Chekhov–Saunders Humanity Kit

Proceedings of the Chekhov-Saunders Voltron/Humanity Kit Test Drive, held in Brooklyn on November 15th 2016. Participants: Sarah Miller (SM), Ryan Bradley (RB), David Lipsky (DL), and Maria Bustillos (MB).

Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl and lives in Nevada City, CA.

David Lipsky’s cultural history of American climate is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster; he is the author of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.

Ryan Bradley is a writer in Los Angeles.

Maria Bustillos is a journalist and critic living in Los Angeles.

* * *

DL was asked to comment on his writing classes at NYU; he said, “I’m teaching The Hunger Games this week,” provoking bitter, election-related laughter. “And I taught Saunders last week, just by chance. I think In Persuasion Nation is literally a perfect collection, so… I taught that.”

There was a lot of heated literary disputation aside from Chekhov, regarding among other things Martin Amis, E.M. Forster, and the film, “Don’t Look Now.” (SM: “If only this were how we did our battles in America. Wouldn’t it be great? If the Senate and House fought, with like: ‘Your interpretation of The Red Badge of Courage is totally off, and that’s why we will—’”)

* * *

SM and MB confessed to a general preference for novels over stories.

MB: I don’t want to live on potato chips. It’s just… it’s over too soon.

DL: There’s a certain amount of lying you have to do to make any piece of fiction work, don’t you think? You have to compress, you have to exaggerate. What I mean by ‘lying’ is: the odds of Ivan Ivanovich being at the shitty estate on the day that [his brother] Nikolay gets his first taste of his own gooseberries?—they’re extremely low. Do you know what I mean? There’s a certain amount of exaggeration…

So if the story is a few pages, let’s say there’s going to be a certain amount of lying or compression just to make the story work. And you only get—like out of the thirteen pages—you’ll get maybe five or six just really good things that come out of all the other work. Whereas for a novel, you don’t have to do that much. You have the characters set up, right? You have the situation; you have the few basic things that are not believable or that have to be kind of shifted, to make it go. And then you’ve got . . . if it’s two hundred pages, you’ve got a hundred and twenty pages of great product. And that’s why I think it’s more fun to read novels than stories.

* * *

DL: One of the weird things about the literature that lasts? It’s obsessive, and it’s personal . . . .You can pick up Jane Austen; she is fucking pissed off. Doesn’t matter how polite she is. And Flaubert! Flaubert is so pissed off — Flaubert would have found our election funny, Flaubert hated conventionality, he spent thirty years compiling a dictionary of shitty phrases people repeated to be friendly: it’s called The Dictionary of Received Ideas. That’s somebody who is, in this delightful way, full of hate.

MB: That’s like Wallace, yeah.

DL: Yeah, exactly. I mean the stuff that actually sticks is obsessive. And might not have been that likeable –

MB: Petty and terrible.

DL: Exactly.

RB: So what do you think Chekhov was obsessed about?

MB: Freedom.

DL: Chekov is obsessed about—I’ll go with freedom. And he’s obsessed with indeterminacy. Saying, “Look, you guys want there to be big stories. You want characters to be heroic. It’s just these fucking people.”

RB: Yeah! Right?

MB: Yeah!

SM: Yeah…

DL: [In “The Lady With the Dog”] this guy’s just a pretty good philanderer. And he likes to sleep with a new someone while he’s on vacation. He sleeps with someone, he likes her, pretty much. And she really feels upset about the adultery—and while she’s in bed after they’ve had sex he just picks up a watermelon and cuts off a slice and just is eating it. And then he goes home and he realizes: “I really like that person—wait!” And he starts organizing his life towards her. Then they are just completely stuck in love, and the story ends when they both realize that the hard part is just beginning. And the story is over. Like that is a ballsy, cool thing, he’s saying “I’m not going to resolve it.” Right?

MB: I love that.

