“We Might Actually Be Living in Hell” (with Luke O’Neil)
Luke O’Neil on the death of DigBoston, what’s new in Hell World, his new short story collection, and his love for R.E.M.
“It’s like a deluge of school shooting, flood, basketball highlight, school shooting, dick joke. And when you’re scrolling, that’s what it is, and that’s sort of how my brain has become wired. We’re processing all of these things at the same time. I still follow a lot of funny people online, and we’ll tell jokes and goof around and stuff. But really, in the midst of that, the most horrible things you’ve ever seen are happening on the same platform. So I don’t know, that’s really sort of changed the way I think. And that’s what I kind of try to capture with [my] writing.” — Luke O’Neil
For the fourth episode of Lights Out Mass, we speak with Luke O’Neil, the independent journalist behind the bleak, irreverent, and hilarious newsletter Welcome to Hell World. We discuss the death of DigBoston (and local journalism in general), what’s new in Hell World, O’Neil’s new short story collection, and his love for the band R.E.M.
You can read an excerpt from O’Neil’s new book, A Creature Wanting Form, below.
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His latest book is a collection of short stories and poems called A Creature Wanting Form
This podcast is hosted by Andrew Quemere and Jeff Raymond:
Sunlight is the best disinfectant!
Excerpt from A Creature Wanting Form by Luke O’Neil:
An international incident
By Luke O’Neil
There was a shooting yesterday that was one of the ones that was big enough that we all had to know it had happened so they sent me out to lower the flag to half-mast outside work. Half-staff they call it on land I don’t know. I looked at my phone out of habit on the way back inside and there was another shooting going on. A real nasty one it looked like.
It wasn’t immediately clear to me what the protocol here was supposed to be. If I were meant to put the flag all the way back up to reset things or lower it halfway down again still.
They had fired the main flag-knowing guy last month who had been in the National Guard a hundred years ago or something and this wasn’t really my job in the first place but I said I’d do it so I wouldn’t get fired myself.
I figured I’d be proactive so I lowered it down to the ground to one-third mast and went back inside feeling fine about it and none of my bosses seemed to care and then there was another shooting by the time I got to my desk.
I went back outside again and lowered it further still. The next day I came in to work and you won’t believe what happened.
Now we were in a Zeno’s Paradox–type of a scenario vis-à-vis the flag height and its approach to the soil. People inside were debating what the definition of a mass shooting was and the managers were getting a little pissy about how work was being waylaid by all of us streaming the news on the computer all day. Trying to find out what kind of guy it was who killed everybody this time. Everyone hoping it was the other type of guy to balance it out. Like trading free throws at the end of a close game.
Being sort of new I was left to my own devices so I went out and lowered the flag halfway closer to the ground once more.
Probably not worth remarking on what happened by the time I came in the next morning and the next one too and just between us I was running out of real estate there height-wise with the flag so I went around back to the maintenance area to look for the custodian but there was some kid there instead who said in his cockney accent that the guy had been sacked so I borrowed a shovel from this kid he was an actual Victorian child with a sooty face smoking a cigar and everything and went back out to the flagpole and started digging to give the flag some breathing room so it would never have to touch the ground which was considered poor form in the flag community.
I had dug halfway to the molten core by the end of the next month but on the upside I was bulking up. The planet itself was spinning on this flag pole’s axis now. I was going to hoist an upside-down American flag in a country on the other side of the globe at this rate. It was going to be a whole international incident. People were going to get shot over it.
If you enjoyed this episode of Lights Out Mass, check out our third episode, which details Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey’s terrible record on transparency.