TWO FLOWERS by three people


Sheila: I was to interview Tao Lin for The Believer website but things got a little bogged down. Then, several weeks ago, seeing Tao Lin and Sarah Nicole Prickett corresponding with (what seemed to me) some tension over Twitter, I had the feeling that it would be very pleasurable to hear them talk about flowers. They are both writers I admire and enjoy reading, for very different reasons. I asked them over Twitter if they would do this, and record it, and speak about flowers 40-60% of the time. They agreed and met. It happened to be raining that day, so they could not go see flowers (as we’d hoped). Instead, they spoke about them in the lobby of the Angelika movie house in Manhattan. Sarah Nicole Prickett transcribed. I asked if they would provide introductions to the piece, in which they’d note the thing they found most memorable about their conversation. Sarah sent her introduction to me and Tao, then Tao sent his to me and Sarah. At this point, some kind of hostility and problems emerged and things became very complicated. So I decided not to use their introductions.

Part 1

Tuesday May 28, 2013, 5 pm

Sarah: Alright, here you are. Where do you want to sit. [pause, looking around]

Tao: There. [another pause] Wait—let me get a drink first.

Sarah: Okay.

Tao: So you can stop it [the recording. I stop recording for a few minutes while Tao gets a Diet Coke and small coffee for me, and I put milk in the coffee, and he goes to the bathroom.]

Tao: Have you seen the movie Adaptation?

Sarah: Yes.

Tao: Did you like it?

Sarah: A long time ago. Did I like it. Oh, you’re asking me because of the orchids in it. Is it The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean’s book, that it’s based on?

Tao: Yeah. Did you read the book? I read the book and saw the movie.

Sarah: In which order?

Tao: Um, I don’t remember. But—both are good, I thought.

Sarah: Equally good?

Tao: I saw the movie a few times, the second time I didn’t like it as much. I saw it like two years ago when I didn’t really like it anymore.

Sarah: Saw it two years ago and didn’t like it—how old were you when you saw it first?

Tao: Right when it came out, probably. Twenty, maybe. How old are you?

Sarah: How old am I now? Twenty-seven.

Tao: I’m 29.

Sarah: [half to myself] Is that correct? Yes.

Tao: I’m 29.

Sarah: Right. When you’re twenty you’re just much more inclined to like things without—I don’t know, I don’t really like any movies about writers. Other than The Shining. The Shining’s a great movie. It’s very accurate, I think. But most other movies—what’s that other one—

Tao: What are your favorite movies?

Sarah: In general?

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: I don’t know. Favorite movies are movies you saw when you were most impressionable, I think, like when you were in your teenage years and you were really prone to loving things without reservation, so it’s like, Cruel Intentions I love, or like Heathers, Romeo + Juliet—Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

Tao: But you can separate those from—

Sarah: Harold and Maude I saw then—right. What are the best movies I’ve ever seen?

Tao: Yeah. Yeah. Just some of them.

Sarah: Okay

Tao: So we have a—so I can see what you like.

Sarah: I just watched Melancholia again. I think that’s my favorite movie in some time. Or, what else have I loved, umm—I just saw Before Midnight, which would not rank among my favorite movies, but I loved that as a trilogy.

Tao: I didn’t see the third one. I liked the first two.

Sarah: I thought I would hate it. Ethan Hawke can’t act without her [Julie Delpy], like he—in the opening scenes he’s talking to his son, and it’s terrible, it’s very expository and, uh, stilted, which maybe is the nature of a father-son relationship if you don’t see each other very often? But it didn’t seem like it was done on purpose. It seemed like Ethan Hawke doesn’t act now.

Tao: I’ve never seen—I can’t recall him interacting with a child in a movie. Ever. Probably—

Sarah: I think if you’re an actor you can’t be a good writer, or if you’re a really good writer you can’t act.

Tao: You think he’s a really good writer?

Sarah: No. He’s not. [laughs]

Tao: How many books has he written? Like two?

Sarah: Fuck if I know. Although James Franco was really good in Spring Breakers while also being a writer.

Tao: Well—I coulda acted like that, or anyone could.

Sarah: Yeah, ‘cause it’s really like clownish acting. But to—to act like a human being, I think, you have to have this ability to not hear yourself, to not see yourself, to really be in it. And writers can’t do that. Writers cannot.

Tao: Well, um—I feel like I could.

Sarah: You think you could act?

Tao: Yeah [sounds like he might be almost laughing].

Sarah: The hardest thing to do is act like yourself! First of all, which self do you choose. Secondly, what makes you think that you know what you’re like? You don’t know what you’re like. That’s why it’s so hard to act like yourself, because you don’t know what that is.

Tao: It just depends on the role you’ve been written. I don’t know, but the flower thing. Um. So you didn’t like Adaptation.

Sarah: I don’t remember liking it, but I remember thinking it was interesting. I mean, I watched till the end.

Tao: Yeah, it was definitely interesting.

Sarah: But it was very, um, Being John Malkovich.

Tao: Did you like it?

Sarah: Well, at some point I stopped. I get tired of feeling manipulating into caring about …

Tao: But it was self-aware of manipulating you.

Sarah: I guess self-awareness is not my favorite quality in art.

Tao: Flowers.

Sarah: Flowers. I know. What did Sheila say? We have to talk about flowers, I think, 60%.

Tao: 40—yeah, 60%.

Sarah: 60% flowers.

Tao: For 44 minutes.

Sarah: I went to Sephora after, on the way here, and they had all—

Tao: Why?

Sarah: Just because it was raining very hard and on that stretch of Broadway it was the only place I wanted to be in. And also I wanted to find an eyeliner that wouldn’t drip into my eyes.

Tao: Sephora is a…?

Sarah: It’s a beauty store, a massive chain, slightly upmarket.

Tao: And they had flowers?

Sarah: Well no, they had all these flowers in the window, like a stick-on, and I was like, oh, it’s a sign! But it wasn’t a sign, it was a decal.

Tao: You know Kelley Hoffman?

Sarah: I do know Kelley. She works for Sephora in San Francisco.

Tao: Oh.

Sarah: I stayed there! She just sent me back so many of my books that I left there because I tend to collect books on the way. Like I was on a road trip and I ended in San Francisco, and I had picked up so many books that I could not take them home again, and I made her a deal. I was like, I’ll lend you these books, but you have to send them back to me, to ship them. And she just sent some back to me, and I was as grateful to her as if she’d bought them for me herself! [laughs]

Tao: I think we probably know a lot of people just cause of being in media and stuff. Right?

Sarah: Sure.

Tao: I’m sure we know probably, um—

Sarah: Yes, it’s a very small world that we’ve made.

Tao: Yeah. Flowers. What do you have to say about flowers?

