Yesterday I was driving home from the gym listening to NPR in that mellow post-workout haze that's as dangerous as four martinis. A motherly sounding woman was interviewing a writer before an audience. I was able to deduce from ten seconds of listing to the author that he was Jonathan Safran Foer, and to reward myself for my brilliance I ran a red light just as I decided to switch to the alternative music station. Screeching tires and middle fingers distracted me from my channel changing, and while trying to evade the road ragers who were loading their weapons in the heat of west-coast blood fever, I continued to listen to the interview.
Because Amazon refuses to allow you to buy just one item without suggesting another, I actually own a copy of Everything is Illuminated though I've never read it. Jonathan Safran Foer is a young guy. Early 20s. Reminds me a lot of people I went to school with. He's well educated. Erudite. He moderates his tendency to try to speak from the seat of great wisdom by mentioning he used his little brother to edit the first drafts of his new book. A guy who knows himself. A very pleasant person to listen to even though he does emit that aura of "I'm a writer and thus, by the transitive properties of logic, I'm wise about everything," you'd expect from someone older and richer. No doubt he's simply assuming the sale.
What struck me about the interview more than Jonathan Safran Foer's answers were the questions put to him. They seemed somewhat simple -- in the sense of the sort of questions put to a simpleton, rather than the winner of numerous literary awards.
At one point the interviewer asked: "Where do you come up with this stuff?"
To which Jonathan Safran Foer gave a reply engineered to prevent any such future questioning. He drew from his childhood, stories he'd heard, things he'd read, etc. But I wonder how Ernest Hemingway would have reacted to the same question.
Jack Parr: Ernie, I mean -- Old Man and the Sea. Where'd you come up with that? You go fishin' or something?
Ernest Hemingway: (BLAM) Oops. Sorry there, Jack. You flinched. You'll think this is funny. I was aiming between your knees.
David Frost: "Kurt, tell us -- Breakfast of Champions. The concept. The rudimentary kernel of the idea. Where the did that come from? Eating a lot of cereal, are we? Having to resort to extra bran in the diet now that the pipes are rusting?"
Kurt Vonnegut: "Excuse me, I haven't understood a single word you've said in the past ten minutes. What language are you speaking? Is that German? You need more practice."
Rolling Stone: "Ludwig, the Eroica. Wonderful. How do you come up with this stuff?"
Beethoven(currently unliving): ...
Everyone knows where writers get this stuff. Every evening they're abducted by UFOs and the ideas are forcibly injected through anal probes, thus explaining the quality of most of what's published today. However, women may select the vaginal alternative and hence we witness a proliferation of dreamy, repetitive, endlessly derivative romance novels.
When I was in Alaska it rained almost every day. We went out anyway. Everyone did. The whole population had factored out water the way fish do. Construction workers hammered nails into wet lumber. Young mothers pushed babies in uncovered strollers. Ice cream cones melted in people's hands. Everything got wet. Everyone got cold. Everyone's breath condensed to clouds in front of them. It was the normal condition.
In my line of work there's a lot of stress. Hirings and firings. Yelling at meetings. Deadlines to be met. Money to be made or lost. The whole population factors it out the way rocks care less about fire. We hammer nails into new construction we're funding via second mortgages while we default on our firsts. Walk babies in strollers we'll pay for monthly until the kid graduates college. Eat highly spiced Indian food that makes our ulcers scream.
It's not raining.
The part of the movie Phenomenon I like best
Is the last supper. Where he tells the children in
Jesus analogy about the apple left to rot
But eaten it becomes part of us
So we take it everywhere, forever.
this is how we communicate
because all things are in motion
because everything is going somewhere
There are things I'm not telling you.
Same as everybody,
If I told you they wouldn't be mine anymore.
Then I'd have nothing.
And with nothing to lose,
Liable to do anything.