IF MY BOOK: The Rolodex Happenings

Dennis James Sweeney

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Dennis James Sweeney writes about The Rolodex Happenings, his new novella out now from Still House Press.

If The Rolodex Happening were a Happening, you’d stumble across it on a Thursday night when you didn’t mean to go out but your friends convinced you and brought you to a dive bar called The Frog. While you drank, you’d watch two young men on stage conversing, hugging, fighting, and washing (imaginary) dishes. Then, almost imperceptibly, one of them would begin to grow older while the other began to grow young. They’d fight more as their ages diverged. Then the fights would stop. The older man would lean to the young man and give him advice. The younger man wouldn’t listen. Before you knew it, the older man would be holding the younger man in his arms, rocking him like a baby. The younger man would be a baby. Everyone in the bar would look at their own arms, their own hands, and see the freshest baby skin.

If The Rolodex Happenings were a Rolodex, you’d find it in your garage years after you moved out of your parents’ house, after you had kids of your own. You’d flip through the typewritten Rolodex cards, wondering where it had come from. You’d be near throwing it away when you saw your father’s signature on the last Rolodex card. You’d realize the Rolodex was his, and it was also yours. He wrote it for you.

If The Rolodex Happenings were a photograph, it would be a photograph of my family with different names. Their faces would be text, their bodies Happenings. The background of the photograph would be memories of us looking forward to the future, and only in holding the photograph and gazing at it would we arrive in the present.

If The Rolodex Happenings were part of the long day, it would be the nap we have all been awaiting for so long. We have written, we have painted, we have performed, we have sung, and only now would we lie down to rest. It has all been worth it, we would say. We have created enough. And the sea would shudder just a mile away, rocking us to sleep with the whisper of the waves through our sleep and into us.

If The Rolodex Happenings were a sea, we would be flying over it. We would see our reflections below us, underneath the water, swimming as fast as we flew.

If The Rolodex Happenings were a family, it would be every story at once: the father whose ambitions have softened so that he could find himself in his wife and children; the mother whose quiet intensity flowed through her husband and children, because even if she was never acknowledged, she was the real artist; the child who is elementally bored of his parents until he grows up to find he has become them. The family would cross paths silently, loudly, at cross-purposes most of the time, only really encountering each other when they encounter themselves. They would come upon their love suddenly, with a gasp of surprise, long after they needed it. And that would be enough.

Dennis James Sweeney is the author, most recently, of The Rolodex Happenings (Stillhouse Press, 2024), a novella in performance art Happenings. He is also the author of You’re the Woods Too (Essay Press, 2023) and In the Antarctic Circle (Autumn House Press, 2021), as well as several chapbooks of poetry and prose, including Ghost/Home: A Beginner’s Guide to Being Haunted (Ricochet Editions, 2020). His writing has appeared in Ecotone, The New York Times, and The Southern Review, among others. He has an MFA from Oregon State University and a PhD from the University of Denver. Originally from Cincinnati, he lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he teaches at Amherst College.

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