Tag Archives: The Rumpus

Good Old Fashioned Letters (Or: I Thought Reading Was Boring)

This past weekend, I was part of a panel discussion on zines at the downtown Portland library, which was super fun and informative (Fun facts: Nicole Georges’s first zines were about ska music and Chloe Eudaly’s idea for Reading Frenzy started outside of a Nation of Ulysses show she couldn’t afford to get into).

During the Q&A, people asked us about the future of zines, what our favorites were, and if podcasts were “the new zines.” But one of the questions that got a lot of us talking was about postal mail. As in, do people still just write personal letters any more? Of course, the answer is yes, though not as much as pre-Internet days. It made me think of The Rumpus Letters In The Mail, the awesome subscription idea brainstormed by Stephen Elliot three years ago. If you sign up you’ll get actual POSTAL mail from a different author every two weeks. I highly recommend it. You can even sign up for letters for your kids.


Anyway, last year I wrote a letter for subscribers and it was really fun and I thought I’d share it here. I even got a bunch of letters back (including one from a death row inmate).

So pretend you’re opening an envelope and pulling out this folded missive. Here’s the letter I wrote (I added some pics for this Internet version). Enjoy!


Rumpus Letter in the Mail (January 2014) 

Dear Reader,

I did not turn out the way I expected to. I mean, I probably grew up thinking I wanted to be a football player or a radio DJ or a cheesy pop star like Donnie Osmond. I don’t remember reading when I was a kid. I don’t remember being read to at all. I don’t remember learning how to read or write. But I do remember drawing fake football cards of my favorite players, complete with factoids about each one. I would steal football cards at the store and try to copy them.

But I was not an artist.

I think I wanted to be a reader. I wanted to absorb, if it were as easy as absorbing. But reading is not. I joined a book club thing out of the back of a magazine. I ordered fantasy books because I liked the covers—the strange creatures and mysterious landscapes. The bronze bodies rippled and set in heroic poses. This club was like those record clubs where you could order ten albums for a penny if you bought five more at regular price the next three years. I did that club too—I listened to the cassettes or eight-tracks or albums and I memorized every bad song. The books I set around the house, unopened. Maybe I showed them to friends, or possibly my older brothers read them. I’m not sure. I thought reading was boring. I’m embarrassed to say that now. I thought reading was fucking boring.

I remember seventh grade being the worst. What year was that? I guess that would be like 1980-81. Was that a good year for anyone? The thrill of the 1980 USA hockey team’s Cinderella story had worn off and people all around me seemed confused about the disco vs punk debate. I was probably listening to Fleetwood Mac or The Bay City Rollers. A Reagan-esque malaise had set in, though at first I kind of liked the president’s stern cowboy demeanor, his hostage-freeing power. My skin and hair seemed to be spouting grease and sweat and general grossness the whole year. Maybe I was afraid to take a shower.


I remember not wanting to shower after gym class even though we were supposed to. I didn’t want anyone looking at me or my penis, which I had become very intimate with around that time. I would sometimes get quick looks at other boys’ penises. Ugly snails, all of us. There was one fat kid who appeared to not have a penis. I felt mortified for him. No one would talk to him. I felt like I should be his friend, but I was afraid. (for some reason, whenever I write about this time period I have a feeling of déjà vu, like I’m about to remember something traumatic or important. I can’t put my finger on what it could be.)

It was the summer after that school year when I suddenly went through my one and only teen reading phase. I’m not sure what started it, but I read Brian’s Song in one day. I was in my parents’ bed for some reason and (spoiler alert!) I cried when Brian Piccolo died at the end.


After that, I read a couple of horror books that titillated me in some strange way. One of those books was called The Funhouse or something like that—it was set at a carnival. I recall a scene where a guy feels up a girl, maybe in a haunted house. I wonder if that was the first time I’d been “turned on” by words.

But despite reading books that inspired tears as well as boners (sorry, but teen slang probably works best right there), I didn’t really keep on with the reading bug. It wasn’t until a girlfriend of mine made fun of me (when I was twenty-one) for not reading books that I started reading—probably two months after breaking up with her. Still unsure if I felt like that was revenge or something. Like I’d see her out somewhere and say, “Hey, I’ve read ten books so far this summer. How many have you read?”

When I did start reading books (and therefore writing more seriously) I entered a sort of Phase Two of my life.

I taught myself a lot through books. I learned that we all build ourselves through them. I learned that they make me want to write. I never understood people who say they don’t read other books while they’re working on their own. I call bullshit on that. If you’re a writer who becomes so easily influenced by other writers’ books and worry about “starting to write like them” than you must not have found your own voice yet. You must not be confident in yourself.

I’m sorry. I don’t want to turn mean here. But it is kind of a cop-out. You must never stop reading.

So, I’d like to end this letter by asking YOU what book was the first to make you cry and what book first sent warm sexy waves through your blood.

Right now, as I write this, it is nearly Halloween (2013). In Portland, where I write and read and work (at Powell’s Books as luck would have it) it has become the gray season. This may last a few months. I’ll spend the season listening to music, watching football, doing some readings for my book (obligatory plug: This Is Between Us, Tin House Books), editing the next book on my press (another plug: Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz, summer 2014, Future Tense Books), hanging out with my wife and going to her shows (she produces an awesome storytelling show called Back Fence PDX), reading, and eating a lot of fine food (In Portland, the foodie scene is as big as the book scene).

I didn’t become a football player or a pop star. I was a DJ for a while but that’s another story. What I became was a reader and a writer and that’s something that will last, something entirely satisfying. I’ve made my life what it is and it’s pretty great. I hope you’re as happy as I am. Thanks for reading.


LitHop #2

The gigantic literary party of Portland, LitHop PDX, happens tomorrow night. I’m so psyched. It’s turning into something like a book geeks Mardi Gras (show us your poems, we’ll throw you some beads). So fun. Go to the website and check the schedule. And keep in mind that me and my partners Bryan Coffelt and Jeff Alessandrelli do not make money on this shiz, so buy us drinks if you see us. Or next time you see us. Any time really.


Also, I’m psyched that my collage column, Paper Trumpets, has launched at The Rumpus. So excited and happy that I’ll be exploring this passion for altered images with y’all.


See you on the streets!


Class of 2013

This weekend, B Frayn and I will be driving my son to Idaho for his summer job for Youthcorps. He recently graduated high school and will start going to community college in the fall. I can sense the father-son minutes ticking away. I recently wrote about this particular feeling for the Rumpus. Check it out here. Heck, you can even listen to me reading it (audio at the bottom). Thanks for reading!


Friday the 13th: Our New Lucky Day

Hi friends,

Today is a really exciting day here at Sampsell/Future Tense headquarters. Actually an exciting week in general. It started off with two readings–Monday night at Powell’s I read at the Plazm Magazine anniversary party. Tuesday night, I read at a kick-butt Smalldoggies reading at the Blue Monk. Smalldoggies also published this chapter from my novel-in-progress on the same day.

Wednesday, I had this fun essay (about a short story I love) published on the Noo Journal blog.

Then today, I had a double doozy! I published an essay about The Cars comeback on The Rumpus (one of the best websites out there) and I announced the newest Future Tense acquisition on the Future Tense Books site. Chloe Caldwell–welcome to the family!

Chloe Caldwell, New York Girl

Now, it’s time to relax a little (just a little) this weekend.

Thanks for tuning in.


V-day, Fainting, etc.

So. Let’s get personal here. Ready.

On Friday the 15th, I got a vasectomy. I know. I know. Who does that the week before their book comes out!? Well, I do. But I didn’t think it would be a big deal. The packet told me it would only take two or three days before I could go back to work. The packet was wrong!

Eight days later, and I’M STILL FEELING the pain! (sorry about the CAPS–they were unintentional but coincidentally appropriate, so I’m leaving them).

Sadly, I had to miss most of my work schedule on the first week of my book’s release. I was pretty bummed about that. I said a couple of things on Facebook about my condition but was a little embarrassed about the whole thing, so I never came right out and said the v-word. I know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about but I felt dumb hobbling around after more than 5+ days. Either the doctor fucked up or I’m a slow healer.

But at least I got some good material out of it. On Thursday night, I was the “special secret guest” at the True Stories show at Mississippi Studios. Though I was walking like a cowboy, I was still able to get on stage and read an essay I just wrote about the operation. It went over really well. But while most people were laughing, one guy in the audience fainted halfway through. Paramedics came in and took him away on a stretcher soon after.

Hopefully, I will be able to get this essay published in the next couple of months so you can all enjoy it (or faint).

In the meantime, here’s some other goodies that have popped up the past few days.

Alec at The Rumpus offers his personal story upon reading ACP.

Our Cat in Residence, Boo-Boo, gets featured in this cool Harper Perennial feature!

This long feature in the Willamette Week.

I’d also like to thank everyone for tweeting about the ACP Promo video. It’s fun to see it get spread around so much. I’ll be getting more videos up throughout the spring.