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The Lit 6 Project - Minneapolis, MN
The Lit 6 Project is a functioning household. In June of 2004, after six months of dizzying literary readings, where they, as authors, decided to read what audiences in bars want to hear, rather than "the noise of their own flowery horseshit souls", they bought a house in south Minneapolis, and moved the five of themselves in together. Sam Osterhout and Geoff Herbach sleep upstairs. Steph Wilbur Ash in a nose-high octagonal cubicle in one of the two dining rooms. Jeff Smieding in a walk-in closet. And Brady Bergeson on a moist futon mattress in the basement. They live fiction. They spend all of their time with each other, without their families, making fiction just for you.
The Lit 6 Project performs literature, reading from manuscript pages they have written - where the short stories and personal essays they tell weave in and out of the meaning made from their counterparts' stories. They perform in bars, bookstores and art galleries, and with well-known bands in well-known music venues.
GD: I feel like I have come to know all of you somewhat intimately through the words, photos and audio available on your site, but the web is so limiting - what about smells? What odors pervade regions of the Lit 6 House and hang in the air when roommates pass by in the hall?
Brady: When you go into Sam's room at night-- this is when he's asleep of course -- and you cuddle up next to him, you can smell hints of clove from his fancy shampoos. It's lovely.
Geoff: Steph smells like a sports bra, which is nice, seriously. Brady smells like Sam. I smell like oregano, because I dump a lot of oregano in my bath. Smieding also smells like Sam.
Did you know Steph is in prison? She bounced a lot of checks. It must smell intense in prison. Do you like lavender, Gene?
GD: The smell of lavender makes me gag. The color is nice, though, if you don't look at it.
Brady: Geoffs bath is more like a soup, Gene. I once saw him sitting in there cutting up carrots and dropping them in the water.
Jeff: Odors are hard to describe. I have synesthesia, which is a rare disorder in which I see smells and hear colors. I would say that our house smells like shouting. Sometimes, mixed in with the shouting is the delicate bouquet of laughter, which is always soothing, even if it is usually at my expense.
Sam: The house smells like peeing. Not like urine, but like the act of peeing. When Geoffs around, it smells like peeing and coffee. When Bradys around, it smells like peeing and Bryl Cream. When Smiedings around, it smells like peeing and Star Wars. When Stephs around, it just smells like punching.
GD: That should help her in prison. It's important to establish impenetrable borders on your first day of a stretch, don't you think, Sam? When I do time, the first thing I do when I meet my roommate is I wet my pants. Then I start going on and on and ON about my devotion to Zoroaster until he ignores me completely. What techniques do you put into action on a first day in the joint?
Sam: Ive never served any real time. Although on my first day in the Lit 6 House, which, coincidentally, is comparable to hard time, I shat myself. Technically, it wasnt in self-defense or a part of any strategy for not getting beaten upeven so, nobody bothered me that day. No one ate the soup I had prepared, either. Their loss.
Jeff: I'm not sure if this is what you're asking, but on my first day in the Lit 6 House, I played some Sinatra and opened a bottle of brandy. I find it's best to attempt to woo my housemates with intoxicating delights, as the best border policy is an open border policy. I had Osterhout eating rum-soaked peanuts out of my palm. Literally.
Brady: Theres no question that the first day in prison is the most important. Let the other prisoners know who they are dealing with. The only hard and fast rule I have is that you want to set up a kiosk where you give 15-minute back massages. No one will come near you.
Geoff: Whenever Im in jail Im unconscious from alcohol and violence. I certainly dont condone solving problems with alcohol and violence, but when youre doing hard time with that that asshole James Frey, like I have (3 month stint a few years ago me and James beat up some little kids, took their lunch money, then bought like two cases of snickers bars and then ate them like we were having an opiated orgy nyam yam nyam cops founds us naked in a dumpster behind the Speedy Shop) You learn some mad coping skillz. Im not sure I understand what I just said, but Im serious.
GD: Speaking of skills - Brady, not to get personal, but... you sneak into Sam's bed at night, you watch Geoff bathe... And that's just the stuff I know about. Can I hire you? Nothing fancy, just a little P.I. work, some espionage... And the rest of you - what marketable skills do you have? (Of course I'm not counting writing as a marketable skill. Geez...)
Sam: Is there a way to market eating? I'm good at putting on pants, too (which, around here, seems to take more skill than one might imagine. I'm looking at you, Herbach).
Geoff: I am a wonderful lover and a good thief and I can run really fast barefoot even in lawns and even if the sprinklers are blasting. I know I can get a job just like that if I need it. Nobody has my specific constellation of skills. I am unique.
Jeff: I'm good at talking about stuff. I could probably talk, on a professional circuit or something. You know, like, go to colleges, and then talk. To audiences, too, sometimes. I could probably do that. And I'd talk about things that interest people, like Sex In the City and Sudoku.