DL: And he uses the same joke that you love so much from “Gooseberries.” He takes a friend of his out to some club or whatever and says, “You know, this amazing thing happened when I was on vacation: I met a great girl.” And he’s kind of confessing the adultery, and the friend doesn’t say anything. But they walk out to get a cab and as the friend gets into the cab he’s like, “Oh, I wanted to say . . . ” and then [the philanderer] thinks, “Ah, now he’s going to respond!” And the guy says “You were right!—the fish in that restaurant—”

* * *

RB: Chekhov had a day job, right, where he saw a lot of people—he had this like really good ear. And probably heard a lot of half-finished stories that people tell all the time. All the time! Because he has this amazing ear, being able to realize that people start stories that they never finish, they tell themselves stories they don’t really know the meaning of—they’ve not thought about why they’re telling the story, it’s just the story they tell—this is how people pass the day, all the time.

SM: Right, right.

MB: Not the day…

RB: Their—their lives.

MB: Their lives.

RB: But like—

MB: Our lives—

RB: —he’s seen them in glimpses in his practice, in between the horrible life-and-death shit that he’s dealing with.

* * *

SM: At the end of the stories there’s the two men, sort of bored by [Alyohin’s] story. And then there’s Ivan saying, “I want to tell you a story” and Burkin says, “Not right now.” Game over! And there’s another instance of somebody sort of expressing their sort of lack of interest in someone else’s narrative or—

MB: Oh, many!

SM: —fending them off from telling them another story.

RB: In “Gooseberries,” there are several—before the story happens—“No, no, we’re doing other things.”

SM: Yeah. It’s so funny, really his whole message is, like: No one cares!

[Uproarious laughter]

RB (shouts): Yeah!

MB: I know!

RB: It’s so true!

SM: Long, long stories about how nobody cares.

RB: Yeah! It’s just so fitting with his life experience, he’s in his office day in and day out, a doctor, listening to people’s dumbass stories all the time.

MB: Yeah! You guys ever read The Interpretation of Dreams? Ever? Of Freud?

DL: He’s really gone out of fashion.

MB: It’s so good!

RB: Yeah?

MB: I was thinking of it because here’s this titan of 20th century thought, and he’s going on about how your mind works itself out while you sleep, and The Unconscious and all this, and how part of the function of dreams is to keep you sleeping. So he tells this story, he had a boil on his testicle, and in the dream he’s riding a horse. There’s no way he can have this boil on his testicle and also be riding a horse; therefore he doesn’t have a boil and he can keep sleeping.

[slight pause to digest this]

DL: You’re saying all of this is like having a boil on your testicle?

MB: Yeah.

[That is, a story is like a dream that allows you to live through the truth.]

DL: Making sure I heard this properly: So . . . he’s saying the dream is like the brain’s in-flight movie

MB: Yes.

* * *

RB: Chekhov’s descriptions of landscape really are beautiful. And quick

SM: Yeah, even of a really squalid landscape.

RB: Way more than like—Flaubert gets a ton of props for his amazing descriptions of landscape, but these are like sketches of the natural world that are really efficient, but gorgeous.

DL: That was Baudelaire who said that Flaubert “gets a ton of props,” wasn’t it?

* * *

DL: I have a question: who tells the third story? Alyohin is talking—but someone else is telling it.

RB: You’re right! That’s something I totally missed… you’re so aware of the voice coming through the characters in the other two stories, and then it’s abstracted in the third one.

DL: They’re all frame stories—like Frankenstein is a frame story. They’re all sitting there and someone says “Here’s something bad that happened: ‘I really just wanted to reanimate the dead, and it all went wrong.’”

[laughter]

DL: There’s Burkin and Ivan—and then the third [story] shifts, and there’s an “I” who’s saying, “We were all sitting around and I was looking at Alyohin, and he started speaking.” I was curious about that. Did Saunders talk about that?

MB: He did, he said he thinks there’s maybe an inconsistency in it, a mistake.

RB: Even though it’s told by this third party, you get internal stuff from [Alyohin], but you don’t get anything about the woman he is in love with, aside from her reactions to him; you don’t get any internal stuff from her. But then you get that wonderful… after they have their declaration of love, he just like, goes into the other train compartment and cries while the train is already… which you wouldn’t…

MB: Oh. I loved that so much because it seemed like exactly like what would happen, something so freaking awkward and ridiculous.

* * *

MB: So George goes: if somebody tells you, you know,“I don’t like dogs.” And you think: What a jerk!” But then somebody else says: “You don’t really mean that.”

DL: Oh, that’s very clever.

MB: So compact. When the answer comes back: “You don’t really mean that.” “Yeah! Yeah, I do, I do mean that.” Or: “Well… I guess maybe I don’t.” Or maybe afraid to answer, now, because I don’t really want to admit that I don’t like dogs; I’ve been shamed. It’s this huge mise en abyme… you know, like when you look between facing mirrors and you see a million of you?

DL: What’s the phrase for that?

MB: Mise en abyme.

* * *

A long talk about the politics; generalized confusion and sadness.

SM: I just don’t even know what to do.

MB: We’re going to figure something out.

* * *

SM to DL: You’ve written one novel? I’ve written two. One okay one, and one okay-plus one.

[RB and MB have only dabbled in fiction.]

RB: I I don’t even know necessarily how to pay attention to the craft of storytelling. I know what I like, and I definitely steal all my best moves in my nonfiction from fiction, from short stories I like. And I think about structural moves. But these minutiae that you were pointing out—

DL: I think all that comes from rereading. The weird thing . . . when you’re going through high school and college, you tend to look at stories always as an audience member, and you just keep getting more and more adept as a member of the audience, you can catch more stuff.

And one of the nice things about a class like George’s, is that it allows you to be on the other side of the desk. Where you’re looking out at the reader from the writer’s side . . . Because when you do, then you understand what’s going on. The first time you’re just like “Wow, that’s really cool: Katniss ended up in the Hunger Games?!!? Who’d have seen that coming?! I was so worried about Primrose, I didn’t see Katniss coming.”

[uproarious laughter]

* * *

[After a description of George’s class is read aloud.]

RB: It makes me think a lot, [George’s] background as an engineer… let’s diagram this [story], the shape: there’s one guy in darkness, one in light. One’s awake, one’s asleep and then—switch. I was like—very attentive to the sudden turns in tone, and—

MB: There’s a stillness to [Chekhov], it’s static, it’s boring, in a way! There’s no effects, there’s not like, gorgeous clothes or witty women, or—

SM: That’s kind of funny, because that’s what they say they wish they were talking about… “This is boring. can we talk about chicks?”

DL: What was your favorite of the stories?

SM: “About Love.”

DL: Just Sarah? Because you like adultery stories.

[laughter]

DL: There are so many adultery stories. Because it’s an immediate secret—it’s immediately dramatic. You can’t tell your friends, for better or worse. You can’t tell your partner most of the time when you are committing adultery: “Here’s the way I fooled you: isn’t this pretty cool?” The only time you can get good data about what it feels like to be an adulterer is from fiction. So it is a natural writer’s subject.

SM: It wasn’t just that! I said this in my piece (which you should memorize): I also liked that I didn’t know what was going to happen next, and the other ones were a little still, for me. I felt like the characters were, like from Forster, the difference between flat and round characters: these characters were all kind of flat characters. I like more story; I’m not super interested in “ideas”… in fact, I find ideas kind of… I have kind of a knee-jerk anti-sexist feeling—a misandrist reaction to “ideas.” “Oooh, let’s talk about this, are we all in shells?” Who gives a shit.

DL: So when Maria was quoting George talking about the structure—and how at the end, they’re walking into sunlight—were you kind of rolling your eyes and internally thinking, “That seems kind of bullshit, and what does it matter?”

SM: No, no no.

DL: Oh, because I have to say that I kind of was.

