21 + 21 = 42

By Carley Moore

Essay

Last summer I turned 42 years old. On the morning of my birthday, my then-boyfriend asked me what I was doing when I was 21, half that age. I said, “Baking quiches, dropping acid, and chasing boys.” I imagined this retort as a tweet—short and to the point. I’d managed to get my life at that time down to 39 characters, and it was mostly accurate.

At 21 years old, I was obsessed with Molly Katzen’s Moosewood cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I was going to a state school in upstate New York, not far from the home of the Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, which had always seemed to me a cultural mecca in a vast state of industrial depression and blight. Ithaca was the home of my favorite thrift shop, Zoo Zoos, and a lot of cute hippie musicians I dreamed of fucking. The cookbook was steeped in that same sexy, vintage, hippie musician lore. I imagined myself cooking for one of those musicians. I could be his “old lady” for a recipe or two. Many of my activities then were overlaid with a fantasy plot line, worthy of an episode of Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company. I was rarely just doing something; I was doing that thing while imagining I was in the TV sitcom version of it. As a child, I’d made it through my sometimes chore of washing the dishes by pretending I was in a Dawn dish soap ad.

My favorite pages in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest offered a basic crust and quiche recipe on one page and on the facing page a list of choices for fillings—cheeses, veggies, and meats (if you must). It was my favorite type of recipe, more about endless iterations and the idea of a food more than its reality. That year, I regularly turned out a ham and cheese quiche, brown gazpacho, and rocky oatmeal bread that my roommates and I ate with lying gusto to prove to ourselves that because we could cook–we were adults.

stevehimmerGood morning. Your novel Fram is about people at work, more or less, but by the end of the story I wondered if some of your characters might need to seek new employment. So I’m going to ask you what Forbes says are the most difficult job interview questions.

Oh, um… okay?

 

Why is there a gap in your work history?

It hasn’t been that long, has it? What’s the usual time between books? I guess it feels like this one took a long time because the research for it and some of the ideas have been in my head for years. So I’d say I’ve been working on it in one way or another all along, even if it’s not clear on my résumé.

 

Tell me one thing you would change about your last job.

I don’t think I’d want to change it. My last book, I mean. There are things I sometimes wish I’d done more of or less of, like any writer, probably. But at some point I guess a book is as close to what you ideally want it to be as you’re capable of making it at the time and you have to accept that even though there might be another level to go to maybe you’re not going to get there. At least not this time. Does that sound defeatist? Like an apology for bad art? I don’t mean it that way.

frambigUnderground again and out of the heat so more comfortable for it, on the platform and shoulder to shoulder with other government employees at his own grade and above or below, Oscar awaited a train. Across the tracks on a wall hung a huge poster advertising the TV show Alexi had mentioned, To The Moon!, with its big silver slogan, “Who will conquer the greatest frontier?”

He shook his head, sighed to his scuffed shoes, and wondered how anyone could get so excited about something that’s all automated, the work done by computers, while women and men who could be anyone or even no one sit in a box and wait to arrive so they can turn around and go home. There’s the science, of course, he wouldn’t disparage that, the behind-the-scenes unsung work of professionals like himself, but why pretend there’s more to it? Why pretend it’s real exploration when it’s mostly a video game? The astronauts mere avatars for self-directed machines.

Bed2

Originally I’d bought the bed for another girlfriend, the one before C. She’d insisted I get a king-size, one with enough space to guarantee a good night’s sleep, one where she could lay on her back, her arms crossed over her chest in a death pose, insurance against my slow creeping during the night to slide my hand under her pillow, happy to feel the weight of her head through down and feather. I slept on the right side (as I do now with C.), the side nearest the bathroom, my path a sliver of wood floor and wall, the same tightrope walk I still make now in the dark, the wall to steady me as I negotiate dog-in-dog-bed, bench, rug, dresser, and door. Most nights I arrive at the bathroom unscathed, but others produce bruised ankles, calves, and tails. The bed is too big for the room, no question; the bed has been too big for every room.

In part, I am to blame. I chose an Eastern king, a choice only Californians must make when sizing up from a queen. The California king is a longer (+4”) and narrower (-4”) bed than its Eastern counterpart, an implication we’re taller and skinnier here in the Golden state. More likely, it’s a product of our constant need to be original. I explained the difference to my girlfriend, the one before C., rattling the tape measurer across the room so she could appreciate the extra width I was willing to sacrifice. She waved me off and told me it was my bedroom, my house, so I should be the one to decide.

But the bed’s size wasn’t my girlfriend’s only complaint. Noises, even small ones, would wake her. She would sit up, put in her earplugs, and announce she was signing off for the night. I waited until then to tell her things I was too scared to say when she could hear me. Once, just as she was falling asleep, I whispered, I’ve been praying that you’ll stay. Her eyelids flickered, and for a moment I thought she’d heard me.

the broadcast of a tea kettle
the ignition of a ghost fog

mercury snapping through linden
& the orchard’s doe is polka-dotted

on a road as open as a new notebook;
you, snow-stormed in the dawn of exits

husband & harpooner

with an iceberg caving in the thorax

51BD3xPnDfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Available from Viking Adult

“O’Nan is an incredibly versatile and charming writer. This novel, which imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled time in Hollywood (with cameos by Dorothy Parker, Bogie, and Hemingway), takes up (like much of O’Nan’s work) that essential conundrum of grace struggling with paucity. One brilliant American writer meditating on another–what’s not to love?” —George Saunders

In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled, uncertain man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in ruins, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he would be dead of a heart attack.

