June 12, 2015 | by Leanne Shapton
Last November, on his birthday, I accompanied Richard McGuire to the emergency room. He was experiencing some excruciating back pain. Richard is an unusually polite and considerate man, but as he waited and waited for some relief, I began to worry about him. I asked a passing nurse about pain medication. She poked her head into our room and explained there was a “code” on the floor—the doctors had been dealing with that.
We went quiet. Richard explained that “code blue” usually meant a death.
Half an hour later, Richard was given a Valium and two extra-strength Motrin. He talked about being in the hospital with his father the night his mother died, the machines all going crazy, the medics rushing in and telling them to leave. When his father died, he said, it was different, more peaceful.
Richard was X-rayed, diagnosed with a severe muscle spasm, and discharged. We headed to a restaurant a block away where far-flung friends had gathered for his birthday dinner. It struck me, as we ordered burgers and martinis, that the past few hours could be a strange and miniature overture to his book, Here, which he had just finished. A birth date, a death date, loving and painful memories, banalities, transient spaces, and always an eye on the time. Here launched a month later and has since become a best seller.
I feel that Here is a very new kind of ghost story. Not a scary one, but a haunting one. What portion of the book was inspired by the death of your sister and parents, and what was the original strip inspired by, or an exercise in?
I think their passing set the tone for the book. You see things differently after going through that experience—the idea of impermanence is made more real, and everything seems fragile. The family home had to be sold. Just emptying it took a while. My parents lived there for fifty years, and the house was packed. My mom hated throwing anything away. All the clothes, the photos, the letters and things that had meaning to them. The only thing I took were boxes of photos and some films my dad shot. I think it helped with the grieving process, looking at all that stuff. Read More »
May 8, 2015 | by Leanne Shapton
In 2010, the artist Hans-Peter Feldmann and Hans Ulrich Obrist conducted a book-length interview. The two Hanses agreed that Obrist would ask traditional interview questions and Feldmann would answer them by providing only an image. The book, called simply Interview, is an expansive exercise in control and meaning.
When I read Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock: A Diary, I was struck by her relationship to objects and the place they take in her life. In a very funny and layered way, her diary entries move, like an ego-submersible, from the surface to the abyss and back. I decided that, in the spirit of Feldmann and Obrist, I wanted to interview Julavits and have her respond with eBay auction articles, as the book also reveals Julavits’s knack for e-commerce. What follows is the result of our discourse.
July 2, 2012 | by Leanne Shapton
I am the first one in Stockholm’s Centralbadet this Monday morning, followed by James, then by an old man wearing big yellow goggles, who does a steady breaststroke around the perimeter of the pool. Watching him, I switch to breaststroke myself and match his speed. It feels comfortable. It feels relaxing. As the three of us swim counterclockwise, I channel my old age, my flabby form, my unself-conscious senior. I think of the two older women I passed in the locker room, whose modest black tanks encased humps and bones and bumpy flesh. The cruel phrase a friend once used to describe a woman’s backside: “a bagful of doorknobs.” I watch my hands trace their double ellipse in front of me, my mother’s wrists, my grandmother’s knuckles.
November 29, 2010 | by Leanne Shapton
As a Canadian, the shapes of leaves are part of my subconscious; learning to draw the maple leaf on our flag was like learning to ice skate. I feel a loyalty to Canada. I love how it is somehow still possible to be a speck in a vast landscape—the matter-of-fact feeling that something out there is bigger, greater (which probably contributes to what is taken for national humility and manners). I like that Canadian artists have always grappled with the idea of “north.” I love the mounds of beautiful Precambrian rock that swell up all over southern Ontario.