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"Answers from an Interview Without Any Questions," short story excerpt

Wednesday 1/11/23

I don’t look at family that way. It’s not something I’d do. What’s family? You were born and they were born and so now you’re this almighty thing? I’m a choice person. Show me who and what you are. I’ll do the same. Then let’s decide. Let’s go from there. Otherwise it’s just formality. The arches over the McDonald’s.


They’re being zoned out, those arches. They’re very retro now, a sighting of some rarity, but they used to be everywhere as this statement of how things were. But you know what I mean. They’re just arches of formality indicating that there’s a McDonald’s under them. I don’t think family relationships should be that way. Nothing of value in this life should be “just because.” That’s different than duty. Someone needs someone, okay, you answer to titles, to arches, if you will. “This is my blank by the titular decrees of family, so I will help my blank.” But I think love is about who a person is, not where some people happened to start.


Everyone’s different now to me. Or many people. The number of people who have been the same is so low that if I said what that number is here, everyone I know would know who I am referring to, and then I’d have to contend with things from other people that part me from my energy, and I just won’t do that. They’re not worth it. Plus, they know. Said a mouse to a slab of cheese in a mousetrap: I will not take you. Let’s say that the mouse somehow becomes a tiger, or gets seen as a tiger, which it may have been all along. That same creature says the same thing, even though the trap is akin to this dust speck for him. That’s a couple things at work. Self-respect. And wisdom.


People say that time is the most precious commodity. It’s not. Energy beats the tar out of time. The latter doesn’t mean anything without energy, and time is malleable if you know what to do with it and how it really works, for all of its preexisting rigors. The bark of time is not the bite of time.


There are people you wish you hadn’t known so you could meet them later on and you wouldn’t have that contrast of how they were with you then and how they are with you since you have these things happened and you’re now recognized as what you’re recognized as in the public eye. But that would be an ignorance as bliss course, which has certain practical appeal, I suppose, but I think you want to be a person who evolves beyond whatever that appeal is, which is a sucker’s appeal. It’s not real appeal. More like bootleg appeal sold out of the back of a truck behind a Walmart at half off.


If you were talking to my sister instead of me, and you brought up what I do, she’d tell you—if she was telling the truth—that she never said a word about any of it before. She didn’t even acknowledge me sending it to her. And I always did. But now that everyone is raving and you’ve “made it,” she does her part, throws another voice into the mix, like she loved it all along. What am I supposed to make of that? How should I feel about a person like that? Should I respect them? What would I have to be like in order to respect them?


It’s like you have to unlearn your values to go along smoothly with that kind of person, for there to be no roiled waters with them. Unlearn what you know. Unlearn truth. Or you’re the villain of the piece. Within those confines with the people inside of them, who’ll never grow into going elsewhere, which is really a journey—if it’s undertaken—that occurs inside of us. Those are confines that are set up for you—for anyone—to be like the other people that exist on the inside of those walls, and that will be most people. But what if you’re not, because of good things?


Shucking corn. I always loved shucking corn. It’s one of those tasks when you’re a kid that feels intended as punishment. That’s how a parent is thinking when they assign the task. “Go shuck that corn! I mean it, mister!” Said in that tone when they’re exasperated with you. It’s been a long day. They might need a twenty minute break from your presence. I guess It’s the tedium of corn shucking that is supposed to make you think, “Not shucking corn!” before you went out back, stamped your feet a couple times, and got busy with your task.


But I was always into it. You couldn’t punish me by having me shuck corn. First of all, I was glad we had the corn, because we’d get it from a roadside stand. That meant we were out somewhere in nature. You have to understand—those stands, to me, are pretty much the most romantic constructions in the world. There’s the smell of the place, between the produce and the woods that are always just behind the stand, and usually a hint of hay, too. Plus, the dirt that’s on the food, but in that good way of dirt on food. It won’t hurt you if you don’t get it all washed off. You probably will. Your parents are thorough that way. They wouldn’t have you swallow dirt at the table. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it all off and there’s a flake of the earth here and there. It’ll probably help you. I think of it like unofficial science, things like that.


I was fascinated by the shucking. Had a bucket—a beach pail—I used every time. It was the pail in which a few hours earlier my dad and I had stashed the crabs we caught, which we’d eat later with the corn, putting an old window screen over the top of the pail and then a brick on the screen to halt the exodus. You could always still kind of smell the crabs. The catch. Writing is that way. Also the catch. But the better you get, the more you know it’s like a catch that is coming. It can become this inevitable catch. But a catch that’s always surprising. You’re blown away, but what is blowing you away makes sense. As what it is, though you’ve never seen or experienced the likes of it before. In its design. The impact that stems in part from that design. There’s no math like it, but there’s no jazz, either. No wind. No current of water. If a current of water leapt from the river and became this rainbow of dancing liquid in front of you—it could do the Charleston with the wind—you’d still think, “Nope, not like what I just read, what I just experienced.”