Those last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeously and gracefully written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, falls in love with brassy gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and daughter, Scottie.

Fitzgerald’s orbit of literary fame and the Golden Age of Hollywood is brought vividly to life through the novel’s romantic cast of characters, from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Humphrey Bogart. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man who never gave up in the end, even as his every wish and hope seemed thwarted, West of Sunset confirms O’Nan as “possibly our best working novelist” (Salon).

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On top of the world...............Sometimes when we walk down the quiet hallway, and stop at apartment #210, the door opens into a narrow dark foyer, the bathroom to our immediate left.  But sometimes, the door opens and reveals nothing but blue sky. In the former of the two possibilities, if we turn right, we walk down another hallway. Keith Richards plastered on the purple wall. We enter the living room with its low red sectional couch, covered in purple and black sheets and red pillows. Looking east, towards Lake Michigan—a bank of horizontal windows, the blinds usually drawn.

He sits down and pulls out his black lock box of narcotics.

He arranges his pills on the glass-topped coffee table. On a good day, Roku is working, and he picks something from Youtube to watch, or asks what do you want? I always say Law and Order. In this iteration, he’s okay—the pain seems to be manageable, he might eat something, or he might not, he might throw up, or he might not, and so things are in a kind of equipoise; meaning, theoretically, days like this could go on forever. And this is why I go to the kitchen and pour a glass of wine, and eat a candy bar.

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oIn a crumbling-stucco corner house off Frazier Street, lived a boy who believed he was nothing at all.  Nightly, his drunk father’s eyes glowed red, and he spit fiery words, but not until fists hailed down on his mother did the boy run for the space between the stove and cabinets. There he crouched crying, “Coward! Coward!”

He listened hard through screams and breaking for his mother’s breathing. Sometimes she went silent, and he wanted to be more than a boy hiding between the stove and cabinet. There he fingered the black abyss of a crack in the linoleum praying, “Fall in. Fall in. Fall in. Fall in,” and one night his father did.

IMG_2891What do you mean by the Age of Consequences?

We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences—a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite, raising difficult and anguished questions.

AoC Cover ImageFood binds us together. It is who we are. What we eat, where our food comes from, how it’s produced, who grows it, and when it arrives on our table tell us pretty much everything we need to know about ourselves. Our culture is the sum of its edible parts. How we treat the animals that we eat, for example, tells us—or ought to, anyway—a great deal about the state of our nation. Overgrazed range is a food issue. Population is a food issue. Food ties urban to rural, eater to grower, people to land, past to future, one nation to another, our children to ourselves. There is no such thing as a “post-agricultural” society, as author Wendell Berry has noted. We’re all eaters. We’re all in this together.

Deji Olukotun by Beowulf SheehanDeji: I’m not sure what the point of another interview is. What can you tell me that Google can’t?

Bryce: Slow down, there, Deji. You’re way too pushy.

Deji: It’s a Nigerian quality. We like to get things done.

Bryce: You’re half-Nigerian. Anyway, not all Nigerians are like that. Some of them do yoga.

Deji: They were probably disinherited from their families. So, about my question–answer it.

NISCover2015It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.

mediumhorizontal4TNBYou have referred to Dada in your writing. Why, after almost a century, does Dada matter?
Greil Marcus makes the great point that the Dadaists were the first Punks. They rejected the idea of the “professional artist” and embraced instead being radically playful “amateurs.” An amateur is literally a person who loves something. I resonate with that idea: I love to make writing but I try to refuse – in a hopefully humorous and termitic way — the verbiage of artistic “greatness.” Because I think that language has silenced a lot of creative people ––

For Alan Dann

A woman came up to me in Bloomingdales and said she liked my glasses and I told her where to get them and she said, “what do you think I am — a millionaire?” and stomped off.
A woman came up to me in grad school and said she wished she was as smart as I was and I told her where to find the good theory books at the library and she said “what do you think I am — stupid or something?” and threw down her copy of Derrida’s On Grammatology and stomped off.

Pattison 1The characters of all your novels are driven to find justice for horrible crimes with no help, and often outright opposition, from their government. Why have you chosen this dynamic for your books?

There is almost never justice in my books except for the makeshift justice wrought by people who have been abandoned by their societies. With my characters forced to navigate by their own innate sense of right and wrong I can explore justice in broader dimensions, including its spiritual and cultural context. The actors in these dramas come from sharply different cultures, with markedly different perspectives and motivations, but they are joined by the common goal of resolving terrible injustice. I have worked in many diverse cultures around the globe and am convinced there is a sense of justice ingrained in the human DNA — it is this instinct that drives my plots and empowers my characters.