Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Theory Z

After 21 cities; after 45 readings; after 4 weeks on the road with only 3 days off; after Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, Tacoma, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Provincetown, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Baltimore, Washington, Fayetteville, Memphis, Edwardsville, and Champaign; after two radio interviews; after eleven newspaper interviews; after two Internet interviews; after sixteen after-parties; after two after-after-parties; after one after-after-after-party; after the six hour drive in the dark through Illinois, Indiana, and western Ohio;

Budget Car Rental at the Toledo Airport said I had not filled the gas tank (again! for the second time this trip!) and I owed them to the tune of $6.999 a gallon, and

Could I please sign here, and could I please swipe the credit card again, and could I please take my John Adams audiobook biography on seven CD's out of the CD changer, and could I please explain the stain on the back seat, and I said,

"Definitely, sure: Tea, or coffee maybe, maybe Coke, maybe Pepsi, do you know which they serve in the middle of the country? Have I told you about the ice on the roads in Arkansas? Have I told you about the slush on top of the ice? Have I told you about the cars sliding slowly into the snow? Have I told you how when you cross the state line to Missouri, the roads suddenly clear? Have I told you about the snowploughs in Missouri? Have I told you how I love Missouri?"

Etc., & etc., & etc., & these etceterings didn't even include all the things I had really been thinking about so much while I was driving from Champaign to Toledo, like the poetry of Bill Knott, which I discovered on the road with Kathy, or the poetry of Davis McCombs, which I discovered in Fayetteville, or the beautiful beautiful house that Karen Golightly, our host in Memphis, kept remaking and remaking through her special magic gift for beauty-finding and beauty-making, because,

Frankly (let's be honest, yes? and let's admit that it's impolite sometimes to be honest), the Budget Rental Car person didn't really care much about Bill Knott or Davis McCombs or Karen Golightly; she didn't really care much about the secret knowledge I've stored away about Miroslav Penkov, who read with us in Fayetteville, whose stories are built to last like the stories of Gogol or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky; she really didn't care that just two weeks ago I was reading in Tao Lin's apartment in Brooklyn; she probably didn't even know who Tao Lin was; she probably didn't even know that he was an avant garde hero whose flat public persona concealed the fiercest intelligence maybe in the whole borough; she probably hadn't even ever been to Brooklyn; and, let's be honest again,

Going to Brooklyn is something that mostly mattered to me because I was thinking about advancing my own career, about finding readers, about maybe selling enough books to allow me to publish another one, to make me a good risk:

Had the Budget Rental Car person thought of this? Why would it matter to her? Why would how tired I was matter to her? Why would a book tour matter to her?

Is a book tour culturally significant anyway? I was thinking about independent rock bands, moderately successful ones, how they might sell 40,000 copies of each album; Did the Budget Rental Car person know how 40,000 would be a huge huge huge success for a book of short stories, an unprecedented success for a person like me, signed as I am to a publisher in Michigan rather than one in New York? Did she know how my secret hope was to one day sell 5,000, or maybe even 10,000 copies of my book? Did she know how happy it made me if sixty people came out to the reading? Did she know how sixty people would be a slowish night for a moderately successful indie rock band?

"Just sign the paper," the Budget Rental Car person said; she was sighing; she was impatient with me; it was cold outside; I wasn't attractively apparelled; I hadn't shaved; I had road breath; I was in a hurry because I had to prepare to teach my eight in the morning narrative nonfiction class at the university; I was wearing jeans and a leather jacket instead of a suit and tie; people attach value to their idea of you based upon what you are wearing; people worry about things like that all the time; you represent money if you are well-put-together enough, and the idea of money is very closely tied to the idea of service-giving at car rental places, so I signed the paper, I initialed all the places I had to initial, I handed over the

Keys, I said, "I left the hazard lights on," even though she already knew I had left the hazard lights on; the hazard

Lights blinked on and off the same way they had on the icy roads in Arkansas, where I had been truly scared that one of the tractor trailers in front of us would jackknife, or that one of the tractor trailers behind us would lose control and ram our little rental car from behind; I felt responsible because Kathy was in the car with me and I wanted to make sure I got her safely to Illinois, to Martin; I felt responsible because I have a family at home and I'm the one who makes the money;

Money was everywhere; in those blinking lights I saw the pile of receipts I needed to reconcile so I could get reimbursed for the trip; I saw the small daily choices -- an extra drink, some extra food, some dessert, a book purchase, a stop at this more convenient gas station instead of that cheaper one -- that undermined my budget planning;

Never in my life have I been good at budgeting, at planning, at money; throughout the tour I admired how good Kathy was at all of it; throughout the tour I worried that somehow I was worrying about money instead of making it or making plans to make it; I was worried because my job will end in May and I haven't found another to replace it; here at the Toledo Airport, I was walking away from the Budget Rental Car person, and she was already thinking about something else, maybe her job, maybe her family, maybe her money, maybe her boss, maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers; maybe LeBron James and whether he will flee the team next year for the New York Knicks and the New York market with all its glories, with all its possibility to allow a person of exceptional talent to reach the world audience;

"O Budget Car Rental person!" I wanted to say, "I want to reach the world!" And:

"Please! Read my work! Love Me!" All the things, in other words, that nobody is supposed to think and nobody is supposed to say, but why else would I have spent the last four weeks on the road, in uncomfortable cars, in uncomfortable buses, on uncomfortable early morning cross-country flights, in dragging my heavy rolling suitcase bag and my laptop case and my backpack so large Kathy said I looked like a turtle, dragging all of it through all the major cities of the East Coast and the West Coast, and sleeping too little, and enduring the daily small slights travelers endure, and not spending much time reading or writing or talking to the people I love the most, a

Queer pursuit if you think about it, a selfish pursuit; "I wrote these things, I worked hard on them, they took a long time, I want people to read them," I'd tell anybody whether they asked or not; but there is more to it than that; there is some kind of Greek thing, the desire for immortality, the desire to make something lasting, the desire to be significant, as though

Reading something can change somebody else's life, as though it could matter at all if anybody else's life is changed by something I have written, as though our lives themselves have any significance when we all know we'll all soon return from the dust from which we came, and anyway the earth is eventually going to crash into the sun, as Weird Al prognosticated in his song "Happy Birthday,"

So why do all this? Why go to all this effort? Why be tired? Why not go back to school, and this time not for knowledge but for professionalization, maybe to law school or medical school or business school? Why not acquire and build and give comfort by way of money-making to everyone I know, instead of chasing whatever I'm chasing on this tour -- readers, limited fame, approval, something that might pass for love, from strangers -- but

Then, of course, a lot of this was the tiredness talking, a lot of this was the self-aggrandizement and the self-diminishment that often enough accompanies the desperation of sleep-deprivation;

Under the circumstances it wasn't even bad self-aggrandizement or self-diminishment; later that day I read the new piece in the New Yorker about David Foster Wallace, a real true hero of mine, and his struggle with mental illness and genius and Nardil; later that day I reread and taught his story "Good Old Neon," that beautiful beautiful story that parses existential questions in a manner unlike anything I'd ever seen in any other story written by anyone anywhere;

Very truly it is a story that I wish I had written, even though the best stories are stories that nobody but their author could have authored, even though

Writing a story like that can break the writer into small tiny pieces, can unmake the writer, how this unmaking can itself be evidence that you've made something worth making, the theory being that it can't unmake anybody else if it didn't unmake you first; the

X marking the spot where craft turns into art, where artifice is turned in the direction of transcendence being the same X-marked spot where the maker is himself or herself undone, even if only a little bit; and now

You're thinking: "So what? So what? So what?," same as I've been thinking, but without the passion, probably, because what's at stake for me seems to me to be heightened from the inside of me, but probably not from the inside of you, because all this is, after all, is just a blog post, not a real true story, not art, that would take twenty-nine more drafts, and I don't have time to make them, I don't care enough to so craft them, I have to finish the Haiti book, I have to finish the novel, I have to find a job that buys me time enough to finish both, I have to struggle and struggle and struggle, my struggle is not noble, but I want to make something super-noble, I mean it, I'm not being ironic, to me right now and right then while walking away from the Budget Rental Car person for whom I had already become part of the part of the past that is forgotten as soon as it is three seconds past, to me the struggle is everything, the tour is everything, the making of things is everything; I call this Theory

Z: Forget the temporality of things, forget all that will be forgotten, forget the doubting, forget what lack of sleep brings by way of self-aggrandizement and self-diminishment, forget who listens or watches or reads or doesn't, forget all of it, because everything is important, everything is worthwhile, every bit of it, everything.


Anonymous said...

Best. Post. Ever. Post more, Minor. They sizzle, my nizzle.

Jeremy Hoffeld said...

I hear you Kyle.

Anonymous said...

An abecedarium, Kyle. Brilliant! Another, more!


katrina said...

Love the honesty of this. Well done.

kransberg-talvi said...

I think this may be the single greatest blog post I ever read—
a treasure!

It was a pleasure to hear and meet you in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kyle,
As someone who has been on several book tours, I have to commend this post for its dead-on clarity and evenhanded wisdom. Years from now, you will look back upon the book tour and what you and Kathleen have seen and experienced with great wonder. If talent and perseverance are any indicators, it is likely you will both get what we all want (fame, wealth, admiration.) I should tell you that the both of you already have earned the admiration of your peers and elders. None of it will seem as consequential with the passing of time. You will be worried about getting older, dying, the question of your legacy. Of course, all these things are already in your work now. It is admirable work, and the two of you are admirable people. Godspeed.

Kathleen Rooney said...

Thanks, Richard. Fame, wealth, admiration would be nice, sure, but in the meantime, I'm just grateful to have this opportunity to take time off from my day job and go on a tour and see the country and meet amazing people. The tour is still going on and I'm already looking at it with wonder now, even the occasional bad parts. Most people don't get the chance to do this kind of thing and I feel very fortunate.

Elissa said...

I often feel the same sense of struggle in my prosaic day job - no chance of art, maybe craft, and ultimately - survival.

Maybe that's the victory.