Brady: You've fingered me, Gene. I am actually a domestic spying operative from the Lit 7 House down the street. I'm stealing secrets, and unfortunately all I've got so far is Sam's list of daily affirmations. Here's a sample: "I am pretty." And now if you'd be so kind as to remove your finger.
GD: Okay. Sorry. Hey, I was noticing the other day that my kitchen drawer won't close, and there are marks from the tines of forks that stick up and get in the way when I try to jam it shut. I just counted - I have sixteen forks of varying sizes, but only 5 teaspoons. Do you ever lose things over there? Or accumulate too many other things?
Geoff: We lose everything, Gene! I dont even look anymore. If I need something kitchen scissors, towel, car, whatever, I steal it from the neighbors.
Brady: We have an entire room its like a stock room, really and it's full of typewriter ribbon. Of course, we all write on Macs so we have no use for it. I dont know where it keeps coming from, but its good to know we have it. I do worry, though, that eventually Geoff will unwind it all and make some kind of tunic out of it. Hes always doing that.
Sam: I lost my favorite tooth. I didnt lose it, really, it just died.
Jeff: I lost a hundred dollars in a poker game to Sam and Geoff last weekend. I've never played before, and they offered to let me in on the game. I always thought it was played with cards, but Sam and Geoff play it with an actual poker from the fireplace. They prod it into my side and say, "Give me a hundred dollars." Apparently, the game ends when I give up.
GD: Don't ever give up, Jeff. You should have smelled this one coming, given your special condition. What's the last board game you guys played over there? What happened?
Sam: We have a lot of fun playing this game called "Egg Shells." Usually we play it when Stephs been drinking a lot (or more than usual). Another Steph-based game is called "Whats under the Dashiki?"
Jeff: We haven't really played many board games, lately. I think it's because Brady keeps indignantly snorting and saying, "Board game? Sounds more like bored game, if you ask me." He thinks he's so funny.
Brady: Yeah, the only game I like is Twister and its really more of a mat game than a board game. But we play that a lot. And in our version you have to be wearing a dashiki. We call it Twist-a-shiki.
Geoff: I really love Martini-shiki. I wear one of Stephs dashikis, drink martinis then sit down on top of whatever board game anyone in the house is happening to play. I also like Sorry and Hi Ho Cherry-o.
GD: Quick story - this morning, I began the day in darkness as I always do, drinking yesterday's microwaved coffee in the farthest corner of the basement while trying to make myself think. I noticed a little dot moving towards me from the far end of the stained concrete floor. It moved in a perfectly straight line, closer, closer, closer, and eventually stopped 6 inches away from my right foot.
A l'il brown spider... Harmless.
I sat, fidgeting... Waiting for the inevitable leap towards my face, the biting, the laying of eggs in my ear... Oh God! Then, quite suddenly, it BOLTED towards me, but to my surprise... it ran right beneath my gigantic right foot, and just sat there in shadow, waiting...
Suicide... I couldn't help him. This was none of my business.
What sort of experiences have you had with the local fauna in or around the Lit 6 House?
Jeff: Gene, I think you're afraid of spiders. It's fine, really. I myself am afraid of wasps. Not really. I used to be, until I realized that only a total pansy would be afraid of a bug. Did you know that you're, like, 10,000 times as big as that tiny little spider? There's nothing to be afraid of. That logic is also applicable to Brady Bergeson sometimes.
Brady: I can be very frightening when I puff out my cheeks.
Sam: Gene, dont listen to Jeff. Hes still afraid of wasps. Every time our neighbors, the Schmidts, come home from church, he pees a little bit in his robe and runs tiny circles in the living room.
Geoff: Weve had infestations of fruit flies and centipedes recently. The latter scare me so much I cry. If they were suicidal like your little friend spider, I wouldnt have the heart to kill them either. Not because I feel for them, but because they make me feel for all of humankind. Last spring I jumped out of the bathtub and landed on a centipede and crushed its front half. Its back half took off at a dead sprint (literally dead) and made it about three feet before it shuddered and stopped moving (except for the odd jerk of a leg or two, which lasted a minute). I cried, "Its a lot like life!" And couldnt stop crying for all of us living things that so desperately want to stay alive but cannot. I like to trap the fruit flies in plastic baggies and then bury the baggies in the snow. After about an hour I use the baggies full of frozen flies as maracas in a sort of frosty Mexican hat dance I like to do.
GD: In closing, what would you all do if you woke up and everything was gone? House, food, possessions Just 5 people lying there in the dirt.
Jeff: I would probably punch Sam Osterhout for not paying the utility bills.
Sam: I would act like nothing was wrong, like What do you mean the house is gone? It always works when I eat Bradys Wassa Crisps.
Brady: Id move in with the Schmidt's next door. Nice people. Ive seen their basement through the tiny windows. Its finished. Even has a sectional.
Geoff: Sweet relief. Thank God. Id get a job at Dairy Queen after that. Being a writer is very stressful, especially when you live in a herd, like we do. Thank God the house is gone, thats what Id think.
Hear a short clip from the latest Lit6 show.
©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers