Episode 545 — Mark Leidner | Transcript

   

Air date: October 10, 2018.

MONOLOGUE

[00:00:51] Brad Listi: Hello everybody. Hey. How’s it going? This is the Otherppl Podcast. I’m Brad Listi. I’m in Los Angeles. I’m sitting here. I’m standing here. I’m here. I’m in Los Angeles – the Hollywood sign? It’s right outside. Somewhere up there. It’s visible. It’s hot. It still feels like summer out here – everything is fucked up. Fuck everything. This has been a fucked up week – do you watch the news? Fucked up. Fucked up country. Everything’s fucked. [Deep Exhale] 

[00:01:25] Mark Leidner is my guest today. He’s got a story collection out from Tyrant Books. The story collection is called Under the Sea. Mark Leidner is the guest. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s for awhile. I like his Twitter. I like his book of aphorisms. There’s something sort of mysterious about his online presentation. At least through my eyes. And so, I found myself over the years being curious about who he is. ‘Cause it’s a little opaque. It’s a little undefined. 

[00:01:55] Like I don’t think he posts pictures of himself. Like that’s not his avatar. You know what I’m saying? Those people who they use like a color or an image or something that’s not them as their avatar. And then it’s like, “who are they?” Maybe I should do that. I guess I kind of do on the Otherppl Twitter feed. But anyway, I’m just excited to have a conversation on the record with Mark Leidner. And it was a really good one. And I’m going to share it with you in just a moment. 

[00:02:20] What did I do today? Well today is Saturday. I’m recording this on a Saturday, and I drove down to San Diego to work with a dog trainer. I’m taking Twiggy to this dog trainer to get help. To get her like extra obedient. [Laughs] And, you know, I think I gotta explain that it’s good to train your dog. I’m one of those – I’m very pro “train your dog.” 

[00:02:48] I don’t like people who project their own emotional stuff onto their dog. And they’re like, “just let the dog be free.” When the truth is that they feel unfree. And so they want their dog to be free as some sort of outward expression of the lack of liberty that they are plagued with, or whatever, internally. Train your dog. Your dog’s annoying. You’re annoying. Go away. 

[00:03:10] [Canned Applause] Train your dog. People like to be around a dog that’s well-behaved. The dog will get petted more. It will get pet more. It will get petted more. You know what I’m talking about. Train your fucking dog. So, on top of that, you know my son has physical disabilities, and he’s down on the floor. The dog is kind of a spaz. She’s ten months old. And plus, like just moving around, I want to have off-leash control of this dog so I can have my hands free to help my son if he needs it.

[00:03:41] And just like generally, like if I go hiking, I don’t want to have the dog on the leash, but I want the dog to stay with me. I don’t want her to get eaten by a coyote. I don’t want a dog fight. I don’t want her jumping on people. I don’t want an annoying dog. I want a dog people like. Train your dog. I’m going to train my dog. But I feel like I need a little help. Just ‘cause I’m so busy. So I saw this woman out on a hiking trail one day, and she had this dog that was just beautifully trained. 

[00:04:08] Just staying right with her. You could tell that she put a lot of work into it, and I talked to her. She recommended this guy who just happens to be in San Diego, which is logistically ridiculous that I’m doing this now. I’m already running myself ragged. Now I’m getting up before the sun rises on Saturday mornings, driving down to San Diego. So I can be with this guy who’s like a former marine. [Laughs] We’re like doing drills. I don’t know what I’m doing.

[00:04:35] I’m not going to compete. I’m not that guy. I’m not going to be like a competitive dog obedience person. I just want a well-trained, polite animal. My kids. If I have my way on planet earth. If I can do one thing? Polite kids and a polite dog. That’s all I want. My mission will be complete at that point. I just want my kids to be polite. Nice to be around. Respectful of people. I want my dog to be a joy. And to do whatever the fuck I say.

[00:05:05] Now, I was joking, too. My kids probably are not going to be obedient. Right? That’s not what kids do. My wife doesn’t listen to me. My kids, they kind of listen to me. Very few people listen to me. My dog? Maybe my dog will listen to me. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do here. Maybe this is a cry for help. This is what happens, you get to middle age, no one listens to you. You have a podcast. You drive down to San Diego to work with a marine to get your dog to heel off leash. Is that what you do?
[00:05:35] Is that where I am? Is this sad? [Sad Music Starts] Mark Leidner is my guest today. His new story collection is called Under the Sea, it’s available from Tyrant Books. This is Mark Leidner! Are you ready?

* * *

INTERVIEW

[00:06:00] Mark Leidner: They’re also a fun challenge to write. They’re very difficult. 

BL: Yeah

ML: I was flipping through that book The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover recently and there are- I don’t even stand behind all the aphorisms that are in there anymore. But there are a few that I do. And I’m really surprised. Like, “Oh, that somehow is still true to me. Or true enough. But I love to write them because they’re – it’s very hard to say anything definitively. 

[00:06:31] ML: With, in any format of anything. So to try to also do it in a small amount of space it’s like haiku. It seems small so it wouldn’t take that long, but it’s almost impossible to write a good aphorism. That’s what’s interesting about them. 

BL: Okay, so how do you, like what’s the difference between working on an aphorism versus working on a short story or a longer piece. Like I’m trying to imagine ‘cause I’ve never written aphorisms before. Like I’m trying to imagine the process of composition. 

[00:07:03] BL: Like is it a lot of just sitting there? [Laughs]

ML: Well, I think at first that’s what I thought it was when I was interested in it. I was like, well, okay, now just think deep about a thing. And I quickly realized that that doesn’t yield any good aphorisms. And what I came to, by trying to do it, and Twitter helped with this, was that it really – it’s not about trying to say something that is thoughtful or deep. 

[00:07:30] ML: It’s more about just finding one verb or one word that is really complicated and paints a vivid picture. And then asking yourself, how could this relate to something else? So you know, like “jigsaw puzzle.” It paints such a complicated picture in your head, and then you think, what could a jigsaw puzzle be like? And so for me it’s that. It’s an analogy game of thinking of a vivid image or word and then being like, what’s something that’s surprising that I could compare this to that is also somewhat truthful?

[00:08:08] ML: So you end up, where you end up, with the little pithy truth that you have is a surprise to you or is to me when I get there. 

BL: And a few of them, like some of them have held up over the years. 

ML: Some of them. 

BL: But some of them, you’re like no. [Laughs] 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: I guess that’s natural. 

ML: Yeah, I think it’s like the risk of being wrong is very high in an aphorism. Whereas in a lot of lyrical poetry, there’s no right or wrong. Like you’re not going out on a limb and staking like, “This is what love is,” or if it’s a good poem usually you’re not. 

[00:08:44] ML: But with an aphorism you’re kind of – it’s like a game of chicken. You want to say something that feels like you’re stepping out on a limb, but it can’t be so anodyne that – if I’m pronouncing that word right – I don’t know – 

BL: I think you got it. 

ML: That those are my least favorite kinds of aphorisms that seem to be saying something truthful but are just so vague or untrue or just, the author didn’t go far enough. 

[00:09:15] ML: And risk anything. Like those would be on like little tea towel trinkets that you might buy and hang in your bathroom. 

BL: Well, your publisher, Ken, who published that book of aphorisms, he just published a book that has aphorisms in it. 

ML: Yeah.

BL: So, he’s tried that. I find that form thrilling when it works. You know, when I read one that really hits. I don’t know what it is. 

[00:09:45] BL: But I think there’s something so cool about being that brief and that deep. Or at least you know the way that it gets me thinking. 

ML: It’s true. However, the flip side is that they’re very – one of the things that initially attracted me to them is that I think they’re looked down on by serious literary critics or writers. 

BL: No wonder I like them. [Laughs]

[00:10:13] ML: Yeah. Exactly. But they should be looked down on because they are like a little, it’s like candy almost. You can read a really good book of aphorisms and be like oh, oh, that’s thoughtful, that’s thoughtful, oh yeah, history is like that. Oh yeah, experience is like that. And then, you know, it’s just a little dopamine hit that doesn’t often resonate forever. Like I’ve read many, many books of aphorisms by, what’s his name, C-I-O-R-A-N

[00:10:38] ML: I don’t know how to pronounce it. But, an awesome, truly fearless, and often disturbing aphorist. But I don’t remember any of them.

BL: I could say the same thing about most books I’ve read. 

ML: Yeah, that’s true. 

BL: Like my memory for – Like I wish I had better recall for what I’ve read. But the truth is that very little sticks. 

ML: But. Right. But it’s okay I think to not remember the words, but the things that I do remember that come back to me when I’m in crisis. 

[00:11:10] ML: Or that I rely on as, wow, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life right now. Or I’m really worried about this. The things that do float back to me are stories. Or poems. But not aphorisms. And I won’t even remember a whole poem, I’ll just remember that feeling like oh yeah, that’s the second coming poem, and that’s this feeling, and I can use that somehow to – I don’t remember the whole poem, but like I remember the feeling. 

[00:11:40] BL: Do you have books, you talk about this but like, you have books that you rely on, kind of like life rafts or whatever, you know, when things go sideways. Are there tons of them? Are there just like a small few? What are some books that you’ve read that you feel that way about?

ML: I think that often really, when I’m really truly worried or afraid or depressed or something like that.

[00:12:12] ML:  I’ll go all the way back to the Bible, or like parables – basically Christ parables. Those stories, to me, always yield like – that calm me down. They sort of explain to me, you know, something that feels useful at the moment. So I love old religious texts, in a way stripped from the religion around them. But the actual texts.

[00:12:42] And I don’t like open the Bible and read them. I’ll just like – I have this document on my computer of parables from various gospels. I’m not even sure what gospels they come from. But I’ll sometimes reread them or I’m often inspired by them. I’ll try to reformulate them in other contexts. Other books like that are The Odyssey, a lot of classics. What else? 

[00:13:15] I love myth. And I love texts that are literature but are considered religion or myth or things like that. In those I find the most kind of depth and sustained complexity often. 

BL: That’s how I feel about some Thoreau. I guess I just read a biography about him so he’s fresh on my mind. But this ambition that he had, to sit down and write, in his time, modern scripture. 

[00:13:45] Like that’s a really high ambition. But I wish more people did that. You know? Because he was going for the big fish. You know what I’m saying?

ML: Yeah!

BL: I don’t know. I think that’s a worthy pursuit. Even if you’re statistically doomed to failure almost. You know what I’m saying? Like there’s a high degree of failure. Sort of like with aphorisms. [Laughs]

[00:14:08] ML: Totally. It’s very. Yeah, ‘cause it’s like a dogmatic… Or it lends itself to dogmatism, and it’s so grotesque when you encounter it in writing, often. Unless it’s very complicated. A lot of poetry is basically religious musings and half of the Bible – or a lot of the Bible –  is just poetry. You know it’s just proverbs and psalms and the poetry of a particular people.

[00:14:40] ML: So, I love it. I love it when poets today write verse that is in some way engaged in that. In trying to be like a religious text. ‘Cause I wonder, it’s only time passing. Time passing is what usually makes something religion. In the moment, when whoever was writing Psalms.

[00:15:06] BL: They’re just annoying. [Laughs]

ML: Right, exactly. They were just writing poems and everyone was probably booing them or ignoring them. But time. You know all the forces of history piled up and those things became the word of God. 

BL: So it’s like. So okay, just let me use a popular example, because I think about this sometimes. Like Mary Oliver. You ever read her? 

ML: I’ve read a little bit. I mean I know some famous poem of hers. 

[00:15:33] BL: Yeah, she’s got a lot. But she’s like super popular

ML: Sure.

BL: Insofar as a poet in America can be popular today. And I think that her critics sometimes her knock her for that sort of earnest dogmatism, or overt spirituality. And in my head, ‘cause I’m a fan. I’m an unabashed fan. I love her poetry. It makes me feel all warm inside, like in a genuine way. Not in a way that afterward, you’re like, oh, is that a sugar high?

ML: Right.

[00:16:03] BL: And so, when you say time really is the thing that distinguishes a piece of literature from having that sort of gravity or whatever. I can see her work aging well. 

ML: Sure.

BL: And once you have the benefit of decades and centuries, no one is going to be quite so miffed by that. 

ML: Let’s say the world was destroyed in some kind of apocalyptic event – or most of it was. 

[00:16:29] ML: And the few people who survived, you know eating beans in cans and cannibalism – whatever it takes. There’s ten people left on the planet. Everything is burnt. And they find some tattered – generations later, living in this post-apocalyptic desert, they find some tattered paper that has a Mary Oliver poem on it. With no memory of who Mary Oliver was or how anything occurred before. That would definitely become a religious text. 

[00:17:03] ML: Especially if they understood it and could gain some insight – like oh my God, this piece of paper is telling us to relax, but everything around us is telling us not to relax.

BL: Right.

ML: This is holy. 

BL: There used to be birds. [Laughs]

ML: Right, exactly. 

BL: Yeah, so I don’t know. I guess I just find myself cheering that sort of thing on. Even when it misses the mark. I’m a huge fan of that pursuit. 

[00:17:29] BL: And I don’t understand – I think sometimes, there’s something very urban I guess, in my association. I feel like there’s like this kind of cynical, “Unnh. Okay, write a poem about a bird.” And some of those poems can really suck. I get that. But, I think it’s a hundred percent appropriate to be grappling with the wonders of the natural world, as a human being. 

[00:18:03] BL: Like it’s so easy to miss. There’s fucking birds flying around. Just the majesty of it. And the mystery. The deep mystery of what the hell’s going on. 

ML: I agree. I mean, every leaf. Every vein of every leaf in the world is a miracle. 

BL: Yeah.

ML: So it is – the problem is, if that’s all that anybody ever says, it’s a cliche, and it becomes a way to avoid deep reflection. 

[00:18:31] ML: It’s like, yeah, birds are beautiful, I’ll put a bird up on it, and wash my hands of having to worry about nature, or think deeply about it, or examine myself in light of it. But so the pendulum swings away from nature. And nature poems are gross and uncool and redneck. Or somehow not urbane or something. But then whatever is the new thing will get played out and nature will seem. 

[00:19:04] BL: Like gritty, confessional…

ML: “Oh my God. Nature! Like it’s amazing!” It’s a giant pendulum and whatever is uncool, will soon become cool. And whatever’s cool will soon become uncool. 

BL: So, yeah, so you can’t worry about it. 

ML: And I like to find the things that are the most uncool and play with them and think about them. Or try to use them. Try to write a nature poem. Try to write a good nature poem – what would that take?

[00:19:31] ML: I think I always learn a lot when I try to like…That’s why I was attracted to aphorisms. They’re not cool, but they’re kind of cool now. Some people post aphorisms and have big exhibits. And have following on Instagram of tens of thousands or whatever. 

BL: Could have been you dude. [Laughs]

ML: I don’t want that. 

[00:20:00] BL: So you talk about the Bible having resonance for you. Were you raised with religion? Cause you’re from South Georgia. 

ML: I’m from South Georgia. So very much in the Bible Belt. But I was raised Catholic. 

BL: As was I.

ML: And very religiously. Or very strictly.

BL: What does that mean?

ML: Well, maybe not “very” compared to some people, but we had to go to church on Sunday, no question. 

[00:20:30] ML: And my dad was kind of paranoid that like, in our small little community, the worry in the family was that we would make too many friends with Baptists or Methodists and that we might go Protestant. So that was a weird little feeling or thing to navigate then. And so, I think we were even more trained to be Catholic and be good Catholics. 

[00:21:00] BL: You know what’s sad? I was raised Catholic, but never really – I went to a lot of church. I got confirmed and all that. But I never really responded well to it. I don’t know the difference. What is the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant? How do you grade it out? What’s the issue? [Laughs]

ML: Wow. Well, it’s funny. It reminds me a lot of the narcissism of small differences.

[00:21:27] ML: And how I think human beings maybe hate each other more when they’re very similar but only slightly different than if they’re very different. And so – but technically I guess a Catholic believes in – what? Well, one way to think about it is the history of Europe, and at one point the Roman Empire was kind of all over Europe. And then they became Catholic. So Catholicism had this kind of imperial high power, high wealth.

[00:22:05] ML: It kind of represented the monarchy. The monarchists of monarchies. So when monarchies began to lose a little bit of steam, some people were like, “Why don’t we just take what Jesus said, and get rid of all the gold and the glitz and the power structure and the hierarchy”

BL: Yeah. 

ML: “And let farmer Dan have a church. And farmer Dan is now reading the Bible to Farmer Dan and all his friends. And what’s wrong with that?” And Catholicism was like “that’s not real.” So they were protesting all the old rules that had calcified throughout the ages. 

[00:22:36] BL: Uh huh.

ML: And it was a way democratizing Christianity. Protestants were kind of democratizing…

BL: You’re selling me on Protestantism right now.

[Laughs] 

ML: That’s true. But I sympathize with both perspectives. And also with all other perspectives that are not Christian. But, there’s also little things. Like Catholics have to go to confession to be forgiven for their sins. And Protestants are like-

[00:23:04] BL: Did you do a lot of that? 

ML: No. I don’t often go to confession. I have a very…

BL: Are you still practicing?

ML: It’s complicated. It’s very – sometimes I’ll go to church. And I’ll often get angry with what is being said. 

BL: Yeah.

ML: And then I’ll be like, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t go to church then, ‘cause I don’t agree with that.” And then I’ll miss my Mom or something. 

BL: Is she no longer with us?

ML: Yeah.

BL: Oh.

ML: Or I’ll go through some phase where I need some connection to something. 

[00:23:38] BL: Uh huh.

ML: And I need to be a part of something bigger than myself. So I’ll go back, and there will be a beautiful song. And I’ll sing it, something I would never otherwise do, and participate in this community. So I’ll often go back to see the beautiful parts of church. And it’s just very fluid for me. 

BL: Yeah.

[00:24:08] ML: I like going. And I like what it gives me. But I am sort of selective in what I choose to believe from religion. 

BL: I think most people are. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: Especially now. Like I was just – my parents are still very devout. And I was talking to them yesterday, I think. And I was like – ‘cause with all this, the new round of child abuse. You know the scandal in Pennsylvania. And now Pope Francis knew. And Pope Benedict knew. And I was like guys, what about like Episcopalians?

ML: [Laughs]

[00:24:40] BL: It’s like Catholic lite. Without the abuse. But, I said it somewhat in jest. I was kind of also acknowledging how in a way that’s not the same for me, how deeply embedded Catholicism is with my parents’ sense of personal identity. They’ve been with it their whole lives. That’s a powerful thing. 

ML: Yeah

BL: The ways in which we identify ourselves institutionally and otherwise. You know, it’s powerful. Even in the face of stuff like that. 

[00:25:12] BL: I was trying to think of other institutions that would be able to survive that level of corruption with its constituency at least somewhat intact. It’s few and far between. 

ML: It’s a mystery why people remain religious after their religions commit atrocities. The whole history of the world is a history of religious atrocities. And horrible crimes committed in the name of God or any other religious figure. God or gods. 

[00:25:48] ML: So, it’s almost crazy to think that anyone would want to continue to follow that. But sometimes I think that there is something beautiful about every religion. At its core there is something good. And it’s actually so good, whatever it is, relative to whatever the hell else is in the world, that it’s very attractive. 

[00:26:20] ML: And it attracts all kinds of shit. And evil piles up on top of it. And just kind of coast on the good thing until that evil gets out of control and destroys things. So I don’t even try to care about what I believe, I kind of just follow what I need to believe in the moment and what guides me to do better things. 

[00:26:50] ML: Or what I perceive to be better things. And often it’s thinking about like: wow, Jesus. If I even believe- let’s just pretend that that’s real. Or even if it’s not real, if it’s a fictional story. It’s still a wonderful role model given the alternatives. 

[00:27:08] ML: And I’ll – I think sometimes I walk into church, and I’m like, a lot of this is creepy and politically, more than problematic, it’s offensive sometimes. But it’s really the only place you can go – or one of the few places you can go, to feel, for me, that connection to that person or God or whatever. 

BL: And also to other people. 

[00:27:35] ML: Yeah. You walk into a church, and you see tons of strangers of different economic classes than you might otherwise encounter in your daily life. And you hug them and you shake their hand. You touch them. And you sing with them. And there’s something really beautiful about that that I just don’t see it elsewhere. 

BL: Burning Man this week. If you want. Lots of touching. 

ML: What’s so strange to me is that. [Laughs]

[00:28:11] ML: The thing that people always thought of as evil in the church was the money. And this accumulation of wealth and power. And now I look around in some of the cities I’ve lived in, and all the cathedrals are capitalist and the churches, and the real power and the money, is not held by some little church on the side of the road that only has 14 people in it. It’s all the other stuff that we do in this country.

[00:28:41] ML: That is hoarding all the riches and arguably not using them responsibly or whatever. So it’s like I almost think everything is a church, and they’re all corrupt, so which one is the least corrupt? And sometimes that’s just fishing, I’m going to go fishing on Sunday. And that’s the thing I’m doing. I’m going to literally commune with nature. 

BL: Do you go fish? Do you fish a lot?

[00:29:11] ML: Yeah, not a lot. But I wish I fished more. 

BL: Like fly fishing?

ML: I’ve never fly fished. We grew up on a pond so we would fish all the time, so whenever I go back home, we’ll fish. I use fishing because I think that’s what the Dad does in Fried Green Tomatoes and…

BL: Plus like, teach a man to fish…

ML: Exactly. But, I don’t know.

BL: It’s complicated. 

ML: It’s hard to find any institution that isn’t corrupt and certainly the more power they have the more corrupt they are. 

[00:29:44] But does it destroy the ability to go into a church and like have a private moment with God or whatever God is to you, or isn’t? I don’t know. I don’t know if it ruins it. It doesn’t ruin it for me. But it certainly makes me angry. 

BL: Yeah and I think too, if you’re going to see the kinds of radical changes that need to happen, at least from my perspective. 

[00:30:14] BL: It’s probably going to come from the bottom up. I mean isn’t it always the case. You can sit around, you’re gonna wait a long time if you think these changes are going to come from the Vatican. I struggle to believe that that’s going to happen. If Pope Francis isn’t going to be able to do it, ‘cause he seems like Cool Pope to me. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: At some point, people like yourself or other constituents are going to have to – or parishioners or whatever – are going to have to start to organize. And do it from the bottom up. Lead the way. 

[00:30:44] ML: Yeah, I don’t think I’m the man for the job, but…

[Laughs]

BL: I’m trying to…

ML: No, I do think of this often, even in the church history, they valorize often people who were reformers. And basically reformers who were willing to die for it.

BL: Sure. 

ML: And so, someone was like, “This is fucked up what you’re doing.” I’m going to stab myself in the eye on the altar if you don’t stop doing it.” 

[00:31:12] ML: And they’re like, “Well, we’re just going to kill you.” And then they kill them. And then like 30 years later, somebody wins a war and that policy changes, and like: now that guys a saint. You know?

BL: Yeah. 

ML: It’s almost like, in order to reform properly, you have to be willing to completely sacrifice yourself with no hope of it ever changing. And then just hope that that inspires others to change. 

[00:31:40] ML: And I think I wish I had the courage to do that. I doubt that I do. 

BL: Something like that, there feels like an echo in the literary pursuit to that. Because it’s like a mostly hopeless endeavor. Do you know what I’m saying? [Laughs] It’s like you’re putting your book out there, and like a very very small number of books really land. But like there is some hope that maybe it inspires other works, or maybe over time it passes from hand to hand to hand to hand. 

[00:32:10] BL: I mean there’s a million stories of books finding new life decades after their publication. Or suddenly becoming appreciated in ways that the author never would have imagined. I don’t know.

ML: It’s true. And even in your own life, you know, I feel like sometimes a person who is a writer, and who tries to write, even if they never write a book. Maybe just that – for instance, my Mom always had artistic aspirations.

[00:32:40] ML: And she never wrote a book or made a painting, but she would sketch. And she would always be frustrated that none of her ideas maybe ever seemed to become real enough. But she had the urge and she took little steps here and there to try to express that urge. And I’m certain that it inspired me unconsciously. So even, the work could even never occur.

[00:33:09] ML: But if you’re someone in someone else’s life who takes time to try to make something beautiful, you have no idea like what that would do to the people who see that. The friends, family members, etc. There’s this poem by Cavafy – I forgot how to pronounce it, I never knew how to pronounce his name. I think he’s a Greek poet. But it’s called “The First Step.” And it’s like, it’s really short, but it’s like one guy is complaining to another. 

[00:33:41] ML: He’s like “I’ve only written fourteen odes. And no one’s ever appreciated my work. What do I do? Like my whole life is a waste. I care really a lot about this thing and no one cares about it.” And the other person is like, “but you’ve already done it. You’ve already done the most important thing. This is a ladder and you’re on the first step and that’s the only step that really matters. You took the first step. And that’s the most beautiful thing that could ever occur.” And that’s a rough paraphrase of the poem. 

[00:34:10] ML: But I love that poem and it’s important to do what you do regardless of the outcome. I try to do that. I try to believe that. 

BL: So, raised in the Deep South. Is Tifton, Georgia the Deep South?

ML: Yeah.

BL: I mean, South Georgia – if that’s not the Deep South, what is, right?

ML: That’s true. 

BL: But it was like, fishing in a pond? Rural? I’m trying to get a picture. 

[00:34:40] ML: Yeah, we lived out in the woods. We had kind of a big house, but land is cheap, so it doesn’t mean like necessarily wealth. But, we’re definitely middle class. Straight up the middle. But, yeah, surrounded by trees and had a pond. Deer everywhere. Mosquitos, bugs, house falling apart. 

BL: Same.

ML: Gotta mow the lawn everyday. Or feels like you’ve got to mow every day. And there’s like a massive lawn. 

[00:35:08] ML: The lawn mower breaks down because there’s sticks everywhere because there are so many trees. Yeah, that’s where my parents raised us. And that’s where they had jobs, so.

BL: What’d they do? 

ML: My dad is still an Ag journalist. And he writes, he covers like the peanut industry and various other farm parts of Ag in south Georgia and all around the southeast for a bunch of magazines. And my mother was a natural resource conservationist for the USDA.

[00:35:42] ML: So she built the pond that’s on our house. And built a lot of the ponds in our community and helped farmers basically use better practices to prevent erosion or to more efficiently participate in federal programs. So even though – this is a point my sister made at her funeral, which is like  one of my favorite memories. 

[00:36:08] ML: Even though she was an aspiring artist who always felt frustrated, if you just drive around our hometown, the land itself is more beautiful and helps more people. And you can drive past a pond that she designed and you can know that she did it. So it’s like the land was her materials. And she never considered that an arts practice. 