You hear again and again when you’re a kid that there aren’t two snowflakes that are exactly alike. No great work of writing is remotely like anything else there has ever been, but it contains—and shares—the truths that all of the lesser, tributary truths—let’s call them the pawn truths—bow down before. Or know that they need to pay attention to, if we don’t want to be overly deity-ish about that level of truth.


I looked at corn this way. Each layer of the outside that I shucked away, I had my eyes opened and ready for the layer beneath it. I came to each layer honestly and openly. It didn’t matter that the next layer down was similar. Not always. That part was different than writing, where the next layer is always a new thing. With the corn there might be a worm or the leg of a grasshopper. You’d wonder how that got in there, within the mystery of the folds, the leafy green veils that trend to diaphanous yellow the deeper we get into autumn. But that was my shucking process. De-layering and openness. It’s more than a mindset. Sometimes when you’re shucking corn—if you really know how to do it—what you’re also doing is writing.


I don’t see myself as the writer, a writer, what have you. I put that term to it, because you can’t have some ten-sentence job title. I’m not other writers. In that sense, we shouldn’t have the same rubber-stamped noun above the brow, but the work sorts all of that out.


Writers are like drafts and starting over again. And they talk about drafts a lot. I don’t start over again. I wait, if I need to. You have a canvas. You paint. A painter doesn’t have drafts. You work on the canvas until it’s done. You fill in here, you go back to there. Touch this up, paint over that. But there is one thing that is always being made. It’s like this orb. You don’t possess a back-up orb. You have the orb. Underline that “the” a million times. More times than there are numbers. If that makes sense.


You get better at anything if you do it every day. Pitching hay, shooting three pointers, executing watercolors, being kind, and writing, too. You may still suck, but you get better. Sometimes that’s not worth a lot. Time to move on. Find something else. Don’t get conned. And never let your ego and insecurity scam you out of time and energy. Sometimes it’s worth everything.


My process isn’t like that. I don’t know what my process is. My process is I’ll find out and then when the work is done it will be done. I can write for less than a second or I can write for twenty hours—in different ways—and there’s a 5000 word story either way. It gets trickier because I look at them as the same way, ultimately.


Sometimes I’m done before I formally start. It’s gotten so that I’ll write the story in my head and before I’ve put a word on a page I know the change I’ll be making later on on page three when I sit down again. I get to that page three before it exists in one regard and I change it, and then that will take me back to a word on page two. I’m in the design and aware of what it is putting forth on all of the levels. Time is my time then, because it’s a case of what’s time? What’s physical and what isn’t? Is this happening within time? Well, yes and no. I couldn’t account for this with time as a unit of measurement. It took “this amount of time to do.”


Like I said, time has way more play to it than pretty much anyone knows, which is one reason why people who do very little and have low standards for themselves carp about an absence of time. That’s an attempt at comfort that doesn’t work. “Things get so busy here.” They don’t. But if you tried to face that and were not prepared to act, to put energy into practice with constancy and focus, then you’d be overwhelmed by how little you really do with your time. That would be what takes up all of your time. And that’s what people really mean by having no time.


But as for process and what is typically meant by it, it’s like saying how you’re going to handle a given play in a hockey game that hasn’t happened yet. You don’t even know what the play is. I don’t know what the story is. The rest of it. That next part of it. The big part of it. The small part of it that is really as big as the biggest part. You see what the play looks like, what the play could be, what it’s becoming, and also how you can connect that to the next play, the play that you instigate, but within the context of the game. And you take care of it. You respond accordingly.


No. I don’t have music on when I write. After I’ll play something. Depending on the work. As I look at it. There is nothing I’ve ever experienced—nothing close to it—that compares with what that feels like then. What is going through me, happening to me. The aliveness. What I am in on.


Imagine if the person you loved the most told you they had the biggest secret to tell you. Just you. Imagine your first best friend. The person who meant so much to you. You’re honored to hear their secret. Then they tell it to you, and it’s like nothing they’ve ever said. It’s like nothing you’ve ever thought. Nothing you had known was possible. It seems too big, too mind-blowing, for the world to even contain it. They could tell other people in time. It could reach other people in time. They might tell you it’s okay to share it in time. The time might become right, for whatever reason, for everyone else to know. Maybe no one else can know right now because you’re marooned on an island or locked away in a dungeon. But in that moment, you’re the one who’s in on it.


For me it is. I don’t want to feel like a fat blob. That compromises my efficacy and sense of self in other areas. I feel vulnerable. Not in the good, brave way. The weak way. I feel like I could be undone if someone threw an acorn off of me. When you write you have to be able to tear the throat out of God, if need be. Whether you believe in God or not. You are not doing any actual throat tearing, but if there was anything that needed doing, you could do it.




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