“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem”—(via thetinhouse)
How many boners are popped in McNally Jackson’s basement? It’s Tuesday and around 80 people are listening to essays from Mike Thomsen’s new book, Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. I show up late and trip over children’s things in the back as Helena Fitzgerald reads about Obama sex, its merits and possibilities, with Michelle & Barry about to bedside inaugurate four more years of whatever. In a voice for storms or Brontë novels, Fitzgerald says Thomsen’s words: “When I imagine myself in that position, the secret service is guarding the door while I’m in the bathroom fucking my wife, trying to hold on, in momentary freefall.” Groans joust with laughs in both the clauses and audience.
For every Rabelaisian inflection or admission from his book, Thomsen’s face is there for study, which makes the reading seem like a weird author-function or celebrity roast at times. Like when the second reader, Malcolm Harris, describes coming all over himself (as Mike Thomsen), enveloping his (Mike Thomsen’s) “chest, chin, navel, thighs.” By reports, Thomsen’s cum is warm, soft, neutral-smelling, and velveteen. The couple in front of me tighten their finger grips at Harris’s mention of Fuck Team Five, a male-exploitative porn rubric of “Amazonian pornstar women roaming the streets looking for regular guys to sleep with.” The reading seems like kind of a date night destination for some, which, when partially billed as hearing Thomsen’s dick diegetically explode, makes it a bit of a Symposiumfor heteros. Which is fine.
I’m standing dead in the orbit for the bathroom, which pulls a lot of unsuspecting people into what must seem like a horizontalist sex therapy, or, for some, a CIAseminar. Particularly weird is the gaggle of Wallace Shawns as they listen to the third reader, Rachel Rosenfelt, detail Thomsen’s taste for vaginal fluids: “How many men haven’t walked around the day after sex with the secret scent of vagina on their fingers, chin, or penis? To some the phrase ‘mucus flaps’ might induce revolt or socio-sexual indignation. To me it induces hunger, lust. Mmmmmmucus.” My own personal sense of socio-sexual indignation makes look at these dads in the front row with a puritan’s suspicion. Then Thomsen’s themes make me worry that this is my own perverse projection.
When Sarah Nicole Prickett begins to read, I can’t hear her from the back, which is mostly my fault, but what she reads seemed subdued and careful and on the sweet side of the Thomsen scale. Adrian Chen follows with something called “Ass Bangin’ and Astral Projection.” I can hear him read these lines just fine: “Feeling yourself penetrated at the same time that you are enjoying the metaphysical whoosh of penetrating someone else is surreal. It’s an out of body experience, like an alien abduction or astral projection. It’s like being in two separate places at once, wholly conscious of everything around you.”
Thomsen rises at last. He reads two touching stories that seem especially accomplished in their touchingness. He reads “I Am Error,” this love and departure story against the New York backdrop probably on loan for all of us: “I feel lucky to be here. I don’t deserve to live in a place so densely filled with this much life, secretly aspirating down the avenues. But I do. I’d wanted this for myself all along, to keep moving, to find a reason to not settle down and grow grass beneath my feet. I wanted to keep pushing the outer lip of what I can do. I wasn’t brave enough to say that I wanted this for my own sake. So I said it was for someone else, and that spared me the terrible weight of having to look at myself without the warping hue of romance.”
I’m in a dark corner of McNally Jackson’s basement, finding catharsis in Thomsen’s confessions of being a sometimes utterly repugnant, historically irrelevant male-bodied hetero-simian who wants to have sex and yet live a moral life. Maybe we can be better, and then happy.
This Levitate the Primate reading took place in New York City on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012, and was presented by The New Inquiry.
“That’s why people like me go to conferences like Bread Loaf. Like most Americans, I live in a world that cannot see the point in work that doesn’t bring in money or instant prestige. I myself can’t see the point in work that doesn’t bring money or prestige, yet I keep doing it, day after day, year after year. At a place like Bread Loaf, I can see up close that people not all that different than me have turned this queer habit of mine into a job that gives them money and prestige. But — and this is the great secret — I also meet hundreds of other people just like me, who will never make money as writers, who will never win a Pulitzer Prize or be the poet laureate, but keep on writing because they love it. And, seeing them, I know I am not alone.”—Michael Bourne reports from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
This profile, this essay, this book review, this comic book pitch, this screenplay idea, these five short stories, these two novels. And then I have to teach, to travel—and, most important of all, play with my kids, hang with my wife. I have trouble sleeping at night. Sometimes my heart feels caged inside my chest and my brain feels like it’s going to tear itself in half and the only antidote is a five-mile run and six sets of ten on the pull-up bar. Before I stroke out or lose my hair, I need to slow down, chill the fuck out. I need to follow Jess’s advice. I need to not be in such a rush.
This, after all, is the best thing I ever did for my reading, which might be the best thing I ever did for my writing.
“There doesn’t always need to be a dramatic story to later-life publication — sometimes a writer may just be spending a couple of decades reading, writing, working, and living enough to know what it is he’s writing about. Often those intervening years are simply about showing up.”—Post-40 Bloomer: David Abrams Taking As Long As It Takes by Lisa Peet
“It took forever to get the fucking stories I needed to do this project,” says Díaz, whose lunch conversation runs like an advanced literary seminar taught by a bilingual stand-up comedian working very blue. One early version of the title story began at Rutgers, where he went to college and met his first love; another was set in Boerum Hill, where he lived in a cheap walk-up before Drown was published. Eventually, he put the whole thing aside to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a tragicomic picaresque set against the backdrop of his native country’s midcentury Trujillo dictatorship, which won him the Pulitzer Prize. Shortly afterward, he was asked to be on the Pulitzer Prize board, completing his rocket arc into the Establishment.
It was, in some ways, the worst time in his life.”
At the very start, when we put our list together, we have people for the shortlist and we have an in-house expert who uses lots of things on the internet — forums and social media — and who is quite a big literature fanatic himself, and he puts the list together. Then he puts the odds together based firstly on who he thinks has a chance and secondly on who represents the current thinking of the panel and wider world. And obviously, as soon as people start betting, that’s also when things will change.
“And high above the lights of Manhattan, in the Rainbow Room, on the sixty-sixth floor of the RCA Building, the rich and gorgeous splendor of a Joan Crawford supper club makes itself real to the merry merry merry and so beautifully well-dressed boys and girls, from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Syracuse, Vassar, Smith, Adelphi, Woodmere Academy, that the swift gilted elevators carry up sixty-five floors from the amazing subtle richness of a Rockefeller Center, up to hear immaculate aesthetic Ray Noble arrange his orchestra through “Moon Over Miami.” And rich and happy, jolly wise guys home from school and happy happy happy sweet smelling daughters, all laughing laughing at nothing, at something, when it hurts, when it doesn’t, till it hurts; nibbling costly pretty food, spoiling wondrous, gorgeous, expensive concoctions of sickening painful fluids.”—Alvin Levin, lover of The Rainbow Room, which may be nearing its demise.
“A man as he lay drawing his last breath,
Leaving forever, and kissed in the white dawn
The face that stiffens away, the face in death?”—From Borges’s “All Our Yesterdays.” Today would’ve been his 113th birthday.
This practice is changing everything: in the same way that writers select their own authorized biographers, they are now often inclined to sell their own estates, deciding for themselves what does and does not get published or meet the eye of the scholarly establishment.
No doubt there will always be ample work for archivists, historians, and biographers. But absent unexpected deaths, writers will likely see to their posthumous reputations themselves: selling off whatever will remain after their deaths long before they die. As unsentimental and straightforward a transaction as checking a box on a license.
“On June 2, as the torch bobbed along the avenues of Stornoway, what was I doing? According to my journal, I embraced life with ‘2 naps. Turkey club. Vague sense of unease.’ How did I occupy myself on June 20, when the torch was Leyburn-bound? ‘A real 3-napper. Shooed some pigeons from the fire escape. Whispered, ‘Am I falling apart?’ while I scooped a clump of hair from the bathtub drain.’ As the relay hit Potternewton, I have, simply, ‘Croatoan.’ The relay path described a map of my unworthiness.”—Colson Whiteheadvisited the London Olympics. (We hear they get pretty freaky in that Village over there…)