[lols]

DL: Just talking about the twists and all that, and about how different people are responding at the end of the story? That to me doesn’t seem to have much to do with how the story works. And I don’t think it even is how Chekhov was composing it. That to me is the kind of stuff where I’m like Sarah: I don’t care about that.

SM: I wasn’t really paying that much attention. Like… I went to college in the late 80s early 90s and I had this guy [REDACTED], was my professor, and he was kind of… such a dick.

DL: He’s an Updike scholar.

SM: And everything he talked about was like [pompous voice] How Does This Story Work. And I was like “Literally, who gives a shit.” But I was also like seventeen and I went to public school, and everyone just clearly had been at Exeter and Andover, so this had been a thing. And at my high school, we didn’t do this. How does a story work? Who cares? But I also didn’t understand it.

So I’m interested in the form of things. And as someone who writes fiction, the form is the only thing abut it that really matters. That’s why people like things. I mean you have to write it well, but if you don’t have a good form—if the puzzle does not fit together well—you don’t have anything.

RB: How does a story work? Do you want to keep reading after every sentence? Answer yes or no. If the answer is yes every time, then the story works.

[Back to “round” and “flat” characters, according to E.M. Forster’s definition in Aspects of the Novel.]

DL asked each to name a favorite novel.

SM: The Cazalet Chronicle by Elizabeth Jane Howard. All five of them. She was Kingsley Amis’s [second] wife.

DL: Yeah I remember, of course, there’s that lovely photo of them looking glamorous.

MB: She’s not the one who wrote on his back in lipstick?

[No—that was his first wife, Hilly.]

SM: I’m not sure…

DL: Yeah. Then his first wife moved back in to see him to the grave, btw, with her second husband.

DL: So what is your favorite book of fiction? One of your favorite books of fiction.

MB:            Tom Jones

RB:            The Left Hand of Darkness

SM:            The Cazalet Chronicle

DL: I’ve never read Elizabeth Jane Howard, but I know at least in [Tom Jones and The Left Hand of Darkness], those characters aren’t round or flat, so those distinctions are kind of bullshit, pretty much. It’s just what works. And I love George’s work, I think George is the best short story writer now. But his characters are not what you’re there for, do you know what I mean?

SM: Yes!

MB: Yes!

RB: Yes!

DL: The degree to which people are spending time thinking about whether their characters are round or flat? We are misleading them, and taking their time away. If they actually watched The Simpsons, or an okay movie on Hulu, they would spend their time better, in terms of learning to write stories, than in thinking about whether or not their characters are round or flat.

MB: But like… I feel that way about, hmm… Anna Karenina, definitely.

DL: Of course! There are some stories where you’re there for the characters, and others where you’re not at all.

SM: But in Chekhov, in these stories? You’re not there for the characters.

MB: You’re there for the characters they’re talking about, not the ones they are.

DL: Well said. I’d go with that. Because Belikov I’m curious about; I’m curious about Varenka. And I’m really curious about Nikolay and the berries.

MB: You know what, I think that’s almost the brilliance of it. The people who are telling the stories are like us and with us in a potent, intimate way. All are looking, watching.

RB: And these are stories about people whom they vaguely know, and who are also in the village? Like… the truest form of human social bonding there is, is telling each other stories about people you know.

* * *

DL chose a favorite book: Pale Fire.

RB: The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I went to Iowa City with the Young Writers program… My teacher—a student, I guess—was a poet, and he assigned us only two books to read before the class: Moby-Dick and Pale Fire.

MB: David carries John Shade’s poem in his telephone.

DL (shyly): On my phone, yeah.

RB: That’s so awesome.

DL: Because it’s a really good poem.

RB: Because it is!!

MB: It’s so good. I find it so insulting that people don’t understand that he is the best poet ever to live.

SM: Who?!

MB: John Shade.

DL: Nabokov spent about ten years doing really elaborate annotations for the English translation of Eugene Onegin, and it must have told him that would be a really cool way to do a novel. Because once Lolita came out, and he was kind of freed up from ever doing anything again for money, the next thing he wrote was the novel, Pale Fire. Which is a 999-line poem, and then the annotations on it, and the annotations end up telling the story.

