Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today's leading writers. All episodes—hundreds of them—are available for free. Listen via iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, or right here on the web. Better yet: download the Otherppl with Brad Listi app. Available for iPhone and Android. Free! If you'd like to support the show, you can do so via Patreon or Paypal.
Become a Patron!
To subscribe to Brad Listi's email newsletter, click here.
Air date: March 21, 2018
1:22] Hey everybody, how’s it going? Welcome to the Otherppl Podcast. I’m Brad Listi, I’m in Los Angeles. It’s nice to be with you. I have Lynne Tillman on the program today, very excited about that. She has a new novel out called Men and Apparitions. It’s available from Soft Skull Press. This is her first novel in more than a decade. She published American Genius, A Comedy in 2006. She’s often referred to as a cult figure. Not that she’s like a cult leader, but. you know, she’s got like cult classics, rabid fans.
[1:56] A writer’s writer. You know, there’s all these different ways that people try to characterize her particular readership and their enthusiasm for her work. And it’s justified. She’s one of our finest and most idiosyncratic and singular voices, and I was just thrilled to get a chance to meet her. She was just here a couple of days ago and was absolutely delightful. So that conversation is coming up in just a second. Before we get there, I do have some mail. I’ve been getting mail. A steady stream. I feel obliged to read you some.
[2:26] This is from Steve. A listener named Steve says, “Hello Brad, I know that you sometimes take questions, so I have one for you. How do you combat the urge to reconcile your quote unquote “self” with yourself? In my personal experience, I have an almost compulsive need to explain myself to myself. Many of my interests and behaviors seem incongruent, and the image that I see myself as often seems contradictory.
[2:53] I have a hard time wrapping my head around who I am. Is this something that you have experienced too? Am I just relying too much on the image that society has conditioned me to believe I should live up to? I.e. being quirk-free? Maybe none of this makes sense, I don’t know. But I figured I’d throw this question out to you. Sincerely, Steve.” [pause]
[3:18] Thanks for writing, Steve. You know, I feel like the exploration of self, of what a self actually is, is a very worthy exercise, and I feel like it gets to the center of what human existence is all about, and what the mystery of life is all about. And it’s something that is so elemental that I think we often overlook it, but it’s worth pondering, as often as possible. Daily.
[3:49] I mean, I feel like life and being alive, and being a human being on this planet, in this universe, it’s much stranger and more mysterious than we give it credit for. It’s very easy to overlook. It’s very easy to get lost in the minutiae of existence, in our thoughts and in our worries, and in our jobs and our relationships, and in the rhythms of life.
[4:15] And you’re in an Uber, and you’re in a taxi, and you’re in your apartment, and you’re watching television, and you’re on your phone, and all this stuff, and you forget, like what the hell is this? What am I? [canned applause] It’s fucking weird. [laughs] So, you know, it’s a complex topic. We’ve got all sorts of ways of thinking about it.
[4:42] I feel like there’s the duality issue, where you start to refer to yourself, you know, as a separate thing? You know what I’m saying? Like I’m arguing with myself, I’m thinking about myself, I can’t live with myself, I’m angry at myself. Well, who’s the “I” and who’s the “self”? So you’ve split yourself into two. And then there’s the entire thing about, you know, there’s no separate self. There’s no such thing as a separate self, nothing can be by itself alone. Everything is an amalgam and a continuation.
[5:16] You’re a combination of phenomena. And those phenomena are combinations of other phenomena, and on and on. Everything’s impermanent. Everything is ever changing, you know, the atomic and subatomic levels, so fixed identities are illusory, all that kind of stuff. But it’s worth thinking about.
[5:42] It’s fundamentally odd. And if you feel confused or you feel sort of an instinctive like oddness about it, I feel like that’s accurate. That’s correct. Like birds. Just look around at nature. I was looking at a bird the other day, I think it was a seagull. I was watching this seagull flying around, and I was thinking to myself, like it’s just unbelievable, that these things are flying around, I never notice them.
[6:16] Birds everywhere. Winged creatures, soaring, all around me. I have no idea. [pause] And I wouldn’t put too much faith, Steve, in the way that society conditions us to be quirk-free, or whatever, however you put it. I wouldn’t worry about that. Embrace your quirks. We need more quirks, frankly. [pause]
[6:51] I’m not so sure that American society in particular is all that healthy, especially right now. I wouldn’t use it as a benchmark. [pause] I would just look at birds. [laughs] I think that’s gonna be my message here today.
[7:10] I think that when you’re feeling confused about who you are, who you’re supposed to be, return to nature. Notice your surroundings. Understand that everything is impermanent. Understand that you are a combination of phenomena. Look to the sky. [bird sounds]
[7:34] My guest today is Lynne Tillman, her new novel Men and Apparitions is out there now from Soft Skull Press. It is a great thrill and an honor to have her here on the podcast, and to get a chance to meet her. So here she is, ladies and gentlemen, this is Lynne Tillman.
* * *
[7:51] Lynne Tillman: [sighs] It does get thrown at me a lot, and I tend to think that if something appears to be an experiment right off the bat, then it really isn’t an experiment. I don’t write, I guess, what’s called traditional novels. I’m not, maybe I’m not capable of doing that. It’s just not where my interest lies. I start out with ideas that I’m interested in delving into.
[8:22] BL: Questions.
LT: Questions. For instance, this book, this new novel, which took me many years to figure out, Men and Apparitions, I started with the idea, how would you narrate living in a glut of images? How would you tell that story, because it’s something that is said all the time. And for 40 years, we’re all living in a glut of images, and of course now that glut has become a hyper-glut, or uber-glut, or something.
[8:53] BL: Yeah, yeah.
LT: With the internet and cell phone images and all of this. And so that, I gave myself a very hard job, from my point of view. But I don’t like to write the same book twice. A friend of mine, Stephen Prina, said to me, your books are like projects, and in a way, the novels definitely, I guess, I see his point.
[9:21] Because I want to understand some questions, or at least interrogate something about the culture and society. And I don’t just start writing. I’m thinking for a long time, can this thing hold up?
BL: And what about contemporary masculinity? Is that, that’s another question you’re exploring?
[9:45] LT: Well, yes, some years ago, I was realizing that a lot of my younger male friends were speaking so differently about their relationships, what they wanted from women, and I realized that all of this was happening under the sign of feminism. And that their mothers had been feminists, or sisters, or in college, whether it was in the ‘90s, they were taking women’s studies courses, and they were changing along with women.
[10:19] And their expectations were different. So I made him, Ezekiel, who is my protagonist, I made Zeke into an ethnographer, not only of family images, family photographs, but of his own kind. In other words, he was studying, doing an ethnography of his group, his age group, young men born under the sign of feminism.
[10:50] BL: He’s 38, I think.
LT: 38, yeah. So I actually did do a case study. I did send emails to 30 guys I know, and asked some very general questions, obviously a very very small set of men. They were 25 to say, 45, something like that. And I asked, how are you different from your father?
[11:20] What do you expect from women? What do you think women expect from you? Maybe one other, very in a way general, yet specific. The answers were spectacularly fascinating.
BL: Were there any consistencies?
LT: Oh yes. Yeah. And that’s why I made a book out of them.
[11:43] I don’t really like to tell too much about this novel, but there is a book within the book which is part of the novel, and the book is called Men in Quotes. And that is the case study. So Zeke, presumably, has questioned his friends about these things, like how are they different from their fathers. And there are some definite similarities, and then real differences. And…It’s a very complicated time for young men.
[12:23] BL: Well, I should, what I’m thinking too, is that there’s a crossover between the two primary concerns of your book that we’ve talked about so far, which is this glut of images and trying to navigate life and narrate experience from within this glut, and then also what it means to be masculine in contemporary times.
[12:41] BL: And I speak from my own experience that Twitter in particular, I think that my experience of online life, on Twitter, because that’s my primary social mode, has changed my perception of masculinity, and has been at times a maddening education in feminism, in, you know, gender-based concerns. Like, there’s a lot of that on there. And so I’m trying to parse that on a daily basis. You’re constantly seeing arguments, you’re constantly being presented with links to –
LT: And you have a young daughter.
[13:21] BL: And I have a young daughter. Which, I think, has heightened, you know.
LT: Yes, it has. [laughs]
BL: It heightens, it heightens a man’s – hopefully, I think it’s a good thing for a man to be interested in female concerns when he has a daughter, but I’ve seen people on Twitter get hammered for talking about, well, like now I care about women because I have a daughter. Do you know what I’m saying?
BL: So I don’t wanna wade into that one.
[13:43] LT: Well, it’s not – I mean, I would also find that sort of obnoxious, but I would rather someone started caring about their daughter, someone cared about their daughter, and then saw women’s lives differently. Not as an other, you know, not as something either to be conquered or despised or loved, or…but as human beings.
[14:12] BL: Or something that’s alien. You know, I think a lot of well-meaning fathers of previous generations, especially as adolescence comes on, would peel away a little bit. Or would…I think…You know, the primary caregiving responsibility for the tough stuff would fall upon the mother.
BL: And the fathers would just be like, okay, I’m out. You know and then when you start to date, I’ll be the guy with the shotgun on the front porch, you know.
BL: Or whatever. You know, that old trope.
LT: Yes. [laughs]
BL: But it wasn’t really like, there weren’t like heart-to-hearts, there wasn’t engagement with that stuff, and I feel like that’s softening.
[14:42] LT: Yes, I think so, and I think that, and I said this last night, I did a gig at the Hammer with Stephen Prina asking me some really, really interesting questions too, that we may find, in 50 years or 100 years, that the women’s movement, and feminism, has changed men more than women.
LT: Seeing men be fathers in the way that they weren’t 40 years ago is kind of beautiful.
[15:16] The idea that men will be house husbands, that was considered really a no-no not so long ago. I mean the…and men’s relationship to their children means a lot to them.
LT: And I don’t know that, I don’t what they knew, speaking so generally, but I can see that it’s very important in the lives of my male friends who have children, it’s as important as it’s ever been to women.
[15:48] BL: So you’re encouraged.
LT: Oh, I find that encouraging, yeah.
BL: Are you ever, I mean do you ever get frustrated with online culture, contemporary feminism? Like do you ever find yourself bristling against it?
LT: You know, there’s this term in biology, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, that the life of the individual repeats the life of the whole.
[16:16] And obviously in uterus we see every fetus have the same development. And in a way that’s kind of, any contemporary relationship to things that you’ve already been involved with will be another learning process and change. So do I, I get frustrated with a notion that, one, feminists hate men. That’s just…
[16:50] I think having to fight against that is a waste of time. I think it’s really, really stupid. I get frustrated that I sometimes have to hear the same thing [laughs] again and again. But on the other hand, I also teach one semester a year, writing students.
[17:13] And they’re going through it. They’re in a place, they’re 19 or 20, and they’re trying to figure things out. I ask my students to write from the male point of view if they’re female, and the female point of view if they’re male, sometimes in an exercise. Girls are more resistant to doing that.
BL: Why do you think that is?
LT: I think, again, the limitations that girls and women have incorporated are huge.
[17:48] Self-censorship. One girl said to me, and I’m using girl because they’re really quite young, said to me, “But I can’t write from the point of view of a boy. I don’t know, I don’t know what they feel like.” I said, “You’ve been raised by a father, you have a brother. You’re around boys all the time. Imagine what one of them thinks about. You can do that.”
[18:17] The boys don’t have that problem.
LT: There were many more of them that took on that challenge that were excited by it.
BL: Do you find that the output or the creative work that you read, like that one of the genders does it better than the other? Like are women better, are the girls better at writing the boys or the boys better at writing the girls? Do you find that the renderings are better from one – ?
LT: No, no.
[18:40] I’ve had some terrific male students and terrific female students. I think the time was where, and maybe still, where the males will talk more than the females, and so you need to encourage them. And then again, sometimes you’ll have a class where the girls are fantastically vocal. So it’s hard to tell.
[19:07] BL: And you know, another thing that comes to mind as I think about your new book and I think about your work more broadly, is this idea of starting with questions. Because I feel like it’s kind of an inversion of how most people seem to do it, where I feel like a lot of people will work on a piece of fiction because of some, you know, some instinct or some character they have in their head, or they’ll start with a title. There’s a million different ways to approach it, but the central themes or concerns or questions of the book, a lot of times don’t really make themselves clear until the end.
[19:40] That’s happened to me, where it’s, like, “Oh, I had no idea, this is what was bothering me.” Takes the whole process almost to finally get to where you realize that, but you flip it. You start with that. Are you conscious of that?
LT: Yes, I am. And again, that’s why I think Steve Prina’s notion that these are projects maybe is closer to the mark. Not that I deny that I write novels. I do, although some people would think they’re not novels [laughs], especially the last two.
[20:16] Yeah, there’s an idea that’s bothering me, or that keeps coming up with each of the books, novels, I’ve written. Every one came from how do I tell this story about: what does it mean to be an American abroad? How do I narrate that story? What is American-ness, that was in Motion Sickness, and how can I make something that’s full of coincidence work?
[20:47] Because in Haunted Houses, which was my first novel, I have three female characters, and I wanted to write about the harshness of a girl’s life. How difficult it is to become a girl, to fit into that category. And, because there’s all this work that was done, or is still being done, about becoming a man, and their rites of passages.
[21:18] But I didn’t feel there was that for girls. And I didn’t think there was a literature that I was reading that spoke to this question.
LT: And…But, so I had three girls, and I didn’t have any of them meet in the novel. You know, the general thing would be, the more conventional or traditional approach, was they’ve all gone to college together.
[21:45] BL: You give yourself really hard puzzles to put together. You’re torturing yourself. [laughs]
LT: [laughs] I do, yes. I think, you know, my mother once said to me, when I was about – oh, many times said to me, when I was very little, when I would say I was bored, “Mommy what can I do,” and she would say, “Go hit your head against a wall.” And I think that –
BL: [laughs] You clearly took it to heart.
LT: I took it to heart! Or to head.
[22:11] And so I didn’t have the girls meet, because I thought well, they’re meeting in the container of the novel. And that was considered, you know, crazy or whatever, and I think was part of why I’m considered an experimental. Yes, it was a different thing to do, but there was no logic that I could find that would make it necessary that all those characters meet.
[22:46] What…Why, I would say to myself. What was the necessity of that?
BL: Other than like the, you know, commercial expectation or, you know what I’m saying? Like what people are kind of preprogrammed to expect from a narrative.
LT: And there’s great literature that, I mean, I’ve read that great literature. Not all of it, of course, where everyone meets, and everyone is, you know, involved in everybody else’s life. And those are great books.
[23:13] But I didn’t want to do that. And I didn’t see the necessity of doing it.
BL: Are you stubborn?
LT: In some ways, yes, very stubborn. About my work, I think. I’m not a stubborn friend. I don’t like to argue about things like which restaurant should we go to.
BL: “You pick.” Is that what you were like?
LT: I’ll say, “Wherever you want to go. It’s okay with me. Sounds good.”
BL: Yeah. Yeah, I’m kinda that way too.
[23:42] One friend said, “I have six restaurants we should go to, we could go to.” And I said, “What’s one of them?” I said, “Well let’s go there.” She said, “Don’t you want to hear about the other five?” I said, “No that’s fine.”
BL: That’s how I am. I go to the farmer’s market like right by our house to get coffee on the weekends. These guys will grind it up for you or whatever. And they’re always like “What do you want? Do you want like Ethiopian, Rwandan, Colombian?” I’m like, guys, like at six o’clock in the morning, it all tastes the same to me. Like, I’m gonna trust you. Just, I’m in your hands, okay? You know better than I.
[24:13] LT: My family was very argumentative. And I really don’t like arguing. I’ve learned that one could have a discussion about a problem, but I always feel uncomfortable. I just want it to be over, and things to be all right.
BL: Where are you from?
LT: Woodmere, Long Island. I was born in Brooklyn, and then my family, when I was about four and a half, my father had a house built out on Long Island, and that’s where I grew up.
[24:47] BL: You know, I’ve never been to Long Island. I’ve been to New York a million times but I’ve never been to Long Island. I feel like I’m missing something.
LT: Well, it’s a long island.
BL: [laughs] Extremely long.
LT: It’s very narrow. I grew up about a 20 minute drive from the Atlantic Ocean, and that was a big part of my childhood, going in the summers either to summer camp, or going to the ocean. It’s still some of my fondest memories.
[25:14] In the winter, also, my father taking me and my two older sisters – one sister’s nine years older and one sister’s six years older – and taking us to walk along the sand in November when the ocean waves are very harsh and big and the ocean looks green or gray. So beautiful.
BL: Yeah. So three of you? Three girls and you’re the baby?
[25:42] BL: And when you say argumentative, like are we talking like kitchen table, whole family dinner, everybody debating something intellectual?
LT: I wish it were. No.
BL: No. [laughs]
LT: No. It was pretty crazy, pretty crazy. Nonetheless, I survived.
BL: Did your sisters – like what was your relationship like with your sisters? I would imagine you guys kinda leaned on one another?
LT: Well, my older sisters are only three years apart, but I’m nine and six years apart from them.
[26:13] So I kind of grew up as, partly an only child. Which had its benefits and deficits, I think. But I…at a certain point, both of them were out of the house. By the time I was 10.
LT: Neither of them was there very much.
BL: What kind of kid were you?
LT: What kind of kid was I? Well, my oldest sister says I was a happy kid, she thinks.
[26:43] But I know that I was a very anxious kid. An old friend of mine through Facebook got in touch with me, and she said one of the nicest things about me as a child, which was – I guess we used to play together. We would play games. I would go to her house. Her name was Gail. She lived a few blocks from me. She was on Derby Avenue, I was on Forest Avenue.
[27:13] And she said, “You were so sweet, Lynne, you never said any bad things about anybody.” And I know lots of people want to be told how smart they were, but that made me feel better than anything. That I was sweet, that I was nice, you know, nice to play with.
BL: Right? I tell that to my daughter all the time: I’m like, just be kind. Because I feel that there’s a lot of pressure as a parent, to get it right.
[27:42] So I’m always trying to just like, let’s just make this simple. “Be a kind person,” and what else do I say? And like, “Give it your best.” And I don’t want to be a parent who’s like, “Everything you do is perfect,” because I think that can be kind of damaging. I’m always trying to do the least amount of harm. So it’s like, be kind, try your best. [laughs]
LT: Well, I didn’t come from a supportive parental background.
BL: But maybe it toughened you.
LT: Well, I don’t know if it, maybe. I’ve had years of psychoanalytic, psychotherapy, so.
[28:15] BL: Did that help you?
LT: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Still helping.
BL: I might do that.
LT: Oh it’s…There’s an idiotic idea that it takes away your creativity. It’s just the opposite. It’s just the opposite.
BL: Okay, so let’s stop here, because this is I think a big component of your work, and I think it’s something that distinguishes it, is that you have such a facility for articulating the experience of the mind.
[28:46] And that’s got to be an outgrowth, because when you go into analysis and you spend time, you’re leaning into all of that. You’re sort of forcing yourself to dive in, which I think there can be some resistance to, especially if it’s difficult stuff.
LT: Mhm, mhm. Sure.
BL: Is that accurate?
LT: That’s true. That’s true. In analysis, you’re thinking about what you’re thinking.
[29:11] You’re hearing yourself and a good analyst will, by his or her interventions, when they come, enable you further to hear what you’re saying. And then you are understanding better why what you’re experiencing is what it is.
LT: It’s a complex process because it’s not an immediate thing.
[29:43] It’s really quite slow.
BL: And you have to work at it.
BL: And like the thing too, because I do a lot of meditation, which is like basically watching the kinds of conversations you have with yourself. And it can be so demoralizing, but also interesting, to see how repetitive it is.
LT: Well, when I wrote American Genius, A Comedy, which came out of an idea thinking about sensitivity.
[30:11] It seemed to me that so many people in America were just thinking about themselves and their sensitivity to this kind of food or this environment or that. And yet at the same time, the U.S. did a preemptive strike against Iraq, and the kind of paradox of that really bothered me.
BL: Where there’s like this ultra-inwardness, and then there’s this external aggression.
[30:43] LT: That’s right. And we Americans were living in that and we were producing that in different ways. So American Genius, A Comedy came out of that. And I was really interested also in writing consciousness. So in a way it’s my most psychoanalytic book. Not psychological, but psychoanalytic, in the sense that she’s watching her thoughts, she’s thinking her thoughts, and tremendous amount of repetitiveness.
[31:16] Because we go back to…If you’re walking down the street, you’ll remember that your mother didn’t let you have a dog.
LT: And that thought will come back and back and back in very different moments in your life.
LT: Or that you could have been nicer to so-and-so. And you regret so and now you can’t tell them.
[31:41] BL: Yeah.
LT: And that will repeat and repeat and repeat. So there are certain things that, to my character whose name you don’t find out until almost three quarters of the book is over, she’s having these repetitive thoughts. I think that is the way people think. I think that what you discover in meditation is a reality for most people.
BL: But just without like the guide. I think that’s why analysis is potentially appealing to me, is that like, to have somebody there who can help you like tease out the patterns and help you, sort of like walk you through it.
[32:18] I’m just like watching the horror show. [laughs] And that in and of itself is beneficial, but it might hasten the process of understanding, to have a guide.
LT: I believe so. I mean that’s just been part of what has allowed me to function. I don’t know that I would have been able to be a writer had I not done this. Because I wanted to, I decided to be a writer when I was 8 years old.
[32:46] BL: Okay.
LT: And I was determined to be a writer. But I was so insecure and so neurotic about so many things, so anxious, that it took me years before I could show anybody anything. And in fact, my first publications were anonymous.
[33:10] LT: A friend and I, she’s now dead, we started a magazine in 1975, ‘76 called Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter. [laughs] We had three issues, and then we fell out.
BL: [laughs] You’re talking to a guy whose website, you know, my website is called The Nervous Breakdown. So, we’re right on the same page.
LT: Right. Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter or PAN. And it was all anonymous. There were no editors’ names, no, you know, writers’ names, nothing. Nothing.
[33:46] BL: And so what instigated at eight years old this desire to be a writer? Do you know what it was?
LT: [sighs] Well, I think there always, you know, it’s overdetermined I think. But I think there were a number of factors. One, I was the baby. I don’t think I had as much say in what was going on. I was observing everything. There was a sort of chaotic household. I loved reading.
[34:12] And when I was learning to write, and we started writing compositions, I guess that was in the third grade? I loved it. And the story is, that I remember, is that my teacher, and I forget her name, gave us an assignment to write about Charles the Great, Charlemagne. And I went home that weekend and started writing.
[34:43] And I was so excited writing this. I wrote, one was “Charlemagne, Man of War.” And then I wrote another, “Charlemagne, Man of Peace.” [laughs] And what’s funny about it is that that sense of contradiction pertains in my work still.
BL: Wow. It was there from the beginning.
LT: It was there from the beginning.
BL: So you begin publishing – First of all, where’d you go to school, or did you go to school?
LT: Yes. [laughs]
BL: You did.
LT: Yes. I was a wild man. No.
[35:14] LT: I went to Hunter College.
BL: In the city.
LT: In the city. And then I went to live in Europe in the ‘70s, and then when I came back, I had studied English Literature and minored in American History, and I took all my electives in studio art. Painting, at Hunter, which had, and still has a very good art department, studio art department.
[35:39] Then I, by about 1980, ‘81, I went to graduate school in Sociology, at CUNY grad school. Because I realized there was all of this stuff I hadn’t read. And I wanted to learn it. Max Weber, Marx, you know, more Freud. I had been reading Freud but, the ethnomethodologists. I just…and sociology is, you know, people think, “Oh sociology, study of society…”
[36:13] But in fact there are all these great people in sociology. Max Weber, Durkheim, and newer people. And then you’ve got all the ethnomethodologists, Erving Goffman and so on. And I went, I would take a course or two courses every semester, toward a Ph.D. I did fulfill all the credits for a Ph.D., but I didn’t really want a Ph.D.
[36:42] I didn’t take any of the exams. I just –
BL: Why not? Oh you just wanted the knowledge, you didn’t care –
LT: I wanted the knowledge. I knew that there were a lot of new ideas including French theory that I had not studied in college. And I was reading literature, but there were things that, you know, I hadn’t yet read Barthes for instance. I hadn’t read Walter Benjamin.
[37:11] I hadn’t read Kristeva. There was a lot of stuff that I hadn’t read, although I was reading a lot of very good literature.
BL: But isn’t that always the case? I mean, I guess you just had this acute sense of knowing what you didn’t know.
BL: But it’s kind of a bottomless hole.
LT: Oh, it is bottomless. It is bottomless. The thing is, at least not to imagine that you know enough, ever. What happens to people when they get out of college is sometimes they stop reading.
[37:41] BL: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that’s why, you know, people, in addition to calling you experimental, and genre-bending, and all this different stuff, they also call you a writer’s writer. And having talked to hundreds of writers now on this show, I can point to a small handful of them, you among them, who, you know, get tagged with that. And I think what it is, is that people who write and who love and live in books can recognize it when someone has really done the work as a reader, because it shows up in the writing. And I feel that.
[38:11] Like, there are some people who can write beautifully. You know, they can publish a beautiful novel, but they’re not like, dogged in their reading the way that some writers, like some of the writers who come in here have read – it feels like they’ve read everything.
LT: Yes, way more than I’ve read. I mean, I find that when I’m working on a novel, and this, this is the problem with being a writer, is that you don’t read as much.
BL: Mhm. Or a podcaster. [laughs]
LT: Or a podcaster! [laughs] Well, you have to read. You have a lot of stuff to read to talk –
[38:42] BL: It’s always like at hyperspeed. You know? Because it’s coming every week.
LT: Well, when you particularly love something, you should read it again.
BL: Yeah, I try to. And then the problem though is that, the best time window for me is at night before bed. And I’m so tired! I just, I pick it up and I wake up with it, or it like falls on my face.
LT: And you have young children.
LT: See, I never did. My husband who’s a musician, David Hofstra, great bass player. We neither of us ever wanted children, and I never had any urge at all, ever.
[39:18] And so I didn’t have that difficulty. And I don’t think – the difficulty of raising children. I also didn’t have what my friends tell me, the ones who have children, is glorious also from having a child. I like my friends’ children, so, but I’m impatient. I’m a very impatient person, or I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it, you know?
BL: Sure, I get it.
[39:44] LT: I get criticized by my friends because when I want to leave a restaurant, finished, or a party, I just want to go.
BL: You just go.
LT: I just wanna go.
BL: I can relate to that.
LT: And coat on, and my friend is saying, “Lynne, Lynne, I haven’t gotten my coat on yet.”
BL: [laughs] By the way, if Lynne gets up suddenly and leaves the microphone, you’ll know why.
LT: [laughs] Enough! I’ve had enough of this.
BL: Yeah, she’s had enough. Just walk out. That’s called a mic drop, in podcast parlance.
[40:12] So I want to get back to you –
LT: By the way, being a writer’s writer, I believe is the kiss of death.
BL: You think so?
LT: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
BL: What does that mean, kiss of death? Kiss of death in what sense?
LT: It means that people hear that, a general reader hears that and thinks, “I’m not going to like this book. It’s only for other writers.”
BL: Right, or it’s going to be, but I don’t know. I feel like that, I feel like there’s some truth to what you say, but I also feel like, that it speaks to a work’s staying power.
[40:45] LT: Well that would be nice. I do know that I like going to hear other writers read, particularly the writers who’re coming along. You can’t read everything, as you know. In fact, there just seems the impossibility of reading anything when you’re writing, that’s – When I was working on this book, Men and Apparitions, it was very hard for me to read any contemporary fiction.
[41:15] BL: You see, okay, that makes me feel better because I do so much reading in nonfiction. I read a lot about Buddhism. I find myself reading a lot of stuff that isn’t fiction when I’m sitting here trying to write it. So maybe that’s normal? Or there are ideas that you’re entertaining or to get it, like really immersed in another narrative would somehow confuse the issue?
LT: I think novelists are generalists. I think we read, often we read what we need in order to write a book.
[41:46] And so we’re the non-academic, you know, intellectual wanderers out there, trying to find what we need. We read for our own writing.
BL: That’s right. It’s like scavengers.
LT: That’s right. We are scavengers. And you know, we’ll pick a quote here, pick a quote there. I read a lot of stuff for American Genius, A Comedy, but even more for Men and Apparitions, because I have a historical figure in there, Clover Hooper Adams, and I needed to do my research.
[42:21] Why did I say re-search?
BL: I don’t know, but I liked it. You em-pha-sized the right syl-la-ble. [laughs]
LT: [laughs] I did indeed! Research.
BL: There we go.
LT: I needed to do my research. And I did, and I think, not to be a complete charlatan, I tried to do more than I wanted to in research.
[42:42] BL: Well, you know, I mean when you’re dealing with a real person, or you know, you’re dealing with history, I feel like there’s a responsibility.
LT: And a fascinating history, Clover Hooper Adams, and her friends Henry James and her husband, Henry Adams, you know, the historian. I mean, an extraordinary, extraordinary group of people.
BL: I was just thinking about this, maybe this morning. And it was about, like, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a time or in a place where quote unquote “it” was happening.
[43:16] Do you know what I’m saying? There are these incredible pockets of time in history where like this confluence of people and events at the right location and artistic movement, you know what I’m saying? Like have you ever felt you were in the midst of something like that?
LT: Yes, but I didn’t objectify it.
[43:35] But when I came back from living in Europe toward the end of the ‘70s, I walked into a really fabulous period in New York City, where a lot of people were coming up then, including Barbara Kruger, and Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman, and Gary Indiana, and Patrick McGraw, and other writers. And there was a fusion, that’s when I met David Hofstra, and there was, the clubs that were having readings and music at the same time.
[44:12] And it was in Manhattan. The boroughs didn’t exist to us Manhattanites [laughs] at that time. It’s totally different now and that’s good. But there was a lot of activity that I was taking part of, taking part in. And now it’s being commodified, you know, the ‘80s, and it’s as if you get fixed into a vitrine. And I don’t feel nostalgic for that.
[44:40] I think when you’re young, everything you’re doing can feel that it’s “it.”
BL: It’s like supercharged.
LT: It’s supercharged, and –
BL: Yeah, but see, like you talk about going to Europe. Like I’m one of these, like, sort of, I feel like kind of an idiot in a way. But I was like, “I want to go to Paris.” I’d read so much about it, I want to like see this place. But I went, like, it was like so far from being over, it was done. And I went back, it’s like a museum. Do you know what I’m saying? It wasn’t like the Paris of the ‘20s or whatever, and so, I always, the revisionist part of me is like, “Why didn’t I go someplace else?”
[45:16] Like there’s gotta be a place that was making it new, and the best I could come up with was to go to the place that was like almost 100 years ago.
LT: Well, I think there’s stuff happening in Paris now, but it’s not the Paris of the ‘20s or ‘30s. But we don’t really know what that was either, because it’s fabled. The first person I ever interviewed was the surrealist Méret Oppenheim, and she was in Paris and I was in Amsterdam, and I was asked to go interview her.
[45:46] I really had very little, I was very young, and I had very little idea who she was. And I made the stupidest mistake that no one should ever make.
BL: What’s that?
LT: And I say this now to the listening audience, to never say to somebody, I said to her: “What was it like in the ‘20s and ‘30s?” [laughs]
[46:08] And she looked at me, she was very kind, elegant woman. Great artist, and she looked at me, she said, “The same as it is now. I’m friends with artists, I go to have dinner out, I make my work.” And at some point, in the ‘90s, I got asked by somebody, “What was it like to be alive during the 80s,” or something and I thought, oh – [laughs]
BL: But you know what strikes me as an interesting parallel between the New York of the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and the Paris of the ‘20s is that maybe part of the reason we fetishize these times is because they were both times when these really incredible cities were affordable to artists.
[46:50] You had post-war Paris where you could get by on very little, and then you had, you know, New York, like lower Manhattan was wide open to artists, and you could live there.
LT: Very very cheap. The whole city was cheap. A taxi ride was nothing. Well, Berlin now, and maybe it’s over already in Berlin, but that’s its reputation. People are thinking of Mexico City, I hear now.
[47:13] BL: Okay.
LT: So it’s moving around.
BL: But it’s like, buy on the rumor, sell on the news. Where it’s really happening, no one’s even talked about it yet.
LT: Some people are very clever that way, and knew to buy in Brooklyn 20 years ago.
LT: I am absolutely dense about that kind of thing. And, the idea of being a, somebody who refurbishes or redoes the whole house or stuff like that.
[47:43] I can’t even paint a wall. I get so, oh my god, this is so awful.
BL: I’m like the least handy man on the planet. I’m kinda self-conscious about it. I don’t know how to do anything.
LT: Well, it’s changing for men.
BL: But I feel like I have a responsibility to at least know how to hang a picture. I’m terrible. Like I don’t trust myself. Like I can try, but I don’t want to like ruin the wall.
LT: [laughs] I bet there are books on picture-hanging.
BL: [laughs] Yeah, right? I could watch a YouTube video but that’s way too involved for me.
[48:12] So let’s get to your European years. I’m interested to know, because, this pocket of time where you’re kind of a young aspiring artist, and you’re doing that expatriation thing, which I think a lot of us – I think it’s actually a really healthy exercise, to get out of your homeland and it gives you, you know, obviously a wealth of experience but also some perspective, and like a, I don’t know, less of a fixed sense of identity or something.
LT: Oh, very much so.
[48:42] And that’s what I dealt with in Motion Sickness, my second novel. I didn’t really realize that I was an American until I lived in Europe. I had no idea that so many of my attitudes were American attitudes, and that they differed from my Dutch friends’ and my English friends’ and some French friends’. Very very different.
[49:12] And I would not have known that. I might have thought that I was a New Yorker, to some extent, because I’d gone to Hunter College. But it was shocking, really, to identify yourself differently. To see that you were carrying these national characteristics.
BL: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I found when I was travelling overseas as a young man, like one thing that surprised me was that, because people, especially, I guess this was late ‘90s, early aughts, people were very quick to criticize America, like to your face.
[49:48] Sometimes. Not all the time. But I found that when it happened, I would rarely respond. I was usually pretty passive in my response. Sometimes I agreed, you know, it was an astute criticism. But other times I could feel, just like this little twinge in me, like a little bit of defensiveness, or bristling. Like, hey, you know, that’s not that simple. Or, I don’t know, just some impulse to defend my country, which I am very quick to criticize.
[50:14] But that surprised me. I didn’t expect to feel that.
LT: I would feel a kind of, now, a kind of sadness because our country is under such assault from very demonic forces.
LT: Really destructive – he’s a really destructive person.
BL: That’s right.
[50:42] LT: And it’s hard to understand how he got to be. But I’m less interested in his psychology than his effects and…Which are, I think, so debilitating.
BL: It feels like we’re all, because he’s president, it can sometimes feel like we all have an abusive dad. Or, you know? It has like this withering psychological effect. Like he’s just unpredictable. I don’t know. He’s kinda predictable too.
[51:12] LT: Well, he’s predictably unpredictable. You know he’s gonna say, “Yes, let’s raise the gun age.” The next day, “No, let’s not.” You know now that you cannot trust anything that he says, that he will stick to that, unless it’s something like that it works for business, like the tax thing. And even then he, remember he said, “No, maybe it should be 19 percent or now 21 percent…”
[51:43] Of course that didn’t happen, but he was just, you know, kidding around.
LT: Or arbitrary, teasing.
LT: Very much of a tease.
BL: Was he someone who figured into your imagination and your day-to-day life as a New Yorker?
LT: Oh no, no, that guy was despised in New York.
BL: That’s what I mean, though. Because I feel like when the election was happening, I read a lot of people on Twitter, and in articles and essays that I would read talk about how New Yorkers have known that this guy is a joke for decades.
[52:16] LT: For decades, yes.
BL: Like and if you look at the election results, you know, his results in Manhattan, he won like a very very very small fraction of the votes. Like everybody across the spectrum sort of knew that he’s a con man.
LT: Yeah. A con man, just a flash, you know, flash in the pan or whatever. Nobody liked him. He was always a wannabe. He would show up at things, and he was grotesque.
[52:46] BL: You ever see him?
LT: No, I never did. You notice that his face is less orange than it used to be?
BL: Well he’s probably responding to criticism. [laughs] He gets bagged on a lot for that.
LT: I don’t know.
BL: He’s a mess. It’s hard to believe that this has happened, and it feels like a, kind of a cartoonish nightmare, and you don’t know exactly what the ending is gonna be.
LT: Well, we’re all hoping and praying for Mueller.
[53:13] BL: [laughs] Yeah, right.
LT: But who knows? I’m sure Trump is trying to fire Mueller in every which way that he can.
BL: I don’t know.
LT: And the Republicans in the Congress, there’s no pushback from them.
LT: All this stuff. There are a few, who every once in a while come out and say something. Usually…Even that guy, Dowdy? Trey Dowdy is his name?
BL: Yeah. Gowdy.
LT: Gowdy. He’s sort of dowdy to me. [laughs]
[53:42] BL: He looks kind of like a, he’s got like a ferret-like appearance.
LT: Yes he is ferret-like. Even he, now that he’s not going to run again, he’s coming forward. And that’s really such a disgusting part of the kind of politics that’s being played now.
BL: Yeah. Profiles in courage, right?
BL: I just, I feel almost, I almost feel more antipathy towards the GOP Congress that’s like abetting this than I do towards Trump, who I feel like has got a screw loose, and we’ve sort of known his number forever.
[54:13] LT: If the Republicans in Congress had some spine, they wouldn’t be just saying yes all the time. And you know, these midterm elections that are going on, these special ones, it’s not going too well for the Republicans.
BL: Let’s hope it continues.
LT: That’s what we can hope.
BL: So, like let’s take a look at this through the lens of psychotherapy, just to sort of loop back a little bit.
[54:40] Because this is a moment I think, to reflect on the state of this country, the national soul? Or the national psyche? Like you talked about that interesting moment where everybody was so kind of turned inward, and yet we were launching a –
LT: A preemptive war.
BL: A preemptive war, in Iraq. Like what do you make psychoanalytically of the MAGA crowd? And of the political environment that enabled this to happen?
[55:17] LT: I’m not sure where I’m getting this from, but I was talking with someone, and she brought up the idea of disappointment. That perhaps there’s great grief in a lot of people who were hoping for the American Dream to hit them.
[55:42] And because of very severe changes in the way the economy works, especially in the last 30 years, that they are suffering psychologically. And I don’t think it’s because they haven’t been – I know there’s a lot of people that say, “We didn’t reach out, the Democrats didn’t reach out to workers,” and so on.
[56:10] And I don’t think actually that’s the way to break it down. You could, but I think, I mean and people do. But again, it was in certain pockets and, and of course, Hillary Clinton didn’t go there, and she should’ve, but I don’t think it would’ve…I don’t know. We don’t know what caused that terrible guy to get into office completely. We don’t understand.
BL: I think we’ll be trying to figure that out for a long time.
LT: For a long time.
[56:40] But grief. I think there may be some kind of underlying grief about the country that the country is not what it was supposed to have been. And this, I think, maybe is building since Watergate and the Vietnam War. I think that the cultural divide from the ‘60s on still pertains.
[57:09] LT: And I think that social issues, if they come to dominate everything, more than even economic issues. I mean, you have these Evangelicals supporting Trump.
BL: Right. Which is to me, like, the height of hypocrisy and just it seems insane.
LT: Well, something like, you know, everyone sins. Because they’re –
BL: Unless it’s a Democrat.
LT: Unless it’s a Democrat. Unless it’s Bill Clinton.
[57:40] You know, you have the idea of the aggression leveled against Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons, but also that we had a black president, and the resentment there and…But maybe there’s such great disappointment in the kinds of ideals that people had, and were crushed by, and it’s not a single kind of disappointment.
[58:12] It’s interesting, years ago, years and years ago, when you were unemployed, you might move to another state to get a job. You might. But a lot of the people who were unemployed didn’t move. Who were suddenly out of work. That’s interesting. Now maybe they were so discouraged that they didn’t think anything would work. Or maybe because of the way the American education system is being so screwed up, they didn’t have the tools.
[58:47] You know, the intellectual tools, the educations that they needed. And that’s disappointing.
BL: Well you know, it’s like the phrase that keeps coming to mind as I listen to you is that, “Anger is a lazy form of grief.” And –
LT: That’s, I’ve never heard that, but I think that that may be true. I think that this, the destructiveness of Trump, to support that, and to somehow…
[59:13] There may be some kind of major schadenfreude going on. Look at what’s happening to you because of, you’re going to now suffer the way that I’m suffering.
BL: Well, when you talk about the Evangelicals, because it is hard to figure, like a guy as blatantly immoral as Trump. [laughs] I mean, you couldn’t pick a guy as far from the values that the Evangelicals supposedly are invested in, but one thing that he does very well is he torments the people that Evangelicals disagree with most politically, you know.
[59:46] He’s an expert troll, and I think that that provides some emotional satisfaction.
LT: Yeah, that pleasure in, there’s a kind of pleasure. So you have people who are grieving because they don’t have what they want or what they thought they would have, supporting somebody who really doesn’t care about them but hurts their enemies. Hurts what they think of as their enemies.
[1:00:14] BL: So let’s talk about the other side of it. And I think that this is, like I have these conversations with authors frequently, because it’s on all of our minds. And I will sometimes get pushback from people who say like, “Hey, make it about literature.” I feel like this is the, one of the great narratives I’ve ever been witness to. I mean, how can you avoid it? It’s the narrative right now, that I think is percolating in all of our brains. And…
[1:00:39] Just to finish, because I think this is related to the grief logic, there’s also going to be, I think, a reckoning at some point. Like this isn’t going to last forever, because nothing does. And there’s a large trauma [laughs] that’s being inflicted upon people of conscience in this country. I feel it. I’m sure you feel it. I think most of my listeners are feeling it. And that is going to have to be dealt with after the fact. Like how do we begin to cope with that?
[1:01:12] As somebody who’s gone through analysis [laughs], you know, like what’s the healing process going to be like from this? It seems like it’s going to be a long time.
LT: I don’t know, I think it’s…So many things are happening every day that we, I, maybe you, many of my friends, thought unimaginable. The worst, how could he do this, and how could he do that, and how could he do…and it’s one thing after another.
