A SMALL RESPECTFUL ARGUMENT WITH HELEN DEWITT, BUT WITHOUT HER

Screen shot 2013-07-05 at 10.49.50 AM

Last week when I emailed back an editor at a very fine, highbrow publication I responded to the way she closed her email by letting her know I actually have absolutely no intention of ever submitting my work to her again. She moved on to provide her apologies, which I guess should have placated me, but I kindly declined the apology, too. I forwarded the email exchange to a friend.

“You are crazy,” a friend responded.

I really like Helen DeWitt for many reasons, primarily because a friend, happening to be the very same one, once told me: “She is crazy. She gets in huge fights with her editors and doesn’t talk to them for years and wants her product to be exactly the way she envisions it.” If anything, I think that this is very not crazy at all; it makes the most complete sense to me that someone talented and verbally rigorous but never anything near verbose wants things the way she deems the most compelling. She edits herself more than enough, thank you very much.

There is a sentence somewhere [1] in DeWitt’s Lightning Rods asking: “Why does coffee never taste as good as it smells?” The question is a statement, and I do take it personally. Reading such a sentence fervently awakens my contrarian nature.[2] I have always liked coffee truly very much. As a child, I was undoubtedly the youngest one to bring coffee mugs to school, an action or habit eventually leading to phone calls to my parents from the school’s administration about how their son is a bad influence on other kids. Other kids wanted to drink coffee too. I was a trendsetter! How did the other kids know that it was coffee that the drink was in my silver traveller’s mug? It was the scent. The caffeinated aroma. The way its hot steam perpetrated the sterile educational environment. It smelled good.

A friend [3] once told me that there are only two ways to enter our bodies: sex and food. She then talked about abjection, but I kept thinking about our smells, smells and how smells too can be warm.

I have given it a lot of rational, logic-oriented thought and I have decided the reason I began drinking coffee was its warmth. It is possible that the average–or actually the median–reader assumed this would have been about the taste and how things are delicious and the flavor trip to Ethiopia and Costa Rica. But it is not, it is about warmth. The median reader–but definitely not the average reader, because the average does not think about things this much, if we are willing to be honest–wonders why coffee’s warmth is better than Nesquik’s. I would disagree, respectfully, with this median reader because there is a textural warmth to coffee that hot Nestle chocolate will never get near to at all. [4] In conclusion, I think coffee is always as good as it smells. Sometimes, my problem with coffee is that its warmth cannot be paralleled by its aromatic odor, or anything else at all.

Even if I disagree with Helen DeWitt on this tiny little section, I do think everyone should read Lightning Rods. The book is all about finding warmth, without at any point being warm itself. It is a book full of scents, but in the end I think we could all agree what is best is the possibility of warmth, even if it seems impossible.

NOTES

[1] The somewhere being page 71 if one needs be precise, read that page after reading 70 to achieve the optimal reader’s satisfaction.

[2] Recently, or at least not very long ago, I was questioned extensively and aggressively about this character flaw of mine. The largest issue I had with the accusation was the intrinsic flaw in denying it. My immediate paralysis in realizing that presenting a cajoling case was impossible was a relief. Internally I disagreed, but externalizing my disagreement was beyond the point, or actually it was the point, exactly.

[3] Still exactly the same friend in all cases. I guess we are close, or this piece would imply so.

[4] Not much later in my life my parents started receiving calls about how I was a bad influence on other kids: they, too, wanted to smoke. In my defense, I only did it because it kept me warm and made the coffee smell better, especially as its smell pertains to its warmth. My mom told the administration she has taught me well enough, thank you very much.

DeWitt Dark Side Shoplifter eFuck eYourMachine Black Breath

1. Fantastic essay from Helen DeWitt on habit and death @ The Incongruous Quarterly [via Bookslut, who just posted their 99th issue, and includes my interview with Adam Robinson].

2. This dude remade Dark Side of the Moon as if it had been written 8-bit for the  Nintendo.

3. A list of the most stolen books at McNally Jackson at the Awl.

4. I kind of love that certain coffee shops are banning eReaders from their premises.

5. Just in case you happen to be looking for some solid new satanic thrash, Black Breath’s Heavy Breathing is helping me get busy this week.