[Chekhov was an early innovator in this exact technique. “Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town,” for example, is an 1881 short story consisting bits of telegrams, notes, excerpts from letters. (“FROM NADIA N. TO KATYA H. Dear Katya. Last night I went to the theater and saw Sera Burnyard. Oh Katya, how many diamonds that woman has! All night I cried at the thought that I’ll never ever own such a heap of diamonds.”]

* * *

Which was your favorite story in the Little Trilogy? SM loves “About Love” best; the others choose “Gooseberries.”

RB: “Gooseberries” is the weirdest, and has the most going on. Also—about how I believed about the U.S.—I am going to reread this story and come to it in a very different way, and focus on a different part of it.

MB: This is the weirdest thing that has happened [after the election]. What happened last week is going to color how you think about everything henceforth. And that’s sad.

SM: Yeah. That’s what I hate about it so much. Like: Why do I have to carry this around with me.

MB: Just one more note about the flat character thing. Chekhov to me is the opposite of what Forster is talking about. I feel like Chekhov leveled up from Forster.

[Because there are no rules, as DL suggests, other than “what works.” Like George Saunders—both writers anticipate what you’ve been thinking, moment by moment: MB brings this up specifically.]

SM: Hmm.

MB: It’s a rare, amazing beautiful thing, and it’s too little remarked. I asked George about this directly and he said, “That’s the goal, to know where my reader is at any moment and do the next thing with that in mind.”

SM: That’s a really good way to think about… an interesting way to think about how you would proceed.

DL: Can I respond to that? One of the things that Wallace said is that you shouldn’t do that, right? Wallace said that if you’re always thinking about what the reader’s going to like, you’re not going to do anything good . . .

MB: That’s different.

DL: The aim is not just to write stuff, but to be able to project what an alien consciousness might make of it, right? Obviously both those thoughts can’t co-exist? So let’s put that aside for a second.

MB: It’s very easily resolved –

DL: Yeah, yeah, but one of the . . . wait, why is it easily resolved?

MB: The question of liking doesn’t enter into it. You just know where they are.

DL: Martin Amis, do you like his stuff?

MB: No!

DL: OK. I think he’s great.

RB: Really? You don’t?

MB: No.

DL: I’m getting, I’m getting a real fix on Sarah’s face.

[inaudible uproar]

DL: Amis had a great thing—

SM: Elizabeth Jane Howard was his stepmom… and his mentor.

DL: That’s right: actually, without Elizabeth Jane Howard he wouldn’t even have gone to school.

[“When Jane took me on I was averaging an O-level a year, and read nothing but comics, plus the occasional Harold Robbins and (for example) the dirty bits in Lady Chatterley’s Lover; I had recently sat an A-level in English – the only subject in which I showed the slightest promise – and I failed.”]

SM: That’s right.

DL: He’d still be a fucked up kid at—

SM: Exactly. Thank you, now we’re getting somewhere.

* * *

[A long exchange here on the theme, roughly speaking, of anticipating the reader’s needs. Must we like the author. Is he doing a sales job on us? A con job?]

RB: What I love about fiction is the dealing in the ambiguities; that to me is where fiction is a much better mirror for reality. Where non-fiction really fails, so often, you’re very clear who the heroes you’ve developed are; the non-fiction I really like is [saying], these are people who are making deeply complex choices, and I do not know if I would like to be around them.

DL: I can read Chekhov and think, “This guy might not like me. I like his work a lot, but he might meet me and might not like me, I might not like him”. I can read Joan Didion and I might think, “She might think I was too easy on people, or she might think I’m a dick, right?” You can read Pauline Kael (who I really love) and think: “She might think my taste was all wet.”

SM: She’s a terrifying person.

DL: Yeah.

RB: Totally.

MB: I love her so much.

SM: Which is why, like, whenever you’re mean—I can be so mean. sometimes. And whenever I’m mean it’s because I just… feel bