What Your Glasses Say About You as a Writer
Your co-op has a foyer and you buy the flowers every other week, and when you do you ask the most expensive flower shop in the Village to do something with orchids and they always do something new and exciting with orchids. You have an impeccable library. You didn’t do the KonMari Method because that’s how you’ve lived since you were three in Montessori. You told your teacher you were going to be a moderately famous writer of very short stories and publish an elegant literary journal. She was your first subscriber. There are times when washing wine glasses you keep your hands under the hot water just because. You sit there watching the steam rise, just holding your hands there because. You write on a typewriter with huge type that allows you to write one word at a time. Your last short story took more than a year. It’s three paragraphs about a man watching a duck get lost in a petting zoo and it is stunning.
You see the worst in people. You’ve never worn these glasses in the wild, but that’s not why you got them. You got them to get in touch with your true self. Sometimes you put them on and look in the mirror, then you take them off and pretend to be normal. People assume you hate your family, or all families, but that’s not true – your hate is egalitarian, system-wide. You are fascinated by disaster, and seek to understand its compelling nature, its jouissance. You are terse, but proper, and avoid sentimentality as if it were an airborne disease. Discipline is your guiding star; control your moon sign. What this says about you is anyone’s guess, but you seem to be convinced that everyone speaks the same way, as if on the edge of realizing something. You have not owned a television since 1982, the year you last left New York. Your therapist says you are depressed, but you insist it’s a state of always knowing what’s really going on. Your dog’s name is Dread. She follows you everywhere.
A relaxing evening for you includes translating Sumerian poetry on tablets at Oxford via Oculus Rift, followed by dinner at a restaurant serving meals in bags that spray gas in your face, an experience they call “conceptual dining,” then dessert at an old-time ice cream parlor. You get a banana split and eat the whole thing by yourself. At night Gertrude Stein comes to you and says, “Love the outfit. Keep it up kid.” And then she becomes a balloon. She always was a balloon, you think. And you go on walking. No one can tell you what to do because you’re on your own map. You are so modern that you are ancient. Most people don’t even know they painted those statues.
You are the best dad in the world and you have a coffee mug to prove it. You have barbeques, and people you don’t know take pictures of their kids running under your prayer flags, into the woods. You barbeque barefoot, even in the snow, but it’s mostly tofu and vegetables. You grow a beard when you want to grow a beard and every once in a while you still play electric guitar in your basement to 4-tracks of your college jam band, Old Man & the C. Your students think you are a genius and you pretend not to notice. People always tell you that you are humble, and the strange thing is you are humble, and you also know you are humble, and none of this negates the fact that you are, in fact, humble. At the same time you are keen. You know that there is trouble out there beyond the woods. And you are lobbing cannonballs at the trouble to keep it at bay. So far you have been lucky, but you worry the day will come when cannonballs stop working. In your spare time you garden and map constellations from characters in Babel. You juice before work every morning and you have a peace tattoo on your butt.
You are wise beyond your years, and unlike most people, you are kind. You bring meals to old people in your spare time. You tell them stories about their neighbors. You have a certain grace that makes people want to hang out with you and talk about stuff. You listen to them and they feel your warmth as you listen to them. And then you respond in this way that’s not just saying things at them, but saying it in a way that constructs a mutual purpose, an explanation of the moment. You’re a great dinner party guest, always bringing awesome cheese and full-throated bottles of wine. Your writing is just as generous to your characters, who sound like actual people. You voted against Brexit, or you would have if you could have. You are a little worried. Sometimes, going down a flight of stairs, you see the light play along the steps, and you take a moment to breathe as if you are the light.
You’ve done all the drugs and had all the STDs. For you, life is a set of rapids and you’re going down headfirst without a raft because you want to feel every rock. Some people think you’re crazy, but you would argue it’s the world that’s insane. Your wife is the best person in the entire world. You haven’t seen her in six months. You spent all weekend taking selfies of your alter ego. You are editing your current novel, a 260,000 word treatise on the invention of beauty, in the office of a Vietnamese restaurant in rural Nebraska because that’s where the real America lives. Your agent lives in a box under an overpass in the Central Valley because that’s where you deliver your manuscripts. He’s been knifed by assassins from every continent except Australia.
You write novels to pass the time between writing novels. Sometimes you find yourself writing a letter to a friend and it turns into a novel before you realize you’re approaching the denouement. It’s always been this way. In fact, you find it difficult not to write novels. For you, a vacation is writing in bed. Not writing is like napping in the middle of a rock climb. Your closet could be a vintage shop in the Haight. There are books in your basement marked “Posthumous Publication,” so that you will always be in fresh ink running flush with the sun like a chariot. When you heard that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature you crushed a paper cup in your tiny hands and then, blushing slightly, you expanded it back to shape and placed it in a recycling bin. You once ran over a dog and didn’t stop because you were picturing a scene from one of your novels. Later you felt bad and mailed every house in the neighborhood signed copies of various books. Some sent them back. You have like thirty cats. But it’s not because you’re crazy, you just really like cats.
You got that Oprah money. Or anyway, you will get that Oprah money once your publisher collects it from the distributor. Your place in history is secure. And yet you find yourself hiking in the woods trying to find a self that seems so elusive. You stop at gas stations and wonder if people recognize you. It’s hard to tell why people look a certain way. You have an ad blocker on your phone and do a brunch thing with friends at the same place every Tuesday. Sometimes you wonder why a Tuesday. And then you remember that was the day you had to take your dog to the vet at 6am for surgery, so you wandered around Central Park for a while and started talking to a couple on the bank of a pond and you asked them if they had eaten yet and since they hadn’t you asked if they wanted to get brunch and that’s how you met these people. Sometimes you think of your life as a sitcom. You imagine a portal opening in front of you and being able to just walk right through.
You have a trophy case for your trophies. Many awards decorate your barn, where your horses regard them with suspicion. Your writing room looks like a gym. For you, characters are owed a deep debt of gratitude for illuminating the inner life of a system. You see things with the sort of lucidity usually reserved for the chorus of angels. On hot summer days you drink red wine with ice and shoot varmints from the porch with your old .410.
You hang out with the guys who own Brooklyn Brewery. You play tennis on clay courts with investment bankers. You have white shorts. They let you bring Natalie Portman on their yachts, to their summer houses. You invite the Times Style Magazine staff to the yacht, to your romantic weekend with Natalie Portman. You write at coffee shops because it makes you horny to be seen by college students and people lost in the web. Sometimes you order Chinese food so you can ask the guy, “Do you know who I am?” And when the guy says, “No,” you say, “Good.” You’re a generous tipper. In fact, you pride yourself on your tipping. You go to bars and order women drinks. Sometimes they say hi. But once they hear you’re a writer they start to think about you thinking about them and then they start to think this guy is actually pretty old and I just want to dance, and you think maybe I should ask her to dance but that seems somehow below you so you just order another Brooklyn Lager and go to the corner of the bar where you can see what’s going on. It’s possible that having kids will make you realize you’ve been talking to everyone like they’re a child. You have a summer house somewhere probably. No one cares.
You once saw a man stabbed to death and never said anything about it to anyone. You sing Devo in the shower and if it wasn’t so gross you would eat fried chicken in there too. Sometimes you think things can’t get any worse and then they do. You’re not sure you understand how gravity works. When you were a kid the road signs were cooler. You predicted the rise of farmer’s markets. You chased the rainbow and it won. You wrote a short story about cleaning up David Foster Wallace’s tobacco stains and then you brought it to a tree outside your office and burnt it in a small hole you had dug. You thought poker was too cliche a scrim so you Googled “backgammon gambling” and found out they do that in Singapore. How can people still be cliche when the internet, you think. You leave obscure records around so people will wonder how you know what they are, but most people never see the individual records, just a wall of cultural capital you have dispersed over the breadth of your loft. You make a damn fine pizza and only drink your own homebrew.
You write women the way men think women want men to write them, and yet everything comes down to bodies. The movie Carrie is very meaningful to you. You never let people forget you were friends with a famous genius who is dead and can’t tell anyone how it came to be that he was too nice to tell you how much he hated your endless postcards of birds. You love birds because they can’t be blamed for not understanding the truth as you see it. It’s not that you still look young; it’s that you have always been 57. You are easily duped into promoting people who openly mock you, because it can be excused on the idea that anything could be a joke. But really you are almost always crying inside, because deep down you know. You know. On rainy days you walk around your office between sentences yelling, “Tour de force!” – as if you were a wizard. Eventually the manuscript feels thick enough for a man to read, you think, so you print it out and take it to your publisher’s office in a huge building in New York City, in a leather briefcase which you will use to bring home gold bars, because you say you don’t like banks and don’t want to be caught in a lie, so you think of yourself as a kind of gangster in that summer-cottage-on-Nantucket-paid-for-by-long-forgotten-embezzlement sort of way. Many of the people who claim to hate your writing have never read it. Most of them would probably agree with your ideas, but your old-world sensibilities repel them. The look of your face – its pompous sneer, even when not sneering, framed by the nerdy brutality of those black plastic windows – simply enrages them. While your wife is asleep you get on a secret Facebook account to troll posts about yourself and then you clear the cache and history and brush your teeth for the fifth time that day and crawl quietly back in bed and if your wife wakes and asks what you were doing you can always tell her you were doing your third cycle brush. After a trip to Japan you had a douche installed in your bathroom. Visitors often see this as a symbol of your literary stance, as if in front of the refrigerator, trying to decide between incidental irony and naïve pragmatism. You hate cats.