Everybody knows everything about everyone. Teams that have been thought of as tactically naïve (read African), weaker (read Asian), and overly gung-ho (read Latin American), have now adopted a much stricter tactical acumen—they set up defensively, invite the other team onto them and then hope to catch them on the counter attack. It started with South Korea’s run to the semifinal in the 2002 World Cup, took real hold when Greece won the European Championship in 2004, and reached its apotheosis when Inter Milan defeated Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal this year, despite being down to ten men and ceding seventy-five percent of possession to the Catalans.
The pleasures of truly bizarre play or utter annhilation have vanished. Instead we’ve had France versus Uruguay, a game in which both teams looked genuinely frightened of scoring and the 1–0 victories of both Argentina and Ghana, both of which were convincing without being particularly thrilling.
And then there was the US–England match, which had anticlimax written all over it. In England, where I watched, ITV managed to cut to a commercial just before England scored and cut back in the middle of the celebrations, thus denying the nation the collective roar that they had been preparing for since the draw was made, or since 1812 depending on which way you look at it. The less said about the American goal the better. There has been plenty of talk about the unpredictability of the Jabulani but until Rob Green’s howler, the main effect of it seemed to be long-range shots endlessly flying miles over the bar. There was something rather end-of-Empire about the ball squirming into the net. The teams took turns in the second half to press, both had one good chance to score and both, predictably, failed. (There is something Paxil-requiring in thinking about Emile Heskey, the misser of the England chance who has the astonishing goal-scoring record of seven goals in fifty nine internationals. It never seemed to cross his mind that he might score, let alone ours.) A draw had been emotionally agreed upon. Even the fans in the stand looked rather similar in their red, white, and blue; you had to really lean in to see if the focus was on stars or crosses.
It’s strange that, right as you confer on me the undeserved (but I hope not wasted) honor of Southern Editorship, this region would reclaim its hold on the American imagination. I refer to the underwater live feed of the oil leak. Are you watching it? Down here we do little else. I made these notes on the experience. They may not be appropriate for the new blog. You said on the phone, if I remember, that you wanted to cover “the intersection of culture and everyday life.” But the leak has simply overpowered culture, to the extent that anything happening in that department now assumes a ghoulish cast.
You can feel the other millions of people watching, especially late at night, and at times there has even been a Lincoln’s Death Train quality to this thing, a sense of shared, and deliberately prolonged, mass shock.
On YouTube, collections have formed of people’s favorite moments from the feed, sequences they found beautiful, or ones that appear to support a theory they developed about something BP did and lied about.
When something odd occurs in the frame—when three orange sponge-looking objects float by, for example, or when a striped tube-shaped thing rises up at the left and vanishes into the oil—there’s this reflex to call out to the others, and verify that they’ve seen it.
One clip going around shows an eel that swims up to the plume and hangs out for a few seconds, like, What the . . .
It looks as if they’ve somehow beamed a Victorian-era smokestack to the bottom of the ocean, and it’s billowing brown ash.
I discovered My Literary Hero when I was fifteen years old, handed his first book by an English teacher who thought I’d like him. Like MLH? I loved MLH: immediately, completely, and obsessively. It wasn’t a romantic crush; it was a writer crush, and it endured. Over the next thirteen years, I read and reread everything he had written, toting all of his books—essays, novels, short stories, what couldn’t the man do?—from my childhood home to my college dorm to my first apartment to my second, third, and fourth apartments. I read him on road trips, on airplanes, in foreign countries. I scrawled his best lines (poetry!) in my journals. I insisted that friends, family, acquaintances, and random passersby read MLH’s work. I insisted they recognize its excellence. I was a one-girl, and then a one-woman, fan club. MLH was my idol.
I eventually started to write a book myself. One day, as I was struggling with a passage, I thought, “I bet MLH would know what to do. If only I could ask him.” And then I thought “But could I ask him?” Sure enough, his e-mail address was there for the taking—one just needed to be willing to pick through the Internet obsessively for three hours and voila! Access!
I wrote (and revised and rewrote) an e-mail to MLH. Shockingly, MLH wrote back the next day. He’d be glad to help. Our correspondence commenced. It was my condensed, digital version of Letters to a Young Poet. Only he wasn’t advising me on how to write lyrical German poetry; he was advising me on how to appropriately market a non-fiction book about a dog. It seemed similar enough.
If MLH and I got along famously over e-mail, I figured, we could potentially be best friends in real life. So when I took a cross-country trip several months after my first e-meeting with MLH, I wrote to tell him I’d be passing through his outpost and asked if I could buy him a drink. By “passing through” I meant “driving thirteen straight hours out of my way.”
Instead, MLH invited me over for dinner. He was significantly older than I and decidedly non-sleazy, but he lived in the bar-free boonies. That’s how I ended up at his kitchen table.
That’s also how I made MLH wish we’d never met.
Our correspondence ranged from marriage to Mike Tyson’s pigeons, but there was one steady thread—my repeated nagging for a short story or piece of fiction to read and consider for the magazine. I learned from Katherine that I was not her only fan amongParis Review editors. “Shortly before George Plimpton died, he phoned me out of the blue—he was a legendary figure for my generation so this blew my pulse rate to ecstatic shreds—asking to include one of my pieces in a volume of boxing stories he was planning to edit. It would have been a great honor.” A new Katherine Dunn story in The Paris Review, the issue’s printed, and my pulse has not yet returned to normal.
Since Geek Love was published in 1989, you’ve published many articles, essays, even poetry, but not much fiction. Does fiction take longer to simmer?
Yes, I’ve only published a few short stories in anthologies. Some projects do take longer to gel. But nonfiction is done on a deadline so somebody snatches it away and prints it.
Twenty years is a long time for something to gel, what has happened?
I don’t want to be glib here, but twenty years worth of life and work happened. Some might say I’m right on schedule by my lights. It took seventeen years to get from my second novel, Truck, to my third, Geek Love. And Cut Man is still in progress but it’s a longer book. Fortunately there’s no shortage of wonderful novelists to keep us all engaged. And, lucky for me, the Magi at Alfred A. Knopf are possessed of patience.
“Where to start”? Where to start? What kind of asshole are you? You could try to pick up another woman and install her in your apartment, like Jean-Pierre Léaud in The Mother and the Whore. This will require a sidewalk cafe. Or you can nerve yourself up with Leonard Michaels’s novella Sylvia, all about a “nice” young man who stays in a miserable marriage, with disastrous consequences. Some guys swear by The Genealogy of Morals or the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, or you could wallow in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or that godawful Neil LaBute movie In the Company of Men. But if assholery doesn’t come naturally to you (and clearly it doesn’t), I recommend the eccentric but wise (and utterly absorbing) study Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, by the late Dorothy Tennov. Dr. Tennov argues persuasively that the kindest breakups are those that leave no room for hope. Be a mensch—pull the plug.