Is everyone ok with their colors?
Hey guys what's up it's Darcie
Sam pink: Hey I’ll do my text in red
Tao: I’ll do mine in blue.
Is everyone ok with their colors? I don’t want to get into this and then one minute you want this one, one minute you want the other one.
Feeling good about my color so far. What other colors, if any, did you consider, Sam? I considered green. Darcie, what colors are you considering?
I feel like I should do this pink/purplish color, which looks like it's kind of a combination of the two colors of my avatar and I feel, brings sort of a feminine energy. How do we start this? Sam, I read your novellas in two sittings and when I finished White Ibis and read the last line I was like, "ahhhh, that's the good stuff." It felt delicate and ambiguous, the way a lot of people digest, or reserve, for poetry. Do you still write poems? Is the process or your outlook different when writing prose/narratives versus poetry?
I considered a mint green. I will say that. I like the light purple, plus now we are all combined, red and blue make purple. Purple separated makes red and blue. So far this is going really well. I haven’t written poetry in a couple years but will probably do it again at some point. Do you write poetry darcie? I think your book is poetic but to me, very prose-centered. Tao, you stopped writing poetry right?
My poetry output has decreased and I’m currently retired from poetry I think. Both of you two’s new books seem poetic to me, in terms of being concise, tonally dense and complex and emotional, and offering me multiple things to be excited about or moved or amused or stimulated by in each sentence. I can read slowly, and look away from the book, thinking, after almost every line or sentence in you two’s new books, which are two of the tightest books I’ve read. What is the longest novel either of you have enjoyed reading?
Oh thanks. No, I don't write poetry, but I like the approach of reading poetry in regard to both the act of reading a meaning. I think that because I came from making diary films, I often write things from that vantage point, which is more poetry-adjacent, than fiction. I view Literally Show Me a Healthy Person as a novel of prose poetry, similar to the genre of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Recently I've been thinking, mostly in the shower, of writing a "how to read" my book because there are a lot of people that don't really, in my eyes, get it. Last year I thought that part of art was not controlling how it's received. But lately I feel like supplying a guide, and a push in a direction, like an artist's statement. Re: long novels, I end up read them quicker than short books because with more concise writing I tend to read a line and sit with it. I've noticed that when you're an avid internet user and write a short book, people say it's obnoxious and not truly a book because it's concise. Like Sam, during your novellas, I couldn't help but think how it would be received if a woman wrote it, or if someone wrote it as a first book instead of with your standing as someone who's published a lot. But writing a really long novel seems more arrogant to me. Both sides, I guess, being ego, are irrelevant to the actual artwork. I think the longest book I read recently was The Nix, which I loved. Maybe the longest book I've read and enjoyed was Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Do you guys plan how long your books, or pieces of your books, will be before you write them? I'm curious how much planning goes into it, or how you work to plot out the book, and whether you know what you want to say before you write it, or whether you find it while you're writing.
For Trip I made an outline, discussed with my editor, and then wrote based on that, which evolved over time. The first draft was ~110,000 words and it was edited to ~75,000 over five drafts. I like having a plan and viewing the plan as changeable.
I think the longest book I read and enjoyed was The Demons by Dostoevsky. I don’t think I think about length while doing something, I just add and cut based on what feels right. It almost always ends up shorter/shortened though because I think I’m focusing on it being ‘digestible.’Like after reading/editing it a thousand times it’s easier to take stuff out rather than add stuff, because the stuff already there feels like it went to school together or whatever, and anything new would contrast too much. The debate about book length seems ridiculous. Extremely long things can feel more tight than shorter things, and shorter things can feel bloated, etc. When I think of ‘minimalism’ I think it’s what everyone strives for. I mean, I don’t think anyone willfully uses shit they know is extra, it’s all part of the plan. But on a sentence by sentence level, I like stuff to have the poetic quality that Tao mentioned, which is like, dimension and feeling and completeness to each line. That’s what was cool about Darcie’s book. Each line stood on its own but then I was really struck with how they began to add up/cross reference, etc. Also, I’ve been enjoying stuff that explores more, like how Trip is written. Aside from any of the content, the style feels more flowing and open and exploring. The main character/Tao, feels like he is discovering more, rather than telling the reader. That kind of stuff excites me more and more, like the ability to wander with writing, or, it being a place where the discovery happens, before the reader.
I like that you noticed that and it excites you. I wanted to share how I learned things, and not just the things I learned, because I want to remember what I was like before I learned whatever thing. For example from 2001 to 2011 I didn’t know about building 7—I only knew that the towers were destroyed—then I saw it on YouTube, and it changed what I thought about 9/11. Then in 2017 I encountered Judy Wood, and my view of 9/11 changed again. Another example is that I mostly believed psychedelics caused insanity and were risky and pointless for most of my life. I want to remember all the times I’ve been wrong or believed inaccurate information. Sarah Manguso’s book 300 Arguments reminded me of both your books. It’s in 300 fragments, and one of them, which is on the backcover of my copy, says: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” I think Megan Boyle’s Liveblog will be the longest novel I’ve read when I read it. I was describing it to someone the other day, saying it was long but the writing was like writing you’d find in a short book. Sam, you said at your discussion at McNally Jackson that you were going to try writing in paragraphs. How is that going? Have you continued writing in the style used in literally show me a healthy person, Darcie?
Yeah I’m really interested in the ‘wandering’ or ‘learning in front of’ aspect of writing now. Sometimes I think about it like a map with interactive nodes. Like the map is the general area of your life/topic, and the nodes are things that can be expanded upon. I remember while working on White Ibis feeling excited about these points of expansion. Like it made me want to know more about the girl scouts in general, or ecosystems, etc. I think the stuff in Trip, and that general style, is going to become even more important because so much information is prepackaged now. There isn’t much to the ‘here’s how I came to this’ side, which is more true than ‘the truth.’ so yeah, the pharmaceutical drug use in trip, is important, because it shows how you got where you are, and from experience, rather than parroting the anti drug myths. So like, by wandering around in the misery of pharmaceutical drug use, you taught even more about the benefits of psychedelics, as opposed to someone who just says ‘pills are bad.’ Darcies book does that but in reverse almost, like a line will say something, and you think about it one way, and then later on something that seems random will add dimension to that and you realize that all the ‘truths’ in that book are like, floating around and nebulous and it made me interested in ‘learning more.’ for me, that’s what feels free and nice about you all’s books, is that nothing seems settled, but instead like, cooking. It feels like constrained and ‘math problem-y.’ i like that Sarah Manguso idea, it reminds me of a Nietzsche line, which is something like how he wants to say in ten sentences what other people can’t in a whole book.
Yeah I want to start writing in paragraphs, or like, try. I think the more I do stuff, the less I am worried about the right approach or any kind of outcome, and instead just try things, like each thing is just a try, and different things happen from different tries.
Darcie, is the way you approach healthy person the result of being involved in film? Like I’m thinking about the character of your dad. And instead of ‘writing’ him, we just see/experience him in different scenes/images. So sometimes he’d be funny, or endearing, and sometimes dark or seemingly distant. It made me both appreciate him as a character, but also as a person, in that he didn’t feel created, and also, that sometimes a five second image/soundbyte of someone kind of says more that any analysis. Also, did you have in mind any ‘goal’ when writing it, like did you lay out certain things you want to show/discuss, or did that just come together naturally?
Hm, I think so. I've said a lot that I assembled it in the way I edited my diary films, which were experimental documentaries based on real/writer interviews interspersed with candid stuff I filmed, and that's pretty much how I approached LSMHP. But I didn't realize this until you just said it, but I do think that that taught me to try to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible, and show what you want to show through action instead of explaining it. Like that thing you hear over and over about showing instead of telling, and also just what happens if you value being concise, it leads to that. And valuing ambiguity. This reminds me of one of the most valuable - and maybe cold - pieces of feedback I ever got, which was in college after making a short diary film on 16mm about my mom dying. My professor said that he was concerned that I would make something that was very sad and poignant to myself, but that wouldn't communicate something to an unfamiliar audience beyond or outside of that. For me that draws the line of like, scrapbooking and base-level feelings versus a piece of work that stands on its own and is of service to others. I recommend that line of thinking.
My goal for writing LSMHP was to write something that felt true to my experience, and to communicate the way I experienced thoughts and feelings at that time, which I couldn't differentiate between. Which is why I took lines that I had already tweeted, I wanted the feeling of something happening as it was being written, which isn't the same as if you write it six hours later pretending to be in the moment. Otherwise I didn't have like, a thesis to prove, like in high school when they made us say what we wanted to prove with our essays or stories. That, in retrospect, is probably one of the most destructive things school did to me, it got it in my head - thank god it's mostly gone - that art sets out to prove a point instead of engaging in a conversation. Now I'm trying to write in paragraphs, but it would be cool to return to that style eventually.
The writing in the moment thing I just explained here reminds me of Tao's work, because Trip seems borne of the passion and earnest curiosity about the subject matter, which is really refreshing. It makes me wonder about who approaches nonfiction, and the differences between approaching it as an interested writer versus someone who works in the field and writes a book kind of apropos of their job. I think before Trip I would think of these as different, but now they kind of seem like the same, because books are valuable and a slew of them need to exist just as much as other programs or jobs or whatever. Tao, was there any type of adjustment you had to make to straight-up nonfiction? I'm also thinking of your fiction, which also seemed autobiography- or nonfiction-adjacent, although part of me is like, everything is the same who cares.
The main difference was that Trip has many quotes and references of nonfiction books and scientific papers, and also I share ideas by other people, some alive, and I wanted to be accurate for all that, so I double checked things a lot. The narrative parts, and the parts where I describe my experiences, are similar to my fiction because in my fiction I’ve often wanted to write about and examine and explore what I remember. Which I feel from you two’s writing also, that your memories of what happened are more interesting to you than making something up, at least with you two’s recentest books. Sam, I like how you use brackets, as in The Garbage Times: “‘Stahhp! Quit maykin me laugh! Oh hey, watch [Regular] over dair. He’s doing the hair ting.’” An adjustment I made is that I only wanted to quote people verbatim, not make up dialogue or collage characters, as I’ve done in fiction and as some people do in their nonfiction.
I also just opened to a random page and it's the part (Trip, pg 111) where you're talking about a Lorrie Moore novel, a dentist's study of diets, a memory of pushing your teeth against the heel of your hand as a kid, and how humans have too many teeth. I can't think of another text that links fiction, personal experience, scientific study, and observation that way, and it feels kind of soothing. I'm curious how you approach comprehending and "synthesizing" this all, and whether you think of source material differently if it's nonfiction or fiction. I don't know, it's pretty soothing to read when everything seems so absurd - I live between Times Square and the highway and have a tiny animal that I've trapped in my home. Civilization like, often does not make sense to me. Did a similar confusion/ennui drive you?
A similar confusion did drive me. I wanted to feel less confused. As I read nonfiction books that try to make sense of the world by looking at evidence and thinking, and as I consider worldviews I’d never thought of before and focus on things I’d ignored most of my life, like nature and aboriginals and viewing the imagination as realer than the universe, the world seems even more complex and at the same time I feel I’m getting surprisingly less confused. Before, I had no idea why my head and face felt bad, I just assumed it was how everyone felt, or something, and now I have a better idea—due to multigenerational malnourishment, among other reasons. I opened your book at random to page 8, a page I’d earmarked, and read a part I’d underlined: “a four year old in the elevator asked his mom ‘when we talk do we think about what we say or just say it?’” To me, that part expands the absurdity you mention from civilization to consciousness, language, and existence generally.
That’s cool about the using tweets thing. Like having made something ‘organic’ and then later used that moment for something else. I do that a lot with notes. Like write something down because it felt necessary, then not do anything with it for a long time, then incorporate it. That’s probably a good sign that it’s ‘on your mind’ or ‘the path’ for whatever thing you’re working on. It also probably contributes to the feeling/impression of yours and Tao’s work which is probably my favorite aspect of any writing I like, which is the main person (or their thinking/experience etc) doesn’t seem already done, or like, finished. I like when I’m reading something that seems like the person is developing in front of you, or at least that the person is a mystery because they seem open minded enough. Like in healthy person there is the right balance of presenting things as they happened, and also providing personal feelings on it. But the two never seem combined. Like the effects of a certain scene may not be divulged until later on. I like that because it seems mature and wise, to experience something just how it is, but to be up front about emotional impact as well. I guess overall that seems more realistic in a positive way. Same with Trip, you get the idea reading it that this is a person who is genuinely trying to figure shit out, rather than presenting their ‘case.’ I think actually, now that Darcie brought up the nonfiction/fiction thing, your two books, and maybe shit in general, is moving towards that. Like obviously auto-fiction and nonfiction are technically the same thing, but they’re really not. One seems based in reality with the ‘auto’ part being more or less a character, whereas the nonfiction/fiction blend seems even more real if that makes sense.
We have 3022 words. How long do you two think this should be?
We should try for 3028 words.
Well now we're up to 3046
I added parts quoting your books, and now after this sentence it’s 3097 words.
Let's put this out of its misery