BL: Isn’t that funny?

ML: Yeah.

[00:36:38] BL: I mean, she’s  like beautifying the earth. You know? Beautifying an entire community. Helping it thrive. Making it more pleasing to look at. And yet, never allowing herself a moment to be like, “You know what, that’s my art project.” I think that’s a really good point. 

ML: Yeah, I think a lot of people, you know – I think especially we imagine today, me and many of my friends are like, everyone’s an artist. And we all just make stuff on our laptops. 

[00:37:09] ML: It wasn’t like this back then, in some weird, fake past of like the ‘50s even. Even those people, whatever they were doing, whoever they are, whatever their flaws are, they were probably taking it just as seriously. Insurance sales was that guy’s art form. Working some government job or – everybody I’ve ever known, who I really knew well, whatever they did, they took it as seriously as an art form. 

[00:37:41] ML: And it has a lot of the same qualities. Except they just got paid for it. 

BL: Did your mom want to be a painter?

ML: She would sketch, but she never painted.

BL: I know, but did she – was that like – what I’m getting at is like I think sometimes people can get a fixed idea of the kind of artist they think they should be. 

ML: Oh yeah. 

BL: So, it’s like, I should be a fine artist. And that’s their benchmark for quote unquote success. 

ML: Exactly. 

BL: And it’s like, if I’m not Monet, or whatever, then it didn’t happen. 

[00:38:09] BL: And meanwhile, there’s this entire other life happening and all of this creative output that’s taking – but it’s in a form that they didn’t associate with their idea of success…. You see what I’m getting at?

ML: I think every artist does that. Or almost everybody I’ve ever known. There’s, at least and it’s very true for me, there’s the thing you wish you could do.

BL: Which is? For you?

ML: Early on it was to write fiction. 

[00:38:40] ML: I mean, we could go all the way back to when I was a little kid I wanted to be a theologist. I wanted – I really loved going to church. I thought I was really good at going to church. I thought I was really religious and I knew all the prayers and everything. And I was really interested in “well, how do we know about God? How do we – who is that? And who decided that this is the way to talk to him?” So I was fascinated by that. And I think, absurdly, that was one of my earliest wishes. And I grew up, and I was like, “Thats stupid.” 

[00:39:10] ML: There’s no – theology is so… That’s terrible. I’m never going to, whatever. So I just abandoned it. Then I was into politics. Politics! That’s where it’s at. That’s where really – I could get into politics. I should go to law school and run for Governor someday or something. I don’t know. 

BL: Make a difference. 

ML: I had no idea what politics even was. I just knew that it was this locus of meaning and interestingness and power. And what if you could get your hand in there and help things or make them better. 

[00:39:42] ML: And then I was like, “Wait a minute. That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to law school. I worked at a law firm for two years in college and I was not interested- when I saw how the sausage was made, I was like, “No. Never. I’m never doing this.” So then I was like, well what about writing? So, every life decision seems like I’m always substituting in something inferior for what I really want. 

[00:40:10] ML: And eventually you just get stuck with one thing and you forget it’s like your 50th choice. And it becomes your identity and it’s your main choice. But even within writing, I wanted to be a fiction writer, couldn’t – no one liked my stories. They were all horrible but I could write goofy jokes and they called them poems. And people liked those. So then I was like a poet. It was like you find yourself, I don’t know, this is an aphorism and I don’t actually stand behind it but you don’t get to do what you want to do you only can do what you can do. 

[00:40:46] ML: And turns out, after all these years, we’re talking about religion on this podcast. And that original impulse to think about God or what it is or what it isn’t, and what it is in the world and all that is still… So you can want to be a painter and not be good enough. And then you sketch. And then you give up on sketching and become a forester. And then you give up forester and you become an astronaut. And then you end up painting. 

[00:41:16] ML: You know I feel like it – even when you are failing you’re somehow, if you’re trying, you’re moving hopefully or possibly toward an original impulse. 

BL: Yeah, and it’s like it finds its expression.

ML: Yeah. 

BL: You know, whatever it is that’s a central preoccupation or whatever the mission is that you’ve defined for yourself, or attached to, it’s going to come out one way or the other. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: Like even if you’re writing aphorisms but you wanted to be a politician. [Laughs]

[00:41:48] ML: Yeah, exactly. 

BL: It’s going to show itself. I’ve had similar thoughts in my life. I think I had an idea early in my career about wanting to be a fiction writer in the mold of these writers that I was grabbing onto at that age. And then it changes, you know? Life has its own ideas. And I guess I struggle sometimes wondering, like, wanting to have a clear sense of exactly what it is I’m supposed to be doing. 

ML: Mmm. 

BL: I guess that’s common. Especially creatively. 

[00:42:20] BL: Like I envy people who have that like really clear sense of mission. Or maybe they’ve just decided they found their little thing. Their 50th choice and they’re just going all in. [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? Without any kind of looking back or self-doubt. 

ML: Yeah, it’s – I think purpose is like the ultimate drug. And if you can get it, it’s awesome. And it makes everything easier. 

[00:42:50] ML: I remember moments in my life when I’ve had such an overwhelming sense of purpose. They’re great. You don’t question it. And actually, it’s okay to fail because the purpose is clear. But it’s when you don’t have purpose, and you’re like, “Oh my god, what should I be doing? Should I even write the novel?” That’s when the idea of the novel not being good becomes terrible. Or like so anxious or worrying. 

BL: Isn’t it the Nietsche quote, “If you have a strong enough why, the how takes care of itself,” or something like that. 

[00:43:22] ML: Yeah. 

BL: So maybe you get clear about why you’re doing it…

ML: I love this movie that I just rewatched. It’s called Quest for Fire. It’s from 1982. And it’s about cavemen. Set 80,000 years ago. It sounds like a bad movie, but it’s awesome. And I can’t believe nobody thinks about it or talks about it. But these three cavemen, their tribe loses fire. 

[00:43:50] ML: They had a little fire, and it’s the source of their whole life. If they lose this flame it’s hard to make fire 80,000 years ago. So they’ve got to protect it. Some other tribe comes in and throws them out of their cave, and then they lose their fire as they’re fleeing. And these guys just have to get fire. If they don’t get it, they’re dead, their family is dead, everybody they know is dead. 

[00:44:10] ML: There’s no room for anything other than purpose. I don’t know, I just get excited just thinking about, man what is mine? Find it or figure it out and go for it. 

BL: I was going to say, do you feel a strong sense of purpose? It seems like it comes and goes. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: How do you sustain a life of like serious mission or whatever, that sense of mission? 

ML: I think it really, unfortunately, the only true cause of overwhelming sense of purpose is trauma, for me. 

[00:44:50] ML: To suffer enough where everything about you, all the little flakes of your personality are shaved off until there’s only one thing left. And you’re like, whoa that’s my purpose. This is the only thing I care about because everything else doesn’t matter. Loss and stuff I think causes that. And you meet someone who’s like a millionaire by age 35 because they relentlessly studied and worked and were totally impersonal in every relationship. And were just driven. 

[00:45:28] ML: That’s gotta be trauma. That’s gotta be something they felt woefully insecure about at some age that drove them to be so purpose-minded. 

BL: Yeah, I think Elon Musk is popping into my head right now. [Laughs] What hole is he trying to fill, you know? God, it’s like just calm down, dude. You did it. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: You did it! Relax a minute. 

ML: It’s hard to stop. 

BL: Yeah. 

[00:45:58] ML: It’s hard to stop once you have anything, to not keep gambling it. I think it’s a gambling. I think we’re programmed almost. And we can fight it. And we can win. If you have nothing, you want a little. You have a little, I could risk this little and get a little more and then I’d be even better off and then… Even people with billions.

[00:46:30] BL: You gotta maintain, then. And it’s also – okay- I get how you always want a little bit more, but there are people that get to a certain level of accomplishment or wealth or status, who sort of like, the light goes on and they go okay. I mean, that does happen. 

ML: Sure.

BL: But then I think about people who are just pursuing billions upon billions and not stopping. That seems to me like a pathology. 

[00:46:59] BL: Like, not everybody. You have to have a certain, like you were saying, maybe it’s a trauma or some sort of wiring. But I’m like what has to got to be going on inside of somebody who they have like 10 billion dollars and they’re like, it’s not enough. 

ML:  [Laughs] I think to me, I can imagine what that would be like because I’ve never had billions of dollars or millions or even many thousands, but I can justify wanting more. I can give you any reason why. 

[00:47:32] ML: I can give you a laundry list of positive reasons why I need more. Because I know that about myself, I just imagine if you were a billionaire, and you wanted to have a trillion, you could argue that it’s for the good of humanity. You could argue that if I get enough money I’ll be able to do enough good. Even if you are the most selfish person in the world and never do any good, that narrative can be utterly real in your mind. 

[00:48:00] ML: And when people critique your wealth, you’re like, “But they don’t understand how much good I’m going to do.” 

BL: Right. 

ML: And, that’s gotta be what’s there. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who are just straight up, honestly evil, and are like, I just want more money because fuck em’. 

BL: Yeah. 

ML: You know? But I also think there’s also – everybody I’ve ever known who was better off than they deserved to be, had a good guy narrative in their head. 

[00:48:32] ML: And I don’t know, there’s no cure for it other than suffering, unfortunately. You know? I mean if someone who’s really really wealthy then suffers a loss, we could write a five-minute Hollywood script right now about a guy who is utterly obsessed with wealth and then suffers a traumatic loss that causes him great grief. 

[00:49:03] ML: He realizes life is short. And we’re all gonna die, so we’ve got to live well now and be good now. And then that person, what is his name? Scrooge?  

BL: Ebenezer Scrooge.

ML: Ebenezer Scrooge. He pulls an Ebenezer Scrooge and what made Scrooge not want money so bad that he was willing to fuck over Tiny Tim or whatever the story is? Well it was trauma. 

[00:49:30] ML: He was haunted by three crazy ass ghosts. And some of them were pleasant but disturbing and one of them was scary as fuck. 

BL: Right.

ML: It’s like hell came to him, to his doorstep. And he faced it. And he saw the eternity in hell – I think he sees himself boiling in hell or something, I don’t remember. But that’s the fairytale. 

BL: Yeah. 

ML: That’s how rich people come around to being chill or being more generous or whatever. [Laughs] And I’m sure that’s not the answer either. You know that’s not going to solve anything. 

[00:50:00] ML: We can’t wait around for that to happen, so. But Scrooge is likeable in that story even though he’s an asshole. You read that story and you kind of root for him. And that’s the magic, I think, of that story.

BL: Well, we see ourselves in there somewhere. 

ML: Yeah.

BL: And it brings to mind, like what you’re saying too, brings to mind stuff I’ve been reading recently. I’m paraphrasing and I don’t know where I’m pulling it from. 

[00:50:28] BL: I want to say like the Sioux Indians and there are Tibetan cultures – I’m sure there are many different spiritual traditions and cultural traditions around the world in small pockets where they actually pray for suffering and misfortune because it will help them to awaken. They’re like, “God please, in this lifetime, give me enough suffering so that my heart may be opened.”

ML: Totally. 

BL: You know? And that sounds counterintuitive but it’s basically what you’re speaking to. 

[00:50:58] ML: It’s what the whole crucifixion is. And it’s one element of the whole Catholic service, staring up at a guy bleeding with a crown of thorns, and blood, and emaciated, and hung up. You’re worshipping the suffering that restores your humanity. Jesus walking the earth as a God, if you believe the story, that’s not what made him human. What made him human is that he died. 

[00:51:29] ML: And he suffered. And that was crazy. That was the total antithesis of anything of what a god should or could do at the time when the story came around. So it’s true on every level. I think a lot of Christians unknowingly worship suffering and maybe should do so more knowingly. You know? 

[00:51:59] How many times, growing up we’d go to church or something and worship a crucified human.

BL: [Laughs] 

ML: And then go home and be like I want donuts!

BL: It’s kind of a harsh image.

ML: Why don’t we have the right donuts over here? You stole my toy, you know? 

BL: Yeah. Yeah. 

ML: It’s like we’re not even – it’s not even clicking. The whole good thing about it is that it’s not even clicking. And also it’s completely morbid and is maybe too fucked up and we shouldn’t worship suffering. So I don’t know. 

[00:52:28] BL: I don’t think it’s about – because I was gonna say you can make a virtue out of suffering in a way that I think is unhealthy. But I do think that suffering is an irrefutable truth of human existence. 

ML: Mhmm. 

BL: We all suffer. That’s part of the bargain. From the moment you’re born, you know? So it’s something to be confronted. Like the way through is through. And I think that one of the things you see over and over again in our culture, in particular, western culture, is this compulsive behavior. 

[00:52:59] BL: These compulsive attempts to try to rid oneself of suffering through escapist means. 

ML: Mhm. 

BL: And consumptive means. 

ML: Yeah.

BL: And so I think that’s where the crux of it falls for me. It’s like, well what do we do with it? We’re all miserable to some extent. [Laughs]

BL: Physically miserable. You know, at different times in our lives. Emotionally, we’re grieving or we’re heartbroken or we’re stressed or we have some sort of illness or someone we love has an illness. 

[00:53:20] BL: Like this is all coming to all of us whether it’s here now or it was here or it’s coming down the road. And so it’s like, well what do you do with that? What’s the proper response? And I guess that gets to the heart of religion. Some sort of formula or approach. 

ML: Yeah. Yeah using escapism and stuffing yourself and buying a nicer house or whatever it is that you’re trying to do to avoid suffering.

[00:54:00] ML: It’s definitely – it to me is like a gambler doubling down. Oh, you busted, okay I’m doubling down. You can continue to avoid suffering but eventually you bust and you probably are better off if you face suffering, accept mortality, accept limitation early. Or as early as you can. The old-fashioned way to do that is just to live in the moment.

[00:54:31] ML: Recognize your own limited nature and try to hold that with you in the moment and appreciate every little butterfly that flies across your path. Because that’s as good as anything. But, yeah, it’s really hard to remember all that. 

BL: Okay. I was just going to say. I’m with you, and I’m amazed by this in my own life, how easy it is to forget, despite the fact that I know better. 

[00:54:59] It’s like, appreciate every butterfly, appreciate every moment. The way through is through. Like I can go through a million different maxims or ways of living that I know to be deeply true or at least deeply helpful to me. And yet, the challenge on a daily basis for me, to greater and lesser extents from day to day, like some days, I’m there more easily than others. But it’s this challenge of forgetting. This kind of constant need for renewal and reminding myself what my priorities are. 

[00:55:34] ML: Mhm. 

BL: It’s troubling how easy it slips away from me. [Laughs] 

ML: Yeah. It doesn’t – I think in some ways it’s because we’re programmed to forget it, because as great as meditating and being zen and recognizing your own inconsequentiality… As good as that is for being self-accepting, it actually is bad in a highly competitive, militarized world. 

[00:56:14] ML: I think maybe history – like we survived, okay, our ancestors are the ones who survived. And they didn’t survive by meditating often. 

BL: [Laughs] 

ML: They survived by being the most paranoid and the most murderous and the most wealth-grabby. And so I think we are torn, knowing that our happiness relies on relaxing and appreciating every moment…

[00:56:46] ML: But our whole psychology, our whole culture, our whole biology perhaps, I’m not a scientist. I don’t know. But there’s got to be something in there that’s like get up, come on, get that money, get that shit.

BL: Survive!

ML: Yeah. Look at your neighbor, are you better than them? Are they better than you? Watch out, you know? 

BL: Yeah. 

ML: Watch out. Be careful.

BL: Hunt or be hunted. 

ML: Exactly. 

BL: [Sighs] 

ML: And so it takes work like anything to stay reminded of that. 

[00:57:15] ML: But I don’t think we should hate ourselves because we feel competitive and want to acquire more wealth. We should maybe just acknowledge where it comes from. It comes from a place of paranoia and maybe we don’t need to be paranoid, and it doesn’t actually get us anything. It doesn’t make you better off. I have no idea. Maybe, another way, one thing that helps is surrounding yourself by people who are also not assholes. 

[00:57:50] ML: And who are themselves centered and self-accepting, and have accepted mortality. Those people are really rare but if you can find them.

BL: Yeah, the community that you live in matters.

ML: Yeah. 

BL: It’s hard. It’s easy for me to start getting excited about ideas of utopia. Like where is that town? [Laughs]

[00:58:10] BL: You know what I’m saying? Where is it? I want to be with those people. But you’re never going to hit it just right. But there is such a thing as living someplace that does not reflect your deepest values. Or I guess the point that I’m making is that there are certain places that are healthier than others. It’s not like it’s just all the same and quit worrying about it. It actually does matter. So it’s worth your while to spend at least a little bit of time in calculation as you go about deciding where to put yourself. 

[00:58:40] BL: To think about what’s most important. And here I say this sitting in the middle of Hollywood. [Laughs] 

ML: Yeah, you’re like…This is like Babylon. 

BL: I mean, you know, it’s a big huge mix of everything. And I think that’s maybe part of the allure. But it’s definitely got its toxicities. 

ML: Sure. And you could make a great argument that it’s an endless circle but should you move to Paradise and be happy or should you move to Hell and try to be a good force there. 

[00:59:21] BL: Well this is how I rationalize it to myself. 

ML: Okay. Let’s go.

BL: I have a great – speaking of – well this isn’t really an aphorism but speaking of like a pithy way to sort of, but it’s like you don’t smooth a piece of wood by rubbing it with silk. You smooth a piece of wood by rubbing it with sandpaper. 

ML: That’s great. 

BL: So whenever I question myself for choosing to live in Los Angeles, raise a family here with all of the stresses and insanities that it entails. And especially as somebody who is seriously interested in matters spiritual. 

[00:59:50] BL: How to find peace and quiet. Silence is at such a premium here. Wanting to get still. I’m sort of Buddhist-leaning, so how do you do that here? But I’m like, if I can do it here, I can do it anywhere. [Laughs]

ML: There you go. 

BL: So this is my sandpaper. I’m smoothing myself out. That’s how I sort of justify it. There’s also parts of me that’s like I’m just going to move to Colorado. Somewhere up in the mountains and make this a lot simpler. 

[00:60:20] ML: I relate to those things. I’ve done different versions of it. Not Los Angeles, but other cities. 

BL: Yeah, where have you… You were in Georgia as a child but then you went on. I don’t even know your bio. Give us a brief idea of like where you’ve travelled. 

ML: I grew up in Georgia. Went to the University of Georgia in Athens. Then I went to grad school in Iowa City. 

BL: You did Iowa Writers?

ML: Mhm. 

BL: Okay. 

[00:60:50] ML: And then I moved back to Georgia and worked full-time for a year in my hometown, at a college. And then I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts for a second grad program because I didn’t want to live in my hometown and I had friends there. 

BL: What’s in Northampton?

ML: UMass Amherst. 

BL: Okay, right. 

ML: And I met a lot of great writers there. And a lot of lifelong friends. Then I moved to New York. 

[00:61:20] ML: Then…

BL: What was that? A ticking a box kind of thing? Or was it literary? I need to be where the action is. 

ML: At that time, when I finished UMass, I had a great teaching job there and I could have just stayed there and it was really comfortable and I loved the place. If you’ve never been to western Mass it’s kind of like a paradise valley for arts. And rent’s not that high. And it’s beautiful weather. 

[00:61:49] ML: But I felt like I was tired of literary and I wanted to learn how to do filmmaking. So I was like, I’m either going to move to New York or LA. And I have no idea where to begin or what but I just know that I want to try something risky and learn something new. And right around when I decided to do that, some old friends of mine who I’d made a short film with once, they’d raised enough money to make a movie. So we actually moved to the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania and made our first feature. 

[00:62:19] ML: And after that I moved to Atlanta. Stayed on my brother’s couch for half a year. Then the director I worked with got us a job doing some film stuff in New York, so I moved to New York. Did that for a year. I think I moved to Georgia again when my mom got sick – I can’t remember.