[1:01:43] And it’s, you’re being hit in the face constantly. Okay, there are different things that might play out. Maybe he won’t be elected in two years. Maybe the Congress will change, these are –
BL: Robert Mueller. He’s gonna save us.
LT: Right. These are positive ideas, maybe. The fact of the students in Parkland, who are so –
BL: You mean the kids from Florida.
[1:02:12] LT: From Florida.
LT: Who are so, they’re not gonna take it. Like that movie, You’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore. They’re not gonna take it anymore, and I think that’s having an enormous impact, at least so far it’s having an enormous impact. So there are reasons to be hopeful. I’m not a cynic. I don’t know how you recover, exactly, from a trauma.
[1:02:43] I don’t know how – it’s interesting. I was in Kyoto, Japan, about eight months after Fukushima.
BL: Oh wow, okay.
LT: And by then they had discovered that the government had lied to them about the radioactivity. Now, the Japanese, unlike Americans, they expected never to be lied to by their government.
[1:03:10] This became a huge, huge national, not just disgrace, but incredible disappointment to these people. ‘Cause I was there with Denis Johnson, wonderful great Denis Johnson –
BL: Oh wow.
LT: And we were talking to future MFA students.
LT: Japanese, who, there was gonna be an MFA program opening up, opened up for the first time in Japan by Ryu Miyamoto, a writer himself.
[1:03:48] And he knew both of us and brought us over to talk with them. And those students, one, were so grateful that we came, we Americans came, because they felt like pariah. And two, they would say to Denis and to me, what can we do about this, about our government? It wasn’t “I”, it was as a nation.
[1:04:12] They were – I had never been talked to like that, and of course, I didn’t have an answer, just the way I don’t have an answer for you now. But they thought about themselves as part of a nation that needs to solve this problem. Now, this is a really interesting point for Americans, because we are so many different kinds of Americans. And we have our identities now are separate from a notion that there is an American.
[1:04:48] So healing, in that way, will be even more difficult for us, I think. And you know, there will be some people I blame forever for Hillary Clinton having lost.
LT: Forever! I’ll always blame them.
[1:05:12] BL: Like who?
LT: Susan Sarandon.
BL: Yeah right. The Bernie Sanders, or the people who were –
LT: Well, the people who could not switch over to Clinton.
LT: That she had been so damaged by some things that were said by originally from the far right, that the, some on the left picked up and used against her. Really horrible stuff.
[1:05:37] Sarandon, I believe I’m quoting her or paraphrasing her, said that she thought in the election, that Clinton was more dangerous than Trump. Can you imagine saying that?
BL: See, I find that ridiculous. I was enthusiastic about Bernie and I happily voted for Hillary. I don’t understand how somebody could go from being enthusiastic about Bernie to being like, no, there’s no difference between Trump and – That will frustrate me forever.
[1:06:11] LT: Yes, well it frustrates me forever too.
BL: Yeah. Well, and I want to talk to you about, like when you were talking about your experiences in Japan, and how these students were referring to their experience of citizenship in the first person plural, that’s something that I feel like we need to move back toward in this country, despite all the different identities and this great diversity that we have, which should be a strength.
[1:06:41] There needs to be, you know, like a common set of values, or a sense of national identity, or a sense of togetherness that we feel, which would hopefully lead to a saner politics.
LT: But Japan is a very homogeneous nation, it’s much smaller. It’s dense, population-wise. And they’re not too great about foreigners. [laughs] So it’s six of one, half a dozen of another.
[1:07:08] This is, it was wonderful to hear that, but then, part of their seeing themselves as a nation requires or is happening because of their xenophobia.
BL: Hm. I want to ask you, like on a related note, I want to try to move back in the direction of the concerns of your book, if I can try to make an elegant segue. [laughs]
LT: Or an inelegant segue. [laughs]
BL: Or an inelegant, or a clumsy segue, you know, but it is related.
[1:07:40] Because when we began talking about trying to narrate one’s experience from within this glut of images, I wonder if you have thoughts on the idea that living on a computer screen, which is where most of us spend our days, whether it’s on a phone or it’s on a laptop or whatever, most of us are staring at a screen for the majority of our days. We’re interacting a lot, there’s a lot of lateral movement. It’s a constant switching, switching, switching going for the dopamine or whatever it is that you get from a click or a like, or you know?
[1:08:20] Is there a flattening effect? Like, we have, like we talked about earlier, you know, people tend to be really inward and concerned with themselves, and taking selfies. And, you know, like we said, trying to get likes on Facebook and trying to get this approval. But there is some sense of like lost identity.
[1:08:41] It’s easy to feel like, I don’t know, adrift or like there’s so much coming at you, from so many different voices, that I can sometimes feel like, what could I possibly add to this? It has a deadening effect. Do you feel that, I don’t know, that we lose something in this environment, some sense of like individual richness or depth?
[1:09:16] LT: You know, I really don’t, or I don’t, and more I don’t know. Because every time has its differences. And when I was researching a nonfiction book I did called Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co., looking back into the history of the book and how this was going to affect the book or that, or radio was terrible.
[1:09:50] BL: Right.
LT: You know, it’s hard to imagine another consciousness, and thinking about, you know, what was Henry Adams like, you know? What kind of consciousness did he have? And he was a man of the book.
[1:10:11] But many people weren’t reading anything for years and years and years, or were illiterate.
BL: I was gonna say, they were illiterate.
LT: We tend to romanticize or to imagine things were better. I mean it certainly seems pretty horrible now because of that thing in office. [laughs] On the other hand, there are other things happening that are pretty interesting. And again, if you’re eight years old or 12 years old, whatever experience of life you’re having, that’s what you’re having.
[1:10:49] And I don’t know, I don’t like to, I just feel that we don’t know what kind of thinking or experience of life is gonna come out of this. There are people who, you know, in the ‘60s would just sit at home with their TV on all the time.
[1:11:11] Or I don’t know, before then, what other kinds of ways of excluding themselves from the general flow of society. It seems to me people are intensely in touch when cell phones came in, and you saw people using them for the first time. They’re saying, “Where are you?” “I’m almost there.” “Is dinner ready?”
[1:11:42] You felt that there was both a need for attachment in a way that was different and a checking-in. Everybody’s checking in all the time.
LT: Now, are they checking in because they’re lost? Or are they checking in because they’re so attached? Is the attachment too great? I don’t know. I know that people are talking to their parents by Skype from college. I didn’t talk to my parents. [laughs]
[1:12:15] You know? That wasn’t part of the zeitgeist I grew up in. I was supposed to really be in another world from my parents. Now? That’s different. Is that better? Worse? I just don’t know.
BL: Yeah. I know, and I often think about like how you used to make phone calls. I mean I’m old enough to remember rotary dial phones, you know?
[1:12:40] And like you used to actually like have to, you know, be at home to catch the phone, and then you had an answering machine, and then there was three-way calling, which in high school, you know, was fun. And then you’ve sort of seen it drift away, where you don’t call somebody now, you text them. There was emailing for a bit. And I wonder about this texting, everything seems to be moving you sort of like another degree away from real –
LT: And yet, and yet instant contact also. The problem for me with texting and email is tone.
[1:13:12] LT: And you can get an email from someone or a text that’s so brusque that you think, if you’re me, they’re angry. Somebody’s angry at me. And then I have to phone them!
