My own, I suppose. I used to chew the ends of my fingers.
Have you ever met a cannibal?
No, but Montaigne did. You know, Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the essay, he who first gazed longingly at his own navel. Montaigne (which, by the way, is pronounced ‘Mon-taigne’) visited with three Tupinambá Indians who had been transported to Europe to show off as curiosities. Then he wrote a truly peculiar essay about the experience. He is my inspiration for this book: a collection of peculiar navel gazing with a dash of mescaline.
So, the folks at TNB have given you a remarkable opportunity here. What do you want to ask yourself?
Well first off, why do you write books? It takes a god-awful amount of time, the results are often disappointing, and if you believe your publicist, no one buys them anymore. Wouldn’t it be easier if you painted designs on dishes, or cooked eggs in a Hoboken diner?
Do you want me to answer that?
That’s up to you. You’re conducting the interview.
Well, I write because I love the pursuit of a thought or an elusive question on the page, and sentences are such lovely, intricate puzzles. Plus, I like making readers laugh, or smirk, or shake their heads in puzzlement. Now back to you! Tell me something about the new book, Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals.
The books works this way: I asked some of my favorite contemporary essayists— Phillip Lopate, David Shields, Diane Ackerman, Ander “No Shorts Please” Monson —to ask me questions, and I promised to respond as Mister Essay Writer Guy. I tried to signal pretty strongly that the questions should be tongue-in-cheek, and then I wrote a series of funny (well, the reader has to decide that I suppose) essays in response to the questions.
You cheated a little didn’t you?
Yes, I had this Google Maps essay and I really wanted it in the book, so I whispered to Barrie Jean Borich that maybe she could ask me a question about Google Maps, and glory of glories, she did.
What was the favorite question you received?
Steve Almond asked, “I keep reading articles on the internet saying that memoirs and autobiographical essays are the devil’s work. Does this mean I am the devil? If so, why do I look so silly in red? Also, why don’t I earn more overtime? How does Oprah fit into all this? I’m holding my breath until you answer.” Now that’s a writing prompt. Plenty of room to stretch my legs in that one.
What was your least favorite?
Roxane Gay asked “Why do so many writers only write about writing? Why do they act like writing is the only thing? What about writing about writing makes writers think they are writing something worth reading?” Well that was awkward since for part of the book, I am writing about writing.
Roxane has only one ‘n’ in her first name.
I know that.
Okay, just trying to help. No need to be snippy. Here’s my last question. What’s up with all of the polar bear jokes?
I worked as zookeeper many years ago, and two sad polar bears tried every day to reach through the bars and claw the top of my head into ribbons. I remain traumatized. Plus, polar bears can be funny. They are big, lumbering, goofy beasts, which is also true of most of my good friends.
DINTY W. MOORE is author of numerous books, including Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Life, Love, and Cannibals, Crafting the Personal Essay, and Between Panic and Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. He has been published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Harper’s, and The Normal School, among others. He also edits Brevity: The Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction and is deathly afraid of polar bears.