BL: Did she have cancer? 

ML: Yeah, she had cancer for like 4 years. She had a brain tumor. 

BL: Oh. 

[00:62:49] ML: So I was always kind of – oh a film job? Oh my mom’s sick? And I was bouncing around for a few years and doing some online work. Then I moved to Philly because a friend of mine got sick and I took over some of his classes. So I’d never lived in Philly before. I moved there and taught at UArts. It was awesome. I love that city. I was only there for nine months and then I met someone, got married, and she was going to school in Portland, so we moved there and lived there for two years. 

[00:63:20] BL: Damn, you bounced around. 

ML: Yeah.

BL: That’s good though. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: You ready to put down some roots after all this travel? Or do you like to be sort of itinerant? 

ML: I want to – I almost honestly don’t have a preference. If I had a great job and it was near family and friends, I’d stay there. If I didn’t, I’d move somewhere that was better. But I only want to be near family. That’s my main priority. 

[00:63:50] ML: And so that’s why we’re now, I’m going to move to Atlanta. And yeah, I’ll put down roots as soon as someone gives me some money.

[Laughs]

ML: But if they don’t, it’s all good. I’ll do something else. I’ll freelance or try to find another job. 

BL: And then writing wise – you’ve done film, you’ve done literature, you’re publishing this book now. Seems like you’re on that track. Do you want to do both? Is it something you have in your head? Do you have a plan? You know what I’m saying? 

[00:64:20] Like some people I feel have a big picture plan for how they want to build a career in the arts, and other people it’s just one day at a time. One book at a time. One project at a time. 

ML: My goal is to get better at writing, at storytelling, and writing poetry or whatever. So as long as I’m learning I’ll jump around and probably waste years of my life learning new things that weren’t going to help me sell or market or build my career in the old thing but…

[00:64:51] ML: I just trust that it will all work out as long as I’m learning. ‘Cause when I’m not learning and I’m just like, “Okay, it’s time to write another book because this will help my career.” Like in this particular genre, whenever I’ve tried to force it and make smart career choices, I just get miserable and stifled and I don’t know what to do. So my new goal is to finish – to be able to write a story that is a novel or a short story or something that can work in a literary form. 

[00:65:22] ML: And then if it’s the right kind of idea, my production company could adapt it and we could make it or sell it as a script. So my new, my only strategy, is to try to write one thing that’s got multiple output. Can be outputted into multiple formats. But I try not to worry about the track I’m on or anything. 

[00:65:54] BL: Seems wise. 

ML: I just – I’ve never been good at it. 

BL: Well, but it’s also antithetical to genuine creative inspiration. You do one or the other. Like you know? When I say inspiration I just don’t mean like finding the energy to get the work done or to sit in front of the keyboard. But I mean like inspired, artistic vision. You know? It’s kind of like all or nothing it seems like that. It sounds to me like this is what you’re saying. 

[00:65:24] BL: You’ve got to be paying very careful attention to that feeling of freedom within, that feeling of excitement within that you get from working on a project that’s truly stimulating. And if you’re working at cross purposes, and you’re getting yourself bogged down in other concerns, which is very easy to do. I say this from experience. 

ML: Sure. 

BL: It winds up muddying things, you know? 

ML: Periodically I do have to say, “Okay, stop.” At one point I was obsessed with making collages. 

[00:65:54] ML: I loved it. 

BL: Yeah. 

ML: But I was like, stop. You don’t have to do everything you want to do. So sometimes I have to curb them and try to focus my efforts into things. So I’ve tried to make it mostly writing. If it’s writing, I’ll let myself do it. And that can mean anything. But I won’t like – I would love to paint. Or I would love to learn how to dance. Or to do standup.

[00:67:22] BL: I can teach you if you want. 

[Laughs]

ML: Thank you. I’ll take you up on it. No, but I won’t. I won’t take you up on it because it’s not writing. So at some point, maybe when I was 28, I was like, for the rest of your life, you’re going to want to do a lot of different things. And creatively, stick to writing. Just within that – there’s plenty of diversity within that. 

BL: You do have to make some practical decisions. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: You can’t be all things. 

[00:67:50] ML: Yeah, and it’s not great. It’s not fun. But that’s growing up. You can’t do everything you want. 

BL: Yeah. I was just thinking about making a collage this morning. Just randomly. Like why don’t I dick around with collaging? Just as a fun creative way to pass the time instead of watching bad TV. 

ML: Or do it while you’re watching bad TV. 

BL: Yeah!

ML: That’s my favorite. I used to watch Psych and collage. [Laughs]

BL: Yeah. 

[00:68:16] ML: And you know, pour my little – right when IPAs came out, I was like oh yeah, when they became quite popular, I was just in heaven for one summer. [Laughs]

ML: All alone. [Laughs]

BL: Right. It was a glorious time. A golden age. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: Well, it’s fun to meet you. I should tell people, too, who are listening: you’re excellent on Twitter. I feel like your Twitter – there are certain people who really curate their Twitter. And who consider it an art project. And I feel like that’s what you’re doing. There’s something poetic about it, and disciplined about it, and un-frivolous about it. 

[00:68:50] BL: Even though there might be some frivolity in the creation. But it feels kind of like a set. And I’ve always enjoyed it, so I’ve always kind of wondered who you are because your tweets distinguish themselves for that reason, and now you’re sitting here. So it’s a bit of a demystification. 

ML: [Laughs] It’s not as cool in real life. 

BL: It never is. It never is. 

ML: Yeah. 

BL: But congrats on the book. Thanks for making time to stop over. Good luck on the move to Atlanta and on whatever comes next. 

[00:69:18] ML: Thanks a lot, Brad. I really enjoyed it. 

* * *

OUTRO

BL: Okay, that’s Mark Leidner. His story collection is called Under the Sea. It’s available now from Tyrant Books. Mark Leidner. Under the Sea. Go get your copy right now. If you want to follow him on Twitter, his handle is @markleidner. Thanks to the band Tiger in my Tank for the interstitial music. I should make a public correction here, earlier this week I received word from a gentleman named Sebastian Castillo, I believe that’s his name. 

[00:69:47] BL: Informing me that he’s in the band that made this music and that the band is called Tiger in my Tank and the album from which this music is taken is called Cigarette Royalty. So huge thanks and apologies to those guys. Tiger in my Tank is the band. And thanks as always to Kill Rock Stars and the band Stereo Total for the theme song music. 

[00:70:17] BL: If you would like to write to me, the address is letters@otherppl.com. Let me know what you think. If you would like to support this show, patreon.com/otherpplpod. Don’t forget about the Otherppl App. The app is out there. It’s a real live app. It’s free. It’s a good way to listen and keep track of things automatically. Put it right there on your phone. What do you think of that? All right. All right? Okay. 

[END]