Michael-Finkel-The-Stranger-in-the-Woods

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with journalist Michael Finkel . He is the author of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, which was made into a film starring Jonah Hill and James Franco. His latest book is called The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, available now from Knopf.

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It is with great sadness that we report the passing of author Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide in Brooklyn on December 19th.  Our thoughts are with his friends and family.

Below, in its entirety, is his December 2012 interview with Brad Listi on the Other People podcast, which Ned called the most candid he’d ever done.  If you would like to learn more about his life and work, please visit his website.

Please explain what just happened.

Just ordered some coffee. This happens a lot. It’s 8:42 a.m., and I’m in Stockholm at a nice spot called “Coffice.” And it looks like the kind of place where they’re going to be ok with me sitting here writing. There’s this “no-laptops” trend, which seems to be going wide in the coffee houses in Europe and the U.S. Probably a good thing. It is a vibe-killer to walk into a joint and be confronted with a sea of Macbooks. It’s like a sweatshop or something.

teeth

Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they’re coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we’ll agree that there has been “No problem, Officer, we’ll keep it down.”

I met Stephan Clark for the first time in a Russian restaurant in St. Paul, for a conversation he said would be “deeply preliminary.” He is a slender man, with a receding hairline — “since the third grade,” he says — and eyes that move between green and blue in color, depending on his surroundings. This chameleon-like nature is fitting, considering the peripatetic nature of his life. As I discovered while interviewing him over the course of several days—driving to a Russian store in Plymouth for German bread and Jewish salami, a visit some months later to the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis to see an Oleg Vassiliev installation, and then a night of pickles and vodka at his Longfellow bungalow—he has lived in five countries and three times as many cities. These stays have included one year in Russia, where his wife is from, and another in Ukraine, to which he went on a Fulbright Fellowship to study the mail-order bride phenomenon. Clark now resides in Minneapolis and teaches creative writing at Augsburg College.

This interview began in the fall of 2011 as a series of digitally recorded conversations. Transcripts were made from more than seven hours of taped material. Clark returned the final, edited manuscript along with a note that begins, “Now to see if anyone cares enough to read it.”

DeWitt Henry is the author of the novel The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts (winner of the inaugural Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel), and a mid-life memoir-in-essays, Safe Suicide: Narratives, Essays, and Meditations.  Both are sequels to his latest memoir, Sweet Dreams, about growing up on Philadelphia’s Main Line.  The founding editor of Ploughshares literary magazine, he is a Professor at Emerson College in Boston.  (For more details, please visit www.dewitthenry.com.)

After being introduced to Theo, a seven-foot tall wooden, dancing, and rampant pig that guards the hallway, I sat down with Tupelo Hassman in the living room of her Oakland apartment, but as I turned on the tape recorder, she jumped up.

Oh shit! Are we really going to do this?

I received an interesting criticism of my book today, posted by way of a comment on my blog.

I have to say, the picture on the back of your book perfectly sums up my general opinion of you, David.

You appear to be in some kind of Halloween costume. Jack Kerouac, I presume. How clever.

First off, you are “hitchhiking” on a dirt trail. Who are you expecting to pick you up? Completed (sic) staged. Buttoned down white shirt. Bright, clean and white. Wow, you must’ve been really living “On The Road,” right? Fake. I heard all the Beats traveled with cameras, backpacks, and briefcases. Oh, and over-sized aviator sunglasses of course. Funny, appears to be a bit overcast day in your photo. Sensitive eyes?

My guess is this is a bad photo op from some vacation you took. Painfully-staged “evidence” of hitchhiking abroad, living free, being on the road… Some half-witted attempt to feel like your (sic) walking in the path of your idols. Those you try so hard to imitate.

As I said, this photo sums you up. Fake, staged, phony. You remind of me a bad cover band. Desperately imitating true artists in an attempt to bask in their second-hand glory. Regurgitating their revelations with the depth of a kiddy pool. Putting on a bad costume and shouting “Yeah, me too!”

Quit jerking off drunk to faded pictures of Hunter, Jack, and Allen. You’re only making a fool of yourself.

To the first charge – of using a photo that was clearly staged – I plead guilty, your honour, but request leniency. Name one author whose author photo was taken without his or her knowledge. Unless I trawled Facebook for some drunken KTV shot taken by a friend, in which I was prominently tagged, I’d be unlikely to find a single photo that I didn’t authorize. Additionally, by actually agreeing to have the photo placed on the cover of the book, I’d surely be an accessory after the fact.

Please explain what just happened.

I was just told to “Keep it secret, keep it safe!”

 

What is your earliest memory?

Tripping over the hose and breaking my collarbone for the first of four times.

 

If you weren’t a musician / writer, what other profession would you choose?

I’d make a great king.

 (The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me[1])

 

1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)

You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.

Please explain what just happened.

I have no idea either!  I have spent my entire life feeling like I missed the first day of school. I’m always wondering what I have missed.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Crying while boarding the school bus on my first day of school. I was wearing a double knit polyester leisure shoot. Hence the tears.

 

If you weren’t an actor what other profession would you choose?

Exotic dancer. People buy you drinks and stuff money down your g-string all night.

Chapter One:  The Sea Inside

 

The girl moved like water itself, unthinkingly towards the darkening horizon.  She was only sixteen, or maybe seventeen.  A brilliant red sari clung to her body.  Tangled hair lashed at her face.

Do you think interviewing yourself is like talking to yourself? The way your Grandma Stanton mumbled in the kitchen when she made English tea and challah toast?

Maybe.