I remember sitting on my porch in college and talking to Jesse. It was the summer of 2000, six months after I spent New Year’s Eve on the steps of Madison’s Capitol with glazed eyes, rolling on ecstasy, staring at a bearded man who stood on top of a car with a computer held up over his head as a crowd of hundreds cheered him on and he screamed like a viking. He was going to smash the computer precisely at the stroke of midnight. I was screaming at him along with everyone else, wondering if Y2k would actually do anything but doubting that it would. I was with Jesse then, too, as well as Jessica. We all screamed and the crowd counted down and the guy threw the computer exactly at the onset of the millenium. It shattered into many pieces and we cheered like animals.
But with Jesse on my porch, six months later, I saw that he had a cell phone and I wondered aloud what good they were. We were just sitting there on the steps, as we often did that summer. I was 22 and had just turned 22. It’s hard to believe I was ever that young but when I look back at all my years, and all my times, it’s possible I was at my best from March of 2000 to August of 2000. We all have a best stretch and that may have been mine. That was one of my better five month windows. I had been depressed my sophomore year but was out of it without drugs or therapy and felt like I’d made peace with the world only through a conversation with literature those years. I started dating my wife in that time, even though it would have been laughable to us both, then, to know that we’d one day be married. One day chasing our son through a park after he’d stolen another child’s ball. But the weight of college was lifting in that summer of 200 and the friendships were ripe and sweet and there were still nights you could fall in love with a stranger. Everything mattered in the perfect way. There was still no such thing as money, even though there was. There were no careers, and so people walked with much more happiness.
I phrased my objection to cell phones like this: “Why would you want to be findable, always?” To which Jesse simply said, “It’s not like you have to answer it when it rings.” And I said, “But you have to choose not to answer it. So someone else can force a choice on you.” Jesse thought this was ridiculous. He was a practical person and he had always been the practical one, even when we were both thirteen years old. When we were thirteen he would take great pleasure in explaining mechanical objects to me. What a friendship that was, what a complicated combination he and I made, how beautiful it is that people find ways to fit one another. It should not have worked at all and yet we loved so many of the same things and we loved to laugh. Nerd things, like D&D and computer games, but also football and movies. Building shit, inventing shit. Then, when we were older, we both loved drugs. And also discussions. I never thought it then but I do think it now: Jesse was some kind of genius. Another bright and big mind trapped by the weight of the everyday in the Midwest, which will sometimes, very effortlessly, make you feel as though you’ve done something terribly selfish for desiring your own identity. Or for desiring even less; desiring to communicate.
I got my first cell phone four months later, when our phones went down for a week and we feuded with the company and one day I just said fuck it and went to the store and got one. I remember being fascinated by it. It was a little gray clamshell, basically. It could do almost nothing and barely worked in Madison, even though the sales guy assured me it would work in New York, where I was headed in another six months, in August, once I was finished. The phone somehow seemed to symbolize the newness of everything else right then and so I took joy when I would feel it there in my pocket. But I hardly ever used it.
“There is something terrifying about meeting writers and liking them — drinking with them, realizing you come from the same part of the world, realizing you are interested in similar things, and that you probably like the same books — and then having to go home, get their book, read it, and hope to fuck you enjoy it.”—Patrick Somerville’sYear in Reading. (via millionsmillions)
I was writing last night (and am still thinking) about public expressions of grief and general reactions to tragedies, and how I respect your right to have those public expressions even as I choose to ignore them because all they do is make me feel worse. I watched all my feeds ignite on Friday…
I’ll be reading at the Center for Fiction on 10/9 at 7:00—my old friend Hannah Tinti is going to be there, too. Ten years ago, Hannah published my first story at One Story. We’ll probably talk about the new book, but maybe I’ll even dip back into the Jim Funkle universe.
Either way, come out, NYC friends! It’ll be grand.
A flurry of nasty reviews and other attacks on writers has commanded my attention of late, enough to make me consider—or reconsider, in some cases—the reasons for such behavior. The motive is usually ladder-climbing or other forms of posturing. Often the goal is to assert that one writer’s…