felt reduced. I felt human. I opened up. Possibility electrified. I wrote and wrote. I can't remember what but it doesn't matter. I was inspired.
This feeling permeates Metazen's stories. I’m tempted to say it defines the magazine. Yes. I’ll say it. The feeling I got after I found out Frank is really Francesca is what Metazen is all about. The fiction and poetry there are playful, like the metaphysical quality a tween evolves when he/she becomes a teen. I’m not saying Metazen is puerile. I’m saying it’s youth embodied digitally. It’s an electronic monument to the new human power of the digital. At Metazen you toe the line that separates ignorance from awareness. It’s free of analog hangups like adult heaviness and structured apathy but at the same time it’s rich in sarcasm, excitement, and insight. It’s free. It’s kidding. It knows and doesn’t know. It’s a wise fool. It’s e-youth.
II. Unabashed Proof
When Thomas Kepler described Metazen on his blog as "whimsical, quirky, eccentric,” three perfect, youthful adjectives. Frank sent me a few stories s/he thinks are indicative of the magazine’s voice. They prove my point about e-youthfulness too, how her magazine smirks. Particularly this vignette from Sheldon Lee Compton
The father saw the picture again, big tears in red, a jagged oval of hairless skull. He tore off the corner with the crayon name and rolled it, snorted the blue crush until his dead son stopped drawing.
A father snorting a crayon as a way of mourning his dead son. These are playful concepts. Check out Jordan Castro’s Tao Lin-like story and the photo that goes with it if you still don’t believe me. Same thing. And of course, always read Roxane Gay.
You can see e-youth in Hinton’s interviews too. When she responded to my question “Answer Cake's lyric: "When you sleep, where do your fingers go?" she said:
Probably down my pants to create some kind of scratching sound. Under my pillows. On my chest. Around things I wish I had. In my mouth until they bleed.
This is youthful force: flesh and transcendence inhering: scratching and blood and unrequited hope: the semantics holding hands like nymphs. An even better example of this is a history of the magazine Hinton told to Mel Bosworth last year
I suppose Metazen began with a gynecologist. In university I befriended this British gynecologist that introduced me to Alan Watts and Osho and a bunch of other mystics. I became obsessed with Eastern writings and philosophy. I started meditating a lot and kept pushing myself toward some spiritual enlightenment.
When none of that came, I suffered a kind of disconnect with any crisp sense of reality. I think I had a mental breakdown, or something deeper. I started to think of life as nothing but metaphors and psychological abstractions. What I ended up with was a kind of existential crisis where I literally started to think of my life as a fiction embedded within fiction.
The magazine’s name is the child of gynecology, Osho, and a mental breakdown. I rest my case.
III. Final Remarks
When I asked Hinton how she thinks digital communication has affected human consciousness she said:
I think things are faster and shorter. If anything it has affected human sex. I think we nourish new parts of ourselves now and that nourishment has caused a lot of new sentiments. I think we're starving other parts of ourselves too.
The maturation of the digital realm is unnerving. Who are we that project ourselves on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter? What face is this? What space is this? We the screened are all asking ourselves these questions like we’re going through a collective puberty. This is the digital puberty. We’re experiencing new sentiments and new emptiness in our newly-digitized souls. This is what it’s like to grow up.
My overarching conclusion is that Metazen is Polaroid of ourselves at this moment in time. Go there to read questions of flesh and transcendence. Go there to feel what it means to be at digital play. Enjoy the feeling. Everything eventually grows up.