Sarah: I was thinking about it. It’s funny, I actually have two flower tattoos, which is more flower tattoos than anyone should have, probably. This is the first one I ever got [showing/gesturing to inside left wrist].

Tao: What kind of flowers?

Sarah: Forget-me-nots. When I was 11, my mother gave me—

Tao: What does it say?

Sarah: ‘True blue.’ When I was 11 my mother gave me a plot in her garden, and all I planted in it were forget-me-nots. They’re a perennial. They will come up again every spring when it rains. The other day I was standing outside a bar—

Tao: What does it look like?

Sarah: What does a forget-me-not look like?

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s a very small, almost tiny flower, but it has like a certain hardiness, I guess because it’s a perennial, also because the pure sky blue—the color of it. A very cloudless blue.

Tao: Do they grow in Canada?

Sarah: No, they grow everywhere. Not very many flowers are native to Canada. Trilliums are. Trilliums are the provincial flower of Ontario where I’m from. Trilliums are not dissimilar to lilies but they grow very low to the ground and they have three large white petals.

Tao: Huh. I never heard of that. It sounds like a fantasy movie.

Sarah: Yes, I can see that.

Tao: And what’s your other flower tattoo?

Sarah: Oh, it’s funny because it was so badly done. Um, well, it was done by one of the best tattoo artists, but he did it with this like stick-and-poke machine that he used to tattoo inmates.

Tao: It looks like a scab.

Sarah: It does look like a scab. I kind of love it. I’m going to have him go back over it because it’s a beautiful—he drew a rose, a long-stemmed rose.

Tao: What does it say?

Sarah: Oh, underneath? He sort of tattooed over, but so you could still see through it. This is my ex-boyfriend’s birthday. It says January 19, 1973. He’s going to fucking kill me. He’s 40 years old. Anyway, I once, in the middle of our relationship, forgot his birthday. And he never made a big deal out of his birthday, he was in his late 30s, why would anybody give a fuck, really, how old he was. I feel like it’s really—

Tao: And he got angry about it?

Sarah: —sort of graceless to have birthday parties, I think, between 30 and 40, you know.

Tao: Yeah. He got angry about it?

Sarah: No. He didn’t. I mean, I knew his birthday was coming up, and I said what do you want to do, and he said maybe go for dinner, whatever you like, and I said I’ll make a reservation and then I did not make a reservation and I forgot, and I was very busy working and it was one of those days when I just stayed at home working all day and didn’t leave the house and he came home late, a little drunk, before midnight, and asked me what day it was.

Tao: Oh.

Sarah: [laughs] And I said the 19th? No, sorry. I fucked that up [laughs]. He asked what day it was and I said Wednesday, and he was like, what day is it? And I said the 19th—oh, fuck. It’s your birthday. And he—he didn’t care about his birthday, he just cared that I forgot it.

Tao: Well, it sounds like you were having other problems if he was coming home drunk on his birthday.

Sarah: A little bit drunk. He just went for some beers. I’m sure he didn’t even want to drink, he just drank to get back at me in some way, you know—

Tao: I have a really bad tattoo—

Sarah: —but then I felt bad that I had forgotten it and I said I’ll get it tattooed on me, but he didn’t take me seriously, and I think I hate to be not taken seriously, so months later in the summer, I mean I knew we weren’t going to be together, it didn’t matter, I just felt that I should do this thing. I think I’m like—

Tao: You didn’t need to get the year.

Sarah: I think I’m much better at making things up to people than I am at like apologizing.

Tao: You didn’t need to get the year, though.

Sarah: What?

Tao: You put the year on, too.

Sarah: I put the year on. Yeah. Was that a little passive-aggressive? [laughing]

Tao: Maybe. [slight pause] Maybe.

Sarah: [mock-addressed to my ex] I’ll never forget your birthday again, also you’re old.

Tao: Yeah, did you guys have conversations about him being old?

Sarah: Um, in the sense—ye-es, in the sense that—conversations were indirectly about him being old. Like, I resented that he did not learn new things.

Tao: What was his job?

Sarah: He was a teacher, but you know, you teach the same curriculum.

Tao: Okay well here’s my bad tattoo. Because—

Sarah: I can see it, yes.

Tao: Do you know—what do you think it is?

Sarah: What do I think it is?

Tao: The green one.

Sarah: Oh god, you’re so stressed out. Your cuticles!

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: Um, what do I think the green one is? An alligator?

Tao: It’s a whale.

Sarah: That’s absolutely not a whale.

Tao: [almost laughing] Yeah it is. That’s how I draw whales. You know how whales have like the mouth, it opens like that.

Sarah: I mean it’s not an alligator, either, that’s true. It could be a boa constrictor without the rest of its body. It’s not—where—it’s not a whale.

Tao: That’s like the iconic type of whale mouth.

Sarah: Unless it’s like—yeah, sure.

Tao: Well, it’s just bad ‘cause they did it so softly that, um, it looks like I just drew on my self.

Sarah: It looks a little like you did it with marker. I don’t mind bad tattoos.

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: I have lots of them. [unintelligible]

Tao: Do you think Sheila wanted us to talk about flowers because flowers are nice?

Sarah: Maybe because it’s raining. The other day I was standing outside a—

Tao: She didn’t know it was raining.

Sarah: She could have known it was raining. The weather in Toronto is not so different from the weather here. But I don’t know. Sheila—

Tao: It’s just ‘cause flowers are nice.

Sarah: Yes, it’s ‘cause they’re nice. Well, I think she also likes very beautiful common things. Um—

Tao: I don’t really know anything about flowers—

Sarah: —she prefers beautiful common things to beautiful expensive things, I think, which is like an important distinction between people.

Tao: She does? You know for sure?

Sarah: I don’t know for sure. I’m guessing.

Tao: Well, orchids can cost a lot. Anything can cost a lot or a little, right?

Sarah: No.

Tao: What cannot cost a little.

Sarah: Okay, what do you mean by can?

Tao: You can buy it for a little.

Sarah: It’s not currently possible to buy everything for a lot of money. There are no extremely expensive bagels, for instance.

Tao: I’m sure there are.

Sarah: There are? Where? If there were really expensive bagels—well, what is a lot to you, for a bagel?

Tao: Probably like twenty dollars.

Sarah: I don’t know if there’s a twenty-dollar bagel in New York.

Tao: I’m pretty sure there is.

Sarah: If it were anywhere it would be here [meaning Manhattan].

Tao: I mean, just any really high-class restaurant’s bagel.

Sarah: Right, but some things always have a fixed price, like this Diet Coke always costs the same.

Tao: This cost like four dollars. We’re getting off-topic.

Sarah: We’re getting wildly off-topic.

Tao: Flowers.

Sarah: That’s true, Diet Coke doesn’t have a fixed price at all, why did I say that, that was so stupid. But, I mean, I guess it depends what you think is a lot of money.

Tao: I can’t think of any more movies about—or books about—flowers. Or essays. Besides The Orchid Thief. Can you.

Sarah: Do you know Maggie Nelson?

Tao: Bluets.

Sarah: Yes, Bluets. That has flowers in it. The title of the book is taken from the—I think French word? It sounds like a French word for cornflowers, which she didn’t know, and apparently she was pronouncing the title of her book wrong the entire time, and also we may now be pronouncing it wrong. Well, you say blue-ettes in English. In French you would say blue-ay. But, what, you’re gonna walk into McNally Jackson and ask for blue-ay? No, you’re just gonna say blue-ettes.

Tao: Well, if it was French it would have like a line over the e, right.

Sarah: Right. So it’s—it can’t be a French word. But it’s a word in another language. It’s a beautiful book, that book. Have you read it? All about—

Tao: No.

Sarah: So she assembles fragments of blue, but as—it’s not exactly a narrative, it’s in numbered sections. And soon enough you realize that two narratives are emerging, and one is about the loss of her long-time lover, and the other is of her friend who was paralyzed.

Tao: I didn’t know it had a narrative.

Sarah: It’s a deeply melancholy book.

Tao: I didn’t know it had a narrative. I thought it was just—

Sarah: Well it doesn’t have a narrative. It has at least two.

Tao: I didn’t think it had any narratives. Now I’m more interested in it.

Sarah: It doesn’t have a clear—it doesn’t have a narrative structure, necessarily, but it does have narratives. The structure doesn’t tell you much of the narrative, but if you read it, yes, it sort of strings—it strings you along.

Tao: We should google our names and ‘flower’ to see if we’ve written anything about flowers.

Sarah: I’m sure I have mentioned flowers. No, you can do both at the same time. We can keep talking while we do it. Lilacs. I’m sure I’ve talked about lilacs. The thing is if I google, it’s unlikely that I would have been so unspecific as to just say ‘flowers,’ I would have said the type of flower that I was talking about, so I would google my name, and, like, every type of flower, to see if I’ve talked about roses or lilacs.

Tao: Well I’m just gonna try ‘flower.’ I kind of feel like I’ve ignored flowers. It’s too obvious.

Sarah: Oh, here’s my friend. She makes crowns of suede flowers, they get ruined in the rain. This is what I was going to tell you. The other day I was standing outside a bar and a guy started talking to because, you know, if a girl is standing outside she must want to be talked to, and—uh, all he had to say was that it’s not supposed to rain in May, because April showers bring May flowers. He was like, ‘what do May showers bring?’ And I couldn’t think of anything else that rhymed, I could only think of ‘lawnmowers,’ which wasn’t right at all.

Tao: That’s right. That’s right.

Sarah: But it doesn’t sound. It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t rhyme when you say it out loud.

Tao: I think I have a poem with the word ‘flowers’ in it.

Sarah: So yeah. The ‘long-stemmed rose’ comes up. When I wrote about fashion more, I guess I would have to describe floral prints. But lilacs, I’m sure—

Tao: How do you know Sheila? Toronto?

Sarah: Uhhh, Sheila and I—I mean, she’s lived in Toronto for much much longer than I did, but I was there for five years. Once she messaged me on Facebook to say that I had the best hair in the city at the time. I had hair that was dyed like a lavender blonde. Well, lavender is a flower. And it was shorter, and it was always over one eye.

Tao: So you didn’t grow up in Toronto?

Sarah: No, I grew up in London, Ontario, two hours away. Here’s a thing I wrote that has lilacs in it.

Tao: Read the sentence.

Sarah: Hold on. So she messaged me on Facebook and I knew she was a writer, and then she sent me How Should a Person Be? when it came out in Canada, which was like almost a year before it came out in the States, and was quite different, um. I still have not read the American version.

Tao: It was a lot different?

Sarah: It was—30% of it was rewritten, but I don’t know, uhh, to what extent. I don’t know. It’s not 30% new material, I think it’s 30% rewritten. And I don’t know how much she rewrote. I remember telling her I didn’t want to read the American version because it was like when my friend got a nose job. I could understand he might be objectively better looking but I couldn’t stand to look at him for a long time. [laughing slightly] And that might have been an extreme—

Tao: Your friend got a nose job?

Sarah: Yes. And he—I actually don’t know if we can put that in, I’ll have to ask him. But—

Tao: But we don’t know who he is, so you can put it in.

Sarah: Right.

Tao: You didn’t say his name.

Sarah: Well, what if people guess.

Tao: And it could be any friend—

Sarah: No, it could not be anybody. That’s a silly thing to say.

Tao: I mean, you have a lot of friends.

Sarah: It’s not like every person you know is someone who would get a nose job. I think that significantly narrows the field when you think about people who would do that, think about people who aren’t like afraid of surgeries—

Tao: But that’s the kind of person—

Sarah: —and have six thousand dollars to do it. That kind of narrows it down.

Tao: But the kind of person you wouldn’t suspect to get it is the kind of person who might. If they’re not open about it.

Sarah: Okay, here it is. I was asked a question for—you know The State? It’s a publication—okay anyway. They asked what’s your favorite smell. I think—but this is not loading properly. Hold on. [pause while the page loads.] Okay. What’s your favorite smell. ‘I think all my favorite smells are sort of extemporaneous. Like if I catch the scent of dying lilacs on the edge of a breeze from a certain distance, I’ll just cry. I won’t even see anyone that day. Or, since I was very small I’ve loved the smell that wafts from window air conditioners in the heat, which I think is really the smell of dryer sheets, but makes me think of bleach-blonde single moms listening to bitter-soft piano ballads and drinking vodka.’

Tao: That’s good. You can really tell the smell of a flower.

Sarah: You can really tell the smell of a flower?

Tao: You can really discern the smell?

Sarah: Lilacs? Are so particular.

Tao: Well I guess I just don’t know that much about flowers at all.

Sarah: Lilacs are in the T.S. Eliot poem, those famous lines from The Wasteland: ‘April is—’

Tao: I haven’t read it.

Sarah: ‘April is the cruelest month, bleeding lilacs out of the dead ground’ or something. ‘Breeding lilacs.’ Bleeding lilacs would be good too, but I think it’s breeding.

Tao: Okay, now I wanna read my sentence with the word flower in it.

Sarah: I think it’ll be much less flowery.

Tao: It’s ‘I want to remember you as a river with a flower on it.’

Sarah: [pause, six or seven seconds, which feels long] What’s the whole poem?

Tao: You made some kinda face.

Sarah: I think I’m always making one kind of face or another.

Tao: I haven’t seen that face.

Part 2

In this second part of the conversation, the writer Marie Calloway is discussed at great length. Though the instruction was to talk about ‘flowers’ for forty to sixty percent of the time, I think we can all agree that any budding artist or writer might be considered a flower. 

Tao: Okay we’ve talked about flowers.

Sarah: Only for 20 minutes though, and not even continuously.

Tao: Yeah, but I feel like there’s more we could talk about, because [slight pause] I don’t—do you like or dislike Mary Calloway’s writing?

Sarah: I am sure you know the answer to this.

Tao: No, cause I’m not sure.

Sarah: Tell me the answer. Tell me what I’m going to tell you.

Tao: Cause I remember reading, um, your review of the—the girl from the 1910 or something?

Sarah: What? The review of the girl from 1910?

Tao: [laughs] Yeah.

Sarah: Kate Zambreno’s Heroines?

Tao: [impatient] Noooo. You wrote a review of that book that just came out—of a girl who wrote a memoir—

Sarah: Mary MacLane. Mary MacLane’s books.

Tao: And you liked that, right?

Sarah: Did I mention Marie Calloway?

Tao: Maybe.

Sarah: Yes—Mary MacLane. She was furiously talented, yes.

Tao: You liked—well, you probably don’t like Mary Calloway, right? Her writing.

Sarah: [four or five second pause] I just don’t know if she’s a writer yet, that’s all.

Tao: What does it take to be a writer?

Sarah: [another five or six second pause] Maybe she’s a writer. I don’t think she’s doing anything else. I will say that she seems to be a slightly better writer than a sex worker, I will say that.

Tao: [pause] Um, do you talk to The New Inquiry?

Sarah: I’m a contributing editor there. I wasn’t when I wrote the piece that I sent you to read, but I am now.

Tao: Okay. So you talk to them pretty often.

Sarah: I talk to Malcolm, yep. Why?

Tao: Cause those people have like blacklisted me and stuff.

Sarah: Why? Oh, because of Rob Horning. That’s right. Oh, I don’t give a shit about Rob Horning.

Tao: I used to be friends with those people, some of them.

Sarah: Which people?

Tao: I used to be friends with the editor, Rachel Rosenfelt, I feel like.

Sarah: Rachel is—

Tao: I liked her.

Sarah: She is—

Tao: She defriended me.

Sarah: —great, you were absolutely right to like her. Even if she defriended you.

Tao: They’re really um, defensive and supportive of Rob Horning, it seems like.

Sarah: Yes, they are. [pause] I have never felt any—I don’t know, I’ve met Rob Horning. I have never felt like talking to him. Yeah [tone is an audible shrug]. I don’t know.

Tao: I wonder if they believed what Rob Horning says, that Mary lied in the story.

Sarah: I really don’t talk to them about it. Here’s the thing. I don’t care [laughs]. I really don’t think that I care. I don’t think I read what he said about it. I did read her story. And I remember—I don’t think I even got through it the first time I read it, and then I read it again recently, and I had a thought about it. It was very late at night. I wonder what it was that I thought. My friend had told me that she was re-reading it and thought it was kind of great. Um—

Tao: It’s not a diss to the story if you don’t finish it, ‘cause it’s like 15,000 words long. No one reads something that long.

Sarah: I did read the entire thing [laughs] in the end—

Tao: But not all at once.

Sarah: I think you sort of have to read it very fast. Um, let me see… [googling on phone]

Tao: I think a lot of people….

Sarah: Someone else asked me out of nowhere what I thought of her. I must just look like a person who has opinions about Marie Calloway.

Tao: Everyone is talking about it.

Sarah: Not everyone has opinions. What everyone in this very, very tiny world? No. I don’t know. It’s too early to say whether she will matter. I mean, you wanna talk about Mary MacLane, she sold [beat] trilliums of copies of that book, her first book, written when she was 19. And Marie Calloway will not sell—I told that guy, Giancarlo, I think he asked me one day on Twitter, and I think I said that [pause, remembering] I think she should take some time to be a better writer. I think I will defend her politically. With The New Inquiry, I disagree with the way they look at her. Like I think I will defend her against people who think she breached some kind of—I don’t know—ethical contract. It’s hard to say what to do, because I don’t want her to be vilified for being a narcissist or a slut or any of the really obvious things you could say about a girl who writes what she wrote. When you get into the ethics of it, it’s trickier, because—would I have done what she did? Absolutely not. Does that mean she shouldn’t have? I don’t know, because she was very young.

Tao: What part of it?

Sarah: Would I publish pictures with the story? No. And would I have made his identity so clear, knowing he was happily—knowing that he was committed to somebody who is won-der-ful. Not that she [Marie] would have any way of knowing how wonderful his [beat] girlfriend was then. But I wouldn’t have done that. I mean I wouldn’t even sleep with somebody who told me that he had a girlfriend. That’s just, you know, who I have decided to be. Um, I’m not saying she should have made the same decisions. Also she was very young. I think the great thing about the story is that it—[pause] do you know what it reminds me of?

Tao: What?

Sarah: There’s this interview with Zizek and he talks about how he never buys anything, because he—not never buys anything, but he buys so little, and he’s wearing socks, and he says ‘these socks for example, I got for free on a flight.’ And that’s supposed to tell us that he doesn’t shop more than he has to, but what does it really tell us is that he’s taking business-class flights where he gets socks for free, because you don’t get those socks on coach flights. Right? So, her story had that kind of effect. It had these like very simple, stupid things in it, but they revealed, I think, a quite serious hypocrisy.

Tao: I’m sure many of your favorite books have people murdering people, though.

Sarah: I do love Basic Instinct.

Tao: And that’s way worse ethically than revealing someone’s cheating on their girlfriend.

Sarah: Right, again—I’m not saying she should have been vilified. I liked most of the political hypocrisies [Rob Horning’s, not Marie’s]. I didn’t like specifically her assertions that, you know, like the porn that guys watched or what they liked in bed was hypocritical given their feminist, full communist stances. Because I’m not—I mean, I’m not who I am in bed, and I don’t think men are either.

Tao: She didn’t say—

Sarah: She was like, all these guys are feminist, but they watch this porn.

Tao: That was just the information that came out from the dialogue. She didn’t comment on it.

Sarah: You don’t think that the way you present information is itself a comment.

Tao: Um—

Sarah: Because it is.

Tao: No, no.

Sarah: Maybe this is what bothers me. She doesn’t seem to work for it, her writing. Her writing feels like she did not work for it.

Tao: On it?

Sarah: Or on it. It feels both like she didn’t work for it and like, she didn’t work on it. She doesn’t try. Anything. What I told Giancarlo [DiTrapano, Marie Calloway’s publisher at Tyrant Books] is that the book, the ostensible book that he sent me, what’s it called, uhhh, what purpose did I serve in your life, I mean—nothing. No purpose. At all. There is—it’s not a book, for one thing. It’s just a photocopied, stapled-together bunch of stories that you have read elsewhere, and so it could—

Tao: [voice raises] Well if you’re attacking writing based on the paper it’s printed on, that’s like the lowest kind of—

Sarah: That’s not what I’m saying.

Tao: —critique you can—

Sarah: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying—I can see how it might have sounded—that that’s what I’m saying. But that’s really not what I’m saying. It feels—the feeling of it is that it’s stapled together. It could be an e-book and it would still have this feeling of having been photocopied and stapled together. I’m talking much more about how this thing that is supposed to be a book neither fulfills my idea of a book nor challenges my idea of a book [talking over Tao’s soft attempts to interrupt] which, I would like a book to challenge my idea of a book—

Tao: Just let me talk—

Sarah: —or change my idea of a book.

Tao: Well let’s just talk about ‘Adrien Brody.’

Sarah: Which is better. Than the other stuff. Because it does something.

Tao: That definitely seems written and edited to me.

Sarah: Didn’t you edit it?

Tao: No, I didn’t edit it. No one edited it. She wrote by herself. And I think that’s an extremely improbable story to have been written, just because like, no one I know could have written that story. You all have friends and jobs and you work for, um, papers.

Sarah: Right.

Tao: You can’t write a story and expect to, like, so it’s a complete outsider coming in with the skills to write—

Sarah: Right, right.

Tao: And then writing it out of her—

Sarah: I will debate her skills with you, but I also might have quite different taste. But—

Tao: This is the most exciting thing to have happened to writing in five years, probably. [pause] A lot of people—

Sarah: It’s certainly the most exciting thing to have happened to Rob Horning in five years.

Tao: —yeah, and um…

Sarah: But I will not say it’s the most exciting thing to have happened to writing.

Tao: I think it is. No other person can write a story like that. Just because of their jobs and families and stuff.

Sarah: You mean would be permitted.

Tao: Yeah, and then how unexpected—

Sarah: Because I know a hundred fucking girls who could write a story ten times better. But so what you’re saying is that the story is great because she did it.

Tao: That’s one aspect of it.

Sarah: Because the story is not great on the level of the sentence.

Tao: I think it is.

Sarah: Right, well, I—so this is a fundamental difference in how we read, and—

Tao: Yeah, and also, it’s so unexpected what the actual story’s content is. A lot of it is just like dialogue.

Sarah: Right, I liked their dialogue. The way he talked about politics to her was so—I found it unbearable. The thing is I read it again after I met him [Rob] in real life, and it was like—it was a completely different experience, because I could hear his voice, and I knew this was somebody who was not… I mean, when I read it at first, I was like, oh, is he a famous writer? Is he really well-known in New York? I didn’t live in New York at the time, so I assumed maybe, before I found out who it was, that he was this big deal. And then I heard the name, and I’d never heard of him, and then I met him, and I was like, ok, so this makes sense. Because there’s a very particular kind of man who prides himself on telling girls that he’s a feminist, and those are among my least favorite types of men. I don’t give a shit if you’re a feminist. We’re fine, thank you. We’ve got this. I mean, you should be a feminist as part of your larger class politics, but men who tell you that they’re feminist might as well—I mean, they’re the worst. And they wear cardigans.

Tao: It was also hilarious, I felt.

Sarah: Her story was funny! It was very funny in parts, yes.

Tao: And moving.

Sarah: —I’m not saying…. was it moving?

Tao: Yeah. I mean, yeah.

Sarah: Yes. But you know what it is? There were places in which I felt sorry for her, and I hate feeling sorry for girls. I hate it so much.

Tao: [pause] Well, does that mean—what are some, um, favorite books?

Sarah: In the last five years?

Tao: No, just overall.

Sarah: I like Maggie Nelson a lot. I’m gonna go backwards through whatever I’ve recently liked.

Tao: Okay.

Sarah: Okay, so. I’ve been reading Knausgaard. But you have not read any of it. So Knausgaard is like this Norwegian, emergent, Proustian figure. Like, he writes—

Tao: Nowzgar?

Sarah: Knausgaard.

Tao: [raised/sped-up voice] Let’s not talk about that, because that’s so far out, no one’s gonna know what the hell we’re—

Sarah: Everyone is gonna know what this is. Because the English translations are coming out with FSG and people will—already, a quarter of Sweden. How big is Sweden? Six—like, a quarter of people in Sweden have bought this book, if you go by the numbers, which you can’t exactly go by the numbers. Because it’s this Norwegian writer living in Sweden, and the books are this massive—

Tao: Is this a male or a female writer?

Sarah: Male, of course. As if a woman would be given six books, 600 pages each, to worry about whether she’s a good mother. She’d be too busy actually fucking mothering.

Tao: So it’s about if he’s a good father?

Sarah: It’s a lot about—

Tao: It sounds really boring.

Sarah: —whether he’s a good father and a good person. Yeah, but if you were to describe the plots of your novels, they would also sound boring.

Tao: I know, but six books. Six hundred pages.

Sarah: Six books. Yes! Every time—I’ve read the first two, and every time I pick it up again I feel like I’m going back to a deadbeat ex-boyfriend, because he charms you. It has the best opening sentence of a book I’ve read in so long, and—

Tao: What is it?

Sarah: The opening sentence of the first book is—‘For the heart, life is simple; it beats for as long as it can.’

Tao: I can’t understand, say it again.

Sarah: [slower] ‘For the heart, life is simple; it beats for as long as it can.’

Tao: Okay.

Sarah: That’s the first sentence. And that was it. I read that one sentence and I knew I was going to read this whole fucking book, all five-hundred fucking pages of his boring childhood and his boring adolescence and his boring university years and his boring fatherhood, and I was going to read all of it. I was going to swallow [laughing slightly] every last drop of this. The first several pages are as good as that. It’s this meditation on death that dissolves into a childhood memory of seeing a face on the water and telling his father that he saw a face on the water and then it’s on the news that night—it took place on the sea, that’s why—

Tao: Is it a thriller?

Sarah: No! [laughing] Nothing could be less a thriller than this. You have no idea how un-thrilling. Then you go through pages and pages of descriptions of like, buying beer for a party, waiting for a bus to go to the party, stashing the beer in a snowbank, picking up the beer from the snowbank, getting a ride to the party, going to the party, talking to people, not talking to people, it goes on and on—

Tao: Are there murders in it?

Sarah: And it’s written in this abusive, unbeautiful style, I mean abusive in the sense that you’re stuck in this.

Tao: Are there murders?

Sarah: [sounding either irritated or bemused] No, there are not murders. Then you try to race through, because you need to read this, because there’s a way that you don’t like him at all, but you care about him. And so you race through these boring boring sections, and you get to a sentence that stops you, a really arresting insight, and you think fuck, now I have to go back and read slowly all the shit that I hated to understand why he’s saying this.

Tao: [gently] Well, there’s whole books that are just insights. You don’t have to read books like that. [pause] Like The Book of Disquiet

Sarah: It’s called My Struggle. It’s called that. Like, you know, Mein Kampf, the Hitler—

Tao: It’s called My Struggle.

Sarah: Yes. Apparently in one of the books later on he explains why it’s called—

Tao: I don’t understand how it sold that many copies. It must have a murder.

Sarah: [laughing, genuinely] Yes, well—it will certainly make you want to murder, in certain places. Because you think, like, the arrogance, that I would read this, but then you do read it. There’s something very compelling. What it does is that it absorbs you into this world. You start looking around and everything becomes like Knausgaard. Because he has a very particular—


Sarah: Knausgaard. Not NASCAR. It would sell great in America if that were his name.

Tao: If it was called NASCAR.

Sarah: Knausgaard. My Struggle. Look it up on your phone. I’m telling you, people are going to—well, I don’t know how it will play in America. What happened is, I started reading it because my fiancé is doing an interview with him, and he’s obsessed with Knausgaard, so I said that I would start reading it. And I didn’t expect to care about it so much. I mean, he loves it, and I love-hate it. I sent him all these angry texts one day that ended with ‘also, he’s a Nazi!’

Tao: He’s really a Nazi?

Sarah: [laughing] No.

Tao: Is he [Knauusgaard] alive?

Sarah: Yes. He gives very few interviews in English and he really hates them, the interviews.

Tao: Do you like Jean Rhys?

Sarah: Yes.

Tao: Well, Mary’s book reminds me a lot of Good Morning, Midnight.

Sarah: Mary MacLane’s.

Tao: [impatient] No. Marie. The prose style, the outsider status.

Sarah: What is the prose style?

Tao: Just simple. And in the interactions—she’s very apprehensive and aware that there’s some kind of like play going on that is not on the surface.

Sarah: I don’t know. She [Marie] just doesn’t seem that smart to me, but I can’t tell if it’s a willful—naiveté is often confused with stupidity, and I’m not saying she’s stupid, but I’m not saying she’s smart, either. She does not seem smart but sometimes I think it’s a willful naiveté.

Tao: [raised voice] What do you mean smart, like her IQ?

Sarah: No, of course I wouldn’t mean that.

Tao: Well what do you mean? Like how much she’s read, or what?

Sarah: [slowly] Noo, I mean [pause] I’m trying to answer this smartly now, this is sort of a trick. [pause] It seems like—do you know what I mean, smart? There’s a quickness that’s lacking. She doesn’t seem like you would have a conversation with her and she would be quick, like she would be able to connect things. She doesn’t seem to live in a very big world, for one thing, and she seems to lack some essential—I don’t even want to say curiosity.

Tao: That’s—that all would apply to Jean Rhys, I feel like.

Sarah: But Jean Rhys was an outsider for other reasons. I’m not sure what Marie Calloway’s big excuse is.

Tao: What do you mean? ‘She is outside for other reasons.’

Sarah: I feel like we have much more access now. You can be smarter if you want to be. And I don’t mean—it’s not necessarily about knowing things, knowing things is all too easy. She never seems to get to anything very important. And I have a lot of tolerance for very diaristic girl’s writing. I’ve done a lot of it myself.

Tao: She gets into relationships, sex, um—I mean, whaddya think’s important?

Sarah: Those things are important. But she doesn’t get inside—

Tao: Politics.

Sarah: Not really.

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: ‘Adrien Brody’—the politics in that are amazing, yes. But—you know what it is? There’s a line—she says at one point to this ‘john’—I guess she refers to him as—this guy who’s paying her for sex. He says that she’s cute, and she wants to say, ‘I’m not cute, I’m very beautiful,’ but A, she doesn’t say it, and B, she immediately assures us, the reader, that she doesn’t really think she’s beautiful, just that she’s beautiful in relation to these men who are paying her for sex. Also, she distinguishes between a guy who’s paying for her sex and a ‘normal guy,’ which to me—that’s not smart. It’s not smart, it’s not aware, she hasn’t thought about it, because if you thought about it for one second and you were smart, you would realize—

Tao: Well, if I was a reader I’d wanna know the difference—

Sarah: —that johns are normal guys. What could be more normal than paying a woman to have sex with you?

Tao: Well, if I was a reader that information would be valuable to me. I would not want her to leave that information out. So it just seems functional.

Sarah: Functional…?

Tao: To know what the relationship is.

Sarah: [frustrated] I’m saying that her distinguishing between a john and a normal guy indicates to me that her politics are really shallow and seem to apply mostly to how she is perceived and not at all to how she perceives other people! She’s not smart when she looks at other people.

Tao: [pause] I don’t know about that.

Sarah: She’s also really young! And nobody is doing her a great service by expecting her to do these books at this age. She could be a good writer. She doesn’t need to be this like child star.

Tao: [also frustrated] I think it’s horrible that everyone just assumes she’s like a not good writer.

Sarah: It’s not an assumption. I read the whole thing [book]. That’s not an assumption. It is in fact an opinion.

Tao: I know, but the general—a lot of people are just like stating that.

Sarah: Why do I have to sit here and talk about Marie Calloway?

Tao: I don’t know, that’s just something we could talk about, but we could talk about something else now. Let’s talk about something else.

Sarah: I have no dislike for her as a person. Yeah, let’s talk about something else. So you haven’t read Knausgaard. I think you might find it valuable to you, I think you might like it.

Tao: I’m sure I would maybe like it.

Sarah: But it’s a little long, so attention-span-wise, you might have a little trouble.

Tao: Yeah, I haven’t read a book over 500 pages in like… ever.

Sarah: [curtly] Interesting.

Part 3

Go to the washroom. Get a soda. Come back to the computer for the final 2800 words. 

Sarah: I loved Rachel Kushner’s book, The Flamethrowers

Tao: [desperately] But what did you read today?

Sarah: [confused] What did I read today? Maggie Nelson.

Tao: No, on the Internet.

Sarah: Oh, I read the excerpt from Taipei.

Tao: [pause] But you have no thoughts about it—

Sarah: I haven’t really had that much time to think. You sent me a near-final draft of the novel. I will read the whole thing, then I will have some thoughts.

Tao: Well, it was probably interesting for you to read parts about your friend, um, Chandler.

Sarah: It’s certainly not. It’s probably the least interesting to read the parts about my friends.

Tao: Why?

Sarah: Okay, we’re not so close, for one thing. Maybe if we [Chandler and I] were very very close, I would have an interest in how she’s presented, you know, I would feel protective, and that would be my instinct. [pause] Which I wish weren’t true, because I guess that’s kind of condescending, but anyway, no, I think what would I be most interested in, in a novel? It would be whether you can make me see people that I don’t know. I can already sort of see Chandler. Because, you know, I know her. I like to read novels to see people that I don’t know, and to see the world in a different way.

Tao: Are you writing a novel?

Sarah: No. I will someday. It will actually have murders in it. This is not even a joke. This is actually a true thing. I would definitely write a murder in it. And I’m sure that I’ll be complicit.

Tao: You want to write autobiographical novels?

Sarah: No. [laughing] I mean, we’re on tape. If I were going to write an autobiographical novel with murders in it, I don’t know if I would tell you.

Tao: Well it could be other people killing other people.

Sarah: But I already said that I’m sure I would be complicit.

Tao: You almost have to put a murder into a novel now for it to get a certain kind of public—even if it’s a literary book.

Sarah: I don’t think—is that true?

Tao: Does Flamethrowers have a murder or anything like that?

Sarah: Yes, I mean it’s very—a lot happens. Rachel’s book is amazing because a lot happens, and at the end sort of nothing happens. The book trails off very beautifully and leaves you with an explicit question. That’s how life feels often. Things are happening all the time, and in the end, nothing.

Tao: I read that the book doesn’t end, it just stops.

Sarah: I love that. I hate a conclusion. I like to just have a mood.

Tao: [rushing, seems excited] What’s the last line of a book you remember the most? Or a last scene?

Sarah: You know Enid in The Corrections?

Tao: No.

Sarah: I read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections when I was more inclined to like Jonathan Franzen, and also before he became a raging dick. Anyway, it says at the end, and I hope I’m quoting this correctly—

Tao: Well you can paraphrase.

Sarah: ‘She was 75 and she was going to make some changes in her life.’ And that’s a sentence that has worn a groove in my brain. For years and years and years, I’ll be doing something, I’ll just be picking up my laundry, or I’ll be saying goodbye to someone, and I’ll think of that line.

Tao: It’s a pretty good line.

Sarah: It’s a really good line. I’m a sentence writer. You can see that about me.

Tao: Ev—Everyone’s a sentence writer.

Sarah: No, not everyone is. Some people think more like in paragraphs. Some people think in an even larger structure, and some writers get really stuck on words. But sentence writers are like—

Tao: Everyone writes sentences.

Sarah: Okay. I think you’re not understanding what I’m saying—

Tao: No, I am, it’s just—

Sarah: —but maybe that’s my fault.

Tao: Have you read The Easter Parade by Richard Yates?

Sarah: No.

Tao: The last line of that is something like—it’s a dialogue and the character says, um, ‘And you wanna know what’s funny?’ [pause] ‘I just turned 50 and I don’t understand anything about my life.’ Or something like that.

Sarah: That is funny.

Tao: Well I didn’t say it was funny. It’s moving and funny. I remember that. So both of our favorites are about age.

Sarah: Yes.

Tao: And change, and age. Yeah.

Sarah: [pause] I think I prefer sentences that are more beautiful than real life, versus sentences that are uglier, plainer. And I think it’s been a mistake, in recent years, to think that the literature that is plainer and uglier than real life—this neo-realistic stuff—that the truth should be raw and ugly. It’s not even so great as nihilism, it’s just like pessimism, and in fact the more complicated and difficult thing to achieve is optimism. It is no less real to make something slightly more beautiful than it is to make something grittier or rawer or whatever bullshit, you know? I want something to make me stop. I want—

Tao: So you want jarring.

Sarah: Not necessarily jarring. Arresting. I want to stop and think. And for me to stop and think, the writer has to stop and think, and I don’t think she [Marie] has stopped. To fucking think. I don’t feel like she’s thought about what she’s doing, and I’m tired of laziness being passed off as brave new simplicity. It’s just lazy sometimes, too.

Tao: I don’t think you could writeAdrien Brody’ lazily.

Sarah: But we’re not talking about ‘Adrien Brody,’ because I already said that that story is miles apart from the rest.

Tao: Oh.

Sarah: I’m talking about the rest—the new book.

Tao: Well I’m talking about ‘Adrien Brody.’

Sarah: I don’t still want to talk about ‘Adrien Brody’! What year is this? It is not the best—I will send you things in an email in the last five years that I think are better. Of course I don’t know what’s better. But I’m a hard reader, you know.

Tao: What are the sentences like in Rachel’s—because it’s in the first person—

Sarah: Yes, it’s in the first person, from a narrator.

Tao: I don’t like first person because it gives you permission to like, to just speak instead of—cause when you’re speaking, you’re not deliberating a lot, and usually when I’m reading first-person books it’s just like someone talking to me. Which doesn’t seem like something you would like.

[pause, during which I must seem slightly stunned]

Tao: That’s just another thought.

Sarah: [pause] I’m sorry. [pause] You’re going to have to say that again. You think that first-person books are just someone talking to you, and not—saying anything? Not speaking, or what is it?

Tao: Just talking to you at a normal speaking—unless their voice is really affected and academic or something, it’ll just sound like someone’s talking to you, and if someone’s just talking to you, it’s not—

Sarah: My head is spinning with the names of books written in the first person that don’t sound like someone’s just talking to you.

Tao: Like what?

Sarah: Like [laughing slightly, shocked] The Great Gatsby, like Lolita, like what are you even talking about right now?

Tao: Well that was just something. Forget I said that.

Sarah: Like Proust? Since we’re talking about Knausgaard?

Tao: That was just a tangent about the first person.

Sarah: Or like, let’s talk about how many Lydia Davis stories, how many Lynne Tillman and Lorrie Moore—I always worry that I’m lumping them together ‘cause all their names start with L, but those are like my favorite short-story writers.

Tao: Yeah, Lorrie Moore is mostly third-person.

Sarah: And second-person. She writes in first person too.

Tao: For me, she is like the most deliberate writer by far, Lorrie Moore.

Sarah: She’s incredible.

Tao: She’s way above everyone else in terms of like sentence by sentence, like, how much thought has gone into it.

Sarah: [excited again] Yes yes yes yes. That’s what I love. With Lydia Davis I have like—she’s really important. I can’t sleep in a room, almost, where she’s not.

Tao: Where she’s not?

Sarah: Her stories, I mean.

Tao: Yeah I like her a lot also.

Sarah: Like I need—I lent her collection to my friend, and he did not return it, so one day I bought Varieties of Disturbance used because I just need to know that I can read her. I can not read her for months but if I feel like I can’t read her in the middle of the night, that’s a problem for me. But that wasn’t enough, so I rebought the giant book [The Collected Short Stories] that I owned, which I don’t normally like to do, I would prefer to get my original back. I guess I’m just neurotic about these things, but I had to have it.

Tao: Well, she says she just writes it and it’s pretty much done after she writes it, so you just like her mind, I guess.

Sarah: She might write exactly the same way as Marie Calloway but it is evident to me that she’s smarter.

Tao: Well it’s just a different—it’s just different.

Sarah: Right, it’s a totally unfair comparison, but I feel like you want—you want me to say…

Tao: [gently] I don’t want you to say anything.

Sarah: I think you want me to say what ‘smart’ is, but do you not feel it? A quickening?

Tao: I think smart is different for every person, so I was just trying to get your definition of it.

Sarah: Smartness I often associate with—not just thought, but a certain speed of thought, an ability to make connections in the instant.

Tao: Well, many people aren’t able to do that because they’re overwhelmed with anxiety and stuff like that. Many writers [beat] can’t.

Sarah: I’m smarter than my anxiety, though.

Tao: Umm.

Sarah: Not always, but enough.

Tao: Well, the people who are thinking the most thoughts are probably the ones who are anxious and unable to articulate what they would have thought. Those people are probably having the most thoughts.

Sarah: [quietly] I don’t know if that’s true. There’s something to be said for putting matter over mind.

Tao: [repeating slowly, even more quietly] Matter… over… mind.

Sarah: We’re at an hour. Should we stop?

Tao: No, we should talk about something relevant to something. [laughing] I wanna know more about… what you feel about Lorrie Moore.

Sarah: I started reading Anagrams recently but then I lost the book somewhere. I wish I could remember the names of her stories so we could talk about each one. I wonder if I can try to look it up.

Tao: Okay, while you do that I’ll talk about her.

Sarah: Yeah, you tell me—

Tao: She’s one of the few writers—one of the only or few writers who you can’t say, ‘I’m gonna write in her style.’ Because her style is just like—just comes out of working really hard, I feel. You can’t just sit down and be like, I wanna write like Lorrie Moore. You have to think as hard as she has thought.

Sarah: It’s funny to me that you’re saying this. You’re telling me things that I value very deeply, I mean, everything you’re saying is why I don’t like Marie Calloway, because I don’t think she’s done the work. And when I say I don’t like Marie Calloway, I mean her writing. I have basically no opinions about her as a person.

Tao: Yeah, well—

Sarah: Do you smoke? Do you want to go out for a cigarette?

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: Stop! [gesturing to his nails/cuticles, which he bites very badly] You’re ruining yourself. I do—well, I scratch off all my nail polish. That’s my anxious habit. I paint my nails every day and scratch it off when I’m working at night. Lorrie Moore’s wonderful. I remember reading a story of hers on the phone to my last boyfriend—these are Canadian cigarettes, Belmonts [handing one to Tao]. My friend was just visiting me. These are strong, they say. I never actually smoked them in Canada but they taste like—

Tao: Oh my god.

Sarah: What?

Tao: The eye. [He seems fascinated by the warning photo on the pack of Belmonts, which depicts a mangled, bloody eye in a face.]

Sarah: Don’t look at it.

Tao: Yeah, Mary doesn’t write—doesn’t write like Lorrie Moore.

Sarah: You call her Mary? Is that her real name—Mary. Marie.

Tao: No no.

Sarah: Should we keep recording outside?

Tao: Yeah.

Sarah: I’m just gonna leave this [my handbag].

Tao: What do you think she’s gonna do?

Sarah: What do you think who’s going to do? Sheila? Today? With the interview? I don’t know. I think whatever Sheila wants to do she will do. She doesn’t really spend any time wanting to do things she won’t do. That’s how she strikes me. I really admire that.

[noise—wind, traffic]

Tao: I haven’t read much Lydia Millet.

Sarah: Lydia Millet?

Tao: Yeah, didn’t you just say—

Sarah: No, Lydia Davis.

Tao: Oh.

Sarah: Oh my god. Lydia Millet—I started reading one of her books once. It had to do with celebrity culture, and—

Tao: I don’t smoke.

Sarah: Oh, so then don’t smoke. Why are you here?

[unintelligible over traffic noise, but I think he means to say he’s keeping me company]

Tao: Lydia Davis’s novel. Did you read it.

Sarah: Which?

Tao: The End of the Story.

Sarah: [to myself] Did I read The End of the Story. [to him] No! That’s the thing. I’ve read—

Tao: It’s good.

Sarah: I know, I want to. I’ve read every one of her short stories, they’re like my Bible, I don’t know how to explain how I feel about it. It has to be near my bed, it has to be there, it has to be within reach.

Tao: Um.

Sarah: I think I became attached to her when I was feeling quite lonely. It’s possible. And I mean, there were just certain stories that seemed like she had written them directly to me. That’s the most amazing thing fiction can do, that it can serve as like—that it can be this psychic guide. I always think novels are like horoscopes, you know, they make clear your choices for you. And you think, did I read this because I wanted to have these choices? Do I have these choices because of the novel? Is the novel making choices for me—why? I always say that. Because novels become true for you. But were they always true?

Tao: How can it be like a letter to you if it’s in the third person. And what does it say? Like does it tell you what to do? In your life.

Sarah: [annoyed] A novel should be a success of imagination. That’s what I think.

Tao: A success…

Sarah: Which doesn’t mean you have to make it up. I don’t mean a novel should be fiction, and I’m not delineating between fiction and memoir, or fiction and personal experience, necessarily.

Tao: Well it’s like imagining and remembering, it’s the same thing.

Sarah: That’s a really good thing to say. I was just reading—there’s this new writer that I really like. He hasn’t really published anywhere yet. He sent me his stuff to read, all these short stories, great short stories. In some cases he’s like a dude Lydia Davis. And he—

Tao: What’s his name?

Sarah: His name’s John. Johnny.

Tao: John Johnny?

Sarah: [laughing] No. John or Johnny. John slash Johnny. I call him Johnny, he looks like a Johnny, and he says, at the end of this one story, he talks about remembering—now I don’t want to misremember what he said—but he talks about writing as ‘remembering over and over again.’

Tao: Remembering what?

Sarah: You know, his stories are memories, and he talks about remembering something over and over, trying to get it right. It’s almost like you’re making it right by remembering it. So much of memory is making something right.

Tao: You’re imagining it, yeah. But, um—

Sarah: I think that’s why I planted those forget-me-nots.

Tao: Why?

Sarah: Well, think about the name of them. And they’re perennials, so they come back every year. And then every year you look at them, and you think, I remember you. I remember you as you are now.

Tao: [haltingly] You remember them as they were then.

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