‘A man who lived in New York City couldn’t stand it any more. So he moved to Montana. His closest neighbor was ten miles away. The first month was great — he didn’t see anyone. It was quiet. After three months he started to get restless. After six months he was so bored, he thought about moving back to the city. A neighbor called. He invited him to a party. The neighbor said, get ready for a lot of drinking, fighting, and fucking. Great, the man said. Who’ll be there? You and me, the neighbor said.’ — Lynne Tillman
‘There may be imperceptible conflicts, actions, events – I think, thinking is an activity. An emotion may produce an action, be an action, or be a re-action. In some form the writer addresses some kind of event. In some way there is a problem, an event, an action, a thought, an issue, an emotion, to be resolved or left unresolved; there’s a problem to be solved, or incapable of solution, a problem engaged or contemplated. There’s a kind of adjudicating, whatever the writer does.’ — Lynne Tillman
‘“I cannot make love to Jews anymore,” or so said Nico, breaking off her brief engagement with insouciant wanna-be androgyne Lou Reed. Endings this pithy and crude come never to the protagonists of Lynne Tillman’s new book Someday This Will Be Funny. For their sakes, you might wish they did. In twenty-one concentrated vignettes—one of which features telling lyrics from the aforementioned Reed—Tillman captures lovers and soul-searchers at their intimate moments, as they battle their inner-demons. Tillman’s subjects range far and wide, from fictional to fictionalized: a young tennis star, a sociology professor, the son of a wealthy financier, the German artist Peter Dreher, Clarence Thomas, Marvin Gaye, Lynne Tillman herself and John Lennon. Despite this large and eclectic cast, Someday This Will Be Funny, feels less like an ensemble piece and more like an in-depth character study.’ — Andrew Zornoza, Bomb
‘You never quite realize what Lynne Tillman’s done until it’s too late. She takes formal adventures in flavors of novels that had never before welcomed them. She carefully embeds details deep in her texts that others would dutifully (and dully) trot out up front. She crafts what feels like one distinctive, coherent fictional reality without explicitly connecting any of her long-form stories to one another. Published over two decades, her five novels so far build and explore what I call the “Tillmanverse” through the eyes and ears of worldly, culturally keen women (and one man), shapen or misshapen by their undeniable compulsions, obscure fixations, and grimly complex senses of humor.’ — Colin Marshall
Rachel Shapiro Alderman reads Lynne Tillman
‘The Original Impulse’ by Lynne Tillman: An Electric Literature Single Sentence Animation
Excerpt: ‘Love Rose’, w/ parapsychologist Hereward Carrington voiced by Lynne Tillman
from The Millions
You said that you would like to write like Peter Dreher paints. In Dreher’s ongoing project Tag Um Tag Ist Guter Tag (Day by Day Days Are Good), which he began in 1972, Dreher has painted the same empty water glass more than three thousand times. I am wondering what draws you to his approach, considering that in many ways you take an opposite approach to writing, where your style, subject, and narrative structure change with each book.
Lynne Tillman: I try to shake myself up, and I believe I want to keep moving and changing. But I’m pretty sure I want to avoid self-exposure also. It’s the antithesis of what Dreher does with the glass, which is why I’m so drawn to it. Thinking about the same subject again and again, approaching it slightly differently each time, I see that as peaceful and directed. Still, I’m running mentally, and want to do something I haven’t done. But you’re right, there’s something in my work that stays the same – me.
In your essay “Doing Laps Without a Pool,” you argue that the terms to categorize “experimental” writing have “lost their explanatory power.” You go on to declare that “Unquestioned adherence to any dictates … to any MFA workshop credos, or their antitheses, for a novel, story, poem, essay, will generate competent, often unexciting work, whether called mainstream, conventional, progressive, or experimental; the products will have been influenced by or derived from, almost invariably and without exception, “established” or earlier work, their predecessors.” What is your take on the state of contemporary fiction?
LT: There’s always new material around – brain-directed prosthetic hands; artificially prolonged life; YouTube, etc. Are there new narratives shaped by technology, by changed wants and needs? Entirely new emotions and motives for behavior? How does our consciousness change? That’s what I’m watching for. Transgendering: I’m not sure what will come of this, except what seems obvious already. Tools affect behavior, but basic needs for power, sex, food, and the fear of others? Of extinction and death? American English is changing in part because of non-native-born English or bilingual writers. Assimilation’s not the goal anymore, and language is dramatically affected. Sadly, I’m monolingual.
Do you think that the proliferation of creative writing programs has encouraged or increased the generation of “competent, unexciting work”? If so, how should one attempt to create something new?
LT: I don’t blame MFA programs, though I’d like to. But that ignores the world outside MFA programs, and what it’s doing to our minds and ability to conceptualize. If you carry the argument forward, all education destroys young minds, which is what some think anyway. Nothing was better for me than having a few great teachers. There’s probably more writing, and more of the same, but what’s being written is not caused by writing programs. That means students have no agency whatsoever. A writer makes choices; that’s what writing is. If you carry your teacher’s water, that’s a choice. From my POV, a writer’s work is in part resisting moribund ideas, language, complacencies of all kinds. I don’t believe in, First thought, best thought. That was Ginsberg, yes? To be hyperbolic, I might suggest that some of today’s “best literary writers” damage writing more than any MFA program. I won’t go Page Six with this.
I am intrigued by your statement, from which you take the essay’s title: “Writing now is like doing laps without a pool.” I was wondering if you could explain that image. It made me think of Miranda July’s story, “The Swim Team,” where the narrator gives swimming lessons in her apartment because there is no pool in the town where she lives. Her students lie on her floor and place their faces in bowls of water while they practice their strokes. It’s almost as if they’ve adapted swimming to their circumstances, and the purpose becomes the experience, their personal achievements, as well as the community they form. Do you think that writers currently lack a body of readers and/or a general literary culture that keeps writers afloat, or writing with purpose?
LT: Her story reminds me of surrealist Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue. People plan an imaginary expedition to an imaginary mountain. He never finished the novel; he died in the middle of a sentence. There’s no body of readers ready and waiting, ever. Hollywood spends millions for those people and produces stupendous failures. Readership is a fluid state. Right now, many of us are thinking anyone who reads is an ideal reader. A general literary culture? Fence, Bomb, Tin House, The Believer, n+1, literary websites like this one, blogs like Dennis Cooper’s, there are many, many thousands of subcultures and scenes where writing is staged. There’s no dominant aesthetic, dogma, theory, or critic determining good, bad, mediocre, right, wrong. I like that. Who trusts anyone enough anyway? But what does determine how one writes? That’s a question writers answer by and with their writing. I’m very curious about why we do what we do, and the forms we use. Writing’s boundaries are mostly artificial, like those of nation states – modernity started with nationalism and nation states. We all have our limits; they could be the limits that need to be pushed in writing. Whatever Kafka wrote about writing, he kept going. Publishing is different from writing; for Kafka, they were distinct. But along with the collapse of the private and public spheres, there’s been a collapse of that distinction, which maybe has more to do with how we write than anything else.
Lynne Tillman Some Day This Will Be Funny
‘The stories in Some Day This Will Be Funny marry memory to moment in a union of narrative form as immaculate and imperfect as the characters damned to act them out on page. Lynne Tillman, author of American Genius, presides over the ceremony; Clarence Thomas, Marvin Gaye, and Madame Realism mingle at the reception. Narrators—by turn infamous and nameless—shift within their own skin, struggling to unknot reminiscence from reality while scenes rush into warm focus, then cool, twist, and snap in the breeze of shifting thought. Epistle, quotation, and haiku bounce between lyrical passages of lucid beauty, echoing the scattered, cycling arpeggio of Tillman’s preferred subject: the unsettled mind. Collectively, these stories own a conscience shaped by oaths made and broken; by the skeleton silence and secrets of family; by love’s shifting chartreuse. They traffic in the quiet images of personal history, each one a flickering sacrament in danger of being swallowed up by the lust and desperation of their possessor: a fistful of parking tickets shoved in the glove compartment, a little black book hidden from a wife in a safe-deposit box, a planter stuffed with flowers to keep out the cooing mourning doves. They are stories fashioned with candor and animated by fits of wordplay and invention—stories that affirm Tillman’s unshakable talent for wedding the patterns and rituals of thought with the blushing immediacy of existence, defying genre and defining experimental short fiction.’ — Red Lemonade
‘Tillman’s gorgeous and potent latest finds the innovative author embracing diverse, imaginative forms in these often brief but always intriguing tales…With subjects ranging from birds to Marvin Gaye to an ex-lover who has earned Tillman’s wrath, these missives partake in an elegant, efficient use of language to challenge concepts of love, history, memory, and language. Tillman’s compact narratives shine and stand up to multiple readings.’ — Publishers Weekly
A Simple Idea
This happened a long time ago. My best friend was in Los Angeles, and she and I talked on the phone a lot. I urged her to move to New York, and finally she did. She drove cross-country, and when she arrived, she was told she didn’t have to worry about the $10,000 in California parking tickets she had on her car. There was no reciprocity between the two states, she was told, so there was no way her car’s outlaw status would be discovered in New York. The guy who told her said he was a cop. They met in a bar, then they had sex. Anyway, I think they did.
My friend started accumulating NYC tickets. Blithely, for a while. She shoved the tickets into the glove compartment. I suppose people kept gloves in those compartments at one time. When there was no room left, she threw them on the floor of her car. Then she decided she’d better find a parking lot. But she didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a space.
One day she noticed a parking lot near her house which was barred from entry by a heavy chain and lock. A week later she noticed a man walking to the lot. He used a key to unlock the gate. She got up her nerve and asked him if she could park there if she gave him some money. Would he make her a key? He said he’d think about it. The next day he telephoned her and said OK. So every month my friend handed the man $50 in a white business envelope. It was illegal, but she wasn’t getting tickets from the City and throwing them on the floor of her car.
She was relatively happy parking in the lot, relieved anyway, because there was one less thing to worry about. But after a while she thought some of the other drivers-men going to work in the building attached to the lot-were looking at her weirdly, staring at her and her car. Some seemed menacing, she told me. But then she was paranoid. She knew diat, so she decided not to act on her suspicions.
Time passed. Time always passes.
One afternoon my friend received a call from a man who iden- tified himself as a cop. He said. Hello, and used her first name. Sandra, and asked her sternly:
-Are you parking illegally, Sandra, because if you are, and you don’t remove your car from the lot right now-I’m giving you ten minutes-I’ll have to arrest you.
My friend hung up, threw on her coat, ran out the door to the lot, and drove her car far away. Then she phoned me and told me what happened. She was terrified. She thought the cop might show up and arrest her at any moment, she thought shed be taken to jail.
-That was no cop. I said.
-How do you know? she asked.
-A cop wouldn’t phone you and give you a warning, I answered. But I was worried that I might be wrong, and that she might be arrested.
-And he’s not going to say he’s going to give you a second chance, because you don’t get second chances if you’re doing something illegal and they find out, unless they’re corrupt, and he wouldn’t say, I’m a cop. He’d give his name and rank or something.
My friend listened, annoyed that I was calm, and she wasn’t satisfied or convinced. She thought she might be under surveillance and would be busted later. She owed thousands of dollars in tickets in two states. It might be a sting operation, something convoluted. I had to convince her she was not in danger of going to jail. I told her I had an idea and hung up.
It was simple. I’d call a precinct and ask the desk cop how a cop would identify himself over the phone. I’d learn the protocol, how cops wouldn’t do what that so-called cop had done, allay my friend’s fears, and also show her I was taking her anxiety seriously.
I looked up precincts in the telephone book and chose one in die West Village, where I thought they’d be used to handling unusual questions.
-Tenth precinct, Sergeant Molloy, the desk cop said.
-Hi, I have a question, I said.
-How do police identify themselves over the phone?
-What do you mean? Molloy asked.
-If a cop calls you, what does he say?
-What do you mean, what does he say?
-I mean, how does he say he’s a policeman? What’s the official way to do it? The desk cop was silent for a few seconds.
-A cop called you. What’d he say? What’d he want?
-He didn’t call me, he called a friend.
-What did he say to your friend?
I couldn’t hang up, because I wouldn’t get the information I wanted. If I hung up, Molloy could have the call traced. I’d be in trouble for making harassing calls to precincts, which would be extremely ironic.
-He said to her . . . he said, Hello, I’m the police.
-Yeah. Then what?
-And then, then he said . . .
I didn’t want to tell him the story, give my friend’s real name, tell him about her tickets in two states, and her car being parked illegally, and her bribing the guy in the corporate lot. But I had to give him some sense of the situation in order to get the information I needed.
-He said to her, Hi, Diana. Hi, I’m the police. Then he said, he said, Diana . . . Diana . . . have you done anything wrong lately?
There was a very long silence.
-Have you done anything wrong lately? Molloy repeated.
It was weird coming from a cop’s mouth. He gathered his thoughts, while I remained breathlessly quiet.
-A police officer wouldn’t say that, Molloy answered soberly. A police officer wouldn’t say that.
-He wouldn’t, I repeated, just as gravely.
The cop thought again, for a longer time.
-Listen, I want you to let me know if he ever calls your friend again. Because a cop shouldn’t do that . . . He trailed off.
-That guy’s impersonating an officer.
-Oh, yeah. I’m sure he won’t . . . he probably won’t call her again. But if he does, I’ll phone you immediately, I promise.
-You do that, Molloy said.
-I will. Thanks, I said.
-Yeah, he said. Maybe Molloy didn’t believe any of this, but he did the whole thing straight.
I called my friend, and we stayed on the phone for hours, laughing about how crazy I was to say “Have you done anything wrong lately?” to a cop, with all its implications, and we laughed about her racing out of her house to the corporate lot, jumping into her car and driving off in search of a legal parking space as if she were being chased by the devil.
Maybe the devil was chasing her and me. Because we laughed off and on for about a year more, and then we had less to laugh about, and then nothing to laugh about. I don’t know, we grew to distrust each other, and stopped being friends. Maybe Molloy laughed later.
p.s. Hey. In what will be the last blog interruption this week, today I’m traveling to the French city of Rennes to host a PGL screening there tonight, resulting in the now familiar effect of a restored, p.s.-less post tomorrow. I’ll be back with a new post and p.s. on Saturday. ** David S. Estornell, Hi, David. It was so nice to finally meet you! And thank you so much for coming to see PGL. I hope we will see each other again very soon. ** David Ehrenstein, I thought I remembered you knowing or meeting her. I thought ‘SA’ was very problematic. I thought it was a film that was trying very hard to be about something but didn’t manage to actually be much of anything. I thought it was overwritten and not very well written. I thought its attempts at showing and triggering emotion were too obviously gestural, and its attempts at levity were forced. I thought the acting was standard fare and not inspired. So, yeah, a disappointment for me, although I can imagine its Frenchness giving it a helpful charisma outside of France. I say all of that honestly but not happily, being a big fan of a lot of Christophe’s films as well as a good friend of his. But apples and oranges, as they say. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be Batali, yes. I have seen that clockwork, and I’m seriously due for an Arts et Metier revisit, now that you mention it. Hm. The screenings/trips are going very well, thanks. Oh, Hamburger Bahnhof, I kind of like that place, strange imperfect interior and all. I do indeed envy you for seeing the Tanning retrospective, and I have slight hopes it’ll come over here, although I’ve seen no announcements, so … Sounds like a really nice and busy trip, very cool. I hope the lag isn’t being monstrous. Enjoy home. Talk to you soon! Oh, and your comment did appear twice. The usual mysterious blog/ commenting visibility issues up to their usual tricks. ** Steve Erickson, I look forward to your review. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has weighed in on the new film ‘The Raft’ here, and go there to help you figure out how to respond to its release. Huh, thank you for the link to that site. It’s total news to me. I’ll try to get over there before it’s shuttered. ** Misanthrope, Hi. No, I hadn’t noticed that you had scrupulously avoided mentioning the town’s name. It’s not a famous town even here. Looks like we’re going to get a shit-ton of musical bios of veteran rock stars now, ugh. I read there’s a U2 one in the works. Batten down the hatches. ** Derek McCormack, Thank you, kind and great Derek! Big love to you! ** Nik, Hi! Thanks a lot, man. Funny you used Tim too. I’d never heard of him before, but, yes, he seems to sit at a table showing off his gadgety things in thousands of videos. Ah, well, the idea for that mashup was intriguingly ambitious and seemingly unrealisable, i.e. akin to godliness. You go to Sarajevo today! Holy moly! Very safe trip if you see this pre-flight. Will you be able to check in from there? Awesome! No, I’ve never been there. Always have wanted to. I hear very good things always. Mm, the TV script thing. We had a very rancorous meeting with the producers. They refused to send our script to ARTE until we edit it for length and have it translated. We severely objected since sending it off as is has been the plan always. But they used their self-styled power to override us. So now we have to do the timing — an initial table reading of the script on Saturday — and basically spend the entire summer working on shortening/translating the script before we can send it, all without any pay, and all without being paid for the work we’ve already done as was previously agreed. So we’re very unhappy and I, at least, am very angry at and fed up with our producers. So, long story short, no news that isn’t bad and unfair, and this never ending project goes on and on and on. But hey, what can one do? Blah blah. Have an amazing trip over there, and I’ll hope to talk with you soon! ** Okay. I’m using the blog to draw attention to a fantastic novel by the wonderful writer Lynne Tillman today. Please investigate. The blog will see you tomorrow, and I will see you on Saturday.