BL: Right. [laughs] Or it’s like unpunctuated, so you’re like, is this interrogative, are they saying, is this a declarative? You know? It’s fascinating.
LT: You learn to read differently. And not to worry too much about a nuance, but it’s the instantaneity of things, if you don’t hear back from someone –
[1:13:47] Used to be you wrote a letter, and it was a different kind of letter because you weren’t expecting an instant response. So you were talking about yourself, or something that happened. And it wasn’t about needing a response. Maybe that part of this time of transition, tremendous transition that we’re living in, I think, and perhaps trauma too, of a national kind that I couldn’t really define…
[1:14:18] All of these inventions, all of these ways of communicating, are to repair something that maybe can’t be repaired. But there is so much of the instant, of in the instant. And I still like phone calls, ‘cause I like to hear people’s voices.
BL: And me, too. And I like a letter.
[1:14:40] I think part of the reason why I do this show, part of the origin story of this show, was frustration with social media, and the two dimensionality of it and just like, who’s behind this?
LT: When did you start this show?
BL: 2011. So I’m still going. But I mean I think it’s like, I wanted to talk to people and have like a richer conversation, and dialogue because, you know, otherwise it was unfolding on a comment board, or like in a thread below a photo that somebody posted of their breakfast. Or, you know what I’m saying?
LT: Do you know who listens to you?
[1:15:11] BL: Yeah. I hear from a lot of listeners. I don’t know everybody. But I have a sense of who listens, it’s a lot of people who are writers.
LT: And you have a nice voice too.
BL: Do I?
BL: Well, so do you.
LT: Thank you.
BL: Yeah, I feel like, I don’t know I just feel like it’s –
LT: Your voice is easy to listen to.
BL: I hope so.
LT: Whereas people screaming on television are not. [laughs] Cable TV.
BL: That’s why I’m not on TV. But you know, and there’s so many different things. I feel like you’re a person, I could sit here and ask question after question to. I didn’t even get to visual art.
[1:15:43] Do you have time for like a, just a short conversation about visual art?
BL: Because it factors into your work. It’s factored into your education, and it’s just a, it’s a central concern of yours.
BL: Something you know a lot about. And I’m always interested when I talk to writers who have this kind of varied background aesthetically, and how the different disciplines or art forms, or whatever you want to call ‘em, inform one another. Like how has that worked for you and how has it evolved over the course of your career, like this obsession with the visual?
[1:16:14] LT: I don’t know if it’s an obsession, but an engagement. I, [laughs] as Yogi Berra said, you know, I get a lot just from watching, [laughs] or looking, whatever that phrase, sentence was. I grew up looking at TV and movies.
[1:16:35] My father was a textile designer, and so the look of things and discussions, or going to his, he had his own company, going to his office, and looking at material, fabric. And the sort of mystery of this great role of fabric and the texture of things. I loved that, the tactility. And as a kid, I was taken to museums or went on my own. And my mother was an amateur painter.
[1:17:14] These two older sisters were, I guess introduced me to some things also in art, or plays.
BL: Was there a lot of dialogue about visual art? I mean, it had to have been in the air.
LT: In my family?
LT: I don’t know. More about books. I remember writing my sister, Iris, who at Smith at the time about reading a book, and what book I was reading, and that it was too long.
[1:17:45] BL: Which book was it?
LT: God, I don’t know, it could have been a Norman Mailer book or something, because in my teens I was reading him and others of that group. So movies. I loved movies, and went to them a lot and that obviously, that visual –
[1:18:12] But about art, I sort of came to that myself, I think. And when I was in college, and miserable, very very miserable. Not that I didn’t like learning, but I was a neurotic mess. A friend, an older friend in school, was a music and art double major, and she said, take some courses in studio art. And I did, and I learned a lot by doing and by going to gallery shows and seeing my teachers’ work.
[1:18:49] And I just started thinking more and more about it. But actually making a painting, working with this other kind of space than the space of a page, was fascinating. And I loved it also. And you think spatially, and there’s a lot of spatial thinking, I think, in Men and Apparitions, because it’s set up differently.
[1:19:12] It’s more spatial, I think, it’s not linear, although there is a kind of chronology as it goes along, but it doesn’t read as a linear book. There’s a logic there, I think.
BL: It’s sort of a relief to work in visual art. Like even just like…I’m no artist but just to sit and doodle. It works a different part of the brain.
LT: It does.
BL: It feels like, especially if you’re deep into a piece of writing, it’s kind of a relief to go draw a little bit or…
[1:19:41] LT: I’ve been doing some watercolors again, every once in a while. And it is a different, you’re thinking differently. The question of space, and what happens with color, it’s exciting. And if you’re not a real visual artist, as I’m not, it’s not as daunting. You know, I can –
BL: Pressure’s off.
LT: Pressure is off.
[1:20:12] And I did make some films also. You know, I was one of these people who wanted to do everything. And of course, a lot of artists are doing everything now and –
BL: I feel sympathy with that. It’s always like, I feel like I can get easily distracted because I have my hands in too many cookie jars.
LT: But then at a certain point, I had to limit myself. And still, you know, you know that you could’ve had three different lives, perhaps.
BL: You gotta pick one at some point.
[1:20:42] LT: Or it picks you! Maybe the wrong one. [laughs]
BL: [laughs] Well on that note. It is such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for coming over to talk with me, congratulations on the publication of the new book, and I wish you well.
LT: Thank you very much, Brad.
* * *
[1:20:57] Okay, there you go, that’s Lynne Tillman. Her new novel, the first in twelve years, is called Men and Apparitions, available now from Soft Skull Press. You can find Lynne on Twitter, her handle there is @glossitis, she’s also on Facebook. Men and Apparitions out there now, go get your copy. I would like to thank, what’s the name of this band? Gotta look at the folder. Cigarette Royalty, for this transitional music.
[1:21:28] Thanks to Kill Rock Stars and the band Stereo Total for the theme song music. You can follow this show on Twitter @otherppl. You can email me at email@example.com. You can support the show at patreon.com/otherpplpod. Don’t forget to get the Otherppl app, it’s free. Download it, get it on your phone, or upload it. You know what I’m talking about. It’s free, get the app, the Otherppl app, it’s a great way to listen.
[1:21:56] So I don’t know, you know, you talk about self, relating to yourself, trying to figure out who you actually are. Steve, the gentleman who wrote to me, at the top of the show, in the monologue, when I was reading his letter, I don’t know if I did an adequate job of responding. Or if I, you know, I don’t mean to be simplistic or talking about things in a way that seems tired. I feel like I’ve talked a lot about self and how everything’s an amalgam.
[1:22:26] It’s one of these things that is fundamental to me, and that I have to constantly remind myself of. I find comfort in it somehow. Because not only is a combination a combination, but it’s also a continuation. It’s all part of some flow, right? The river of life. Whatever you want to call it. Fixed identities are illusory. But it is a weird thing to tell somebody: be yourself. Well, what the hell does that mean? I’ve always found that confusing. “Just be yourself.”
[1:23:00] “Just be yourself. You got it. You can do this. Just be yourself.” [laughs] I don’t even know how to respond to that. Just made everything complicated. Just be yourself. Everything’s fine.