Issue 159 | November/December 2015
The lyrics to John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” a song earworming me since this summer, when Ruby karaoked it on the dance floor in Wisconsin. Prine says his pivotal image was a woman with her hands plunged in dishwater. God it’s so good. She doesn’t even want a new rodeo, just a poster of an old one. “How in the hell can a person go to work in the morning / and come home in the evening and have nothing to say.” I remember sometimes when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep, and I’d come out into the kitchen and Mom would be singing to Bonnie Raitt singing to John Prine. In my head all these voices braid.
"Like Mark Lombardi, I came of age in the 1970s. In fact, we're almost exactly the same age. It was an odd era, curiously like the one we're living through now. In fact, I just came back from Washington and the Double Exposure investigative film festival where we listened to Edward Snowden chatting via satellite with the group of "anonymous burglars" who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and stole hundreds of files that led to the discovery of Cointelpro, the Senate investigation of the FBI, and the defrocking of J. Edgar Hoover. There was a good deal of chuckling, in the audience, onstage, and even from Snowden himself, at the outlandishness and absurdity of surveilling American citizens for political activity. But I think the laughter was a means of creating a moral distance, a self-protective mechanism. Of course we would all prefer to think we live in a just world. I wouldn't describe myself as a cynic by any means. But you can't believe in justice naively, or take it for granted. You have to protect it. The fact is that repression moves in cycles, and we're stuck in a repressive cycle now, which is why I think we're seeing such a lot of pushing back across the country, both in politics and in the streets."
"My entry into higher education was so improbable, given where I came from, and given that I was raised before the feminist movement. Changing what I knew and who I knew meant that I spent years not just studying but feigning, acting, posing. My daytime self -- a pretense, a veneer, I felt -- was increasingly sophisticated, or at least increasingly educated, but my off-the-clock self lagged behind. Work was already hard work. I didn't want dating to feel like work. The answer to why I stayed serially monogamous for thirty-some years had everything to do with the fact that I'd changed milieus quickly, over and over, also with the fact that I'd moved from a backwoods town that didn't value education to the so-called ivory tower. It was hard for me to change fast enough to become the person I was becoming, so it's impossible to expect that a man would have kept pace with me."
"I grew up as a Cold War baby, so the Russians always possessed allure and glamor for me as our adversaries, and by the late '60s not ones we really feared or hated. Even now the pronounciation of the word "Soviet," with all it implies and its weird juxtaposition of vowels in the final two syllables, excites my lips, tongue and palate. I began studying Russian in the seventh grade -- with the expectation that our country and theirs would eventually cooperate in space and my proficiency in the language would further my career as an astronaut. I was prescient about the cooperation in space, of course, if not about my career with NASA or my ability to become a particularly skilled Russian-speaker."
"It bothers me when books I don't admire suck up all the air (and often these are books that were highly sought after in auction), and books that are more deserving get left behind. One has to take the paradoxical view of Montaigne, who I have been reading as of late. He writes: "We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn." This quote says everything about my relationship with ambition. I want to be the quiet insular writer making my own art and disregarding how it will be perceived and what I can and cannot do to make it so, but I know that ambition, and the desire to be read, partly drives the enterprise."
"Staying with this notion of our 'struggle for recognition' and how it relates to these dueling identities, All This Life explores the idea that perhaps Hegel's Otherness might simply be a different version of the self: a digital narcissism. Who's to say that our in-real-life lives are more important than our avatars and usernames? If the computer makes certain people feel sated in ways that the real world can't, is that a peril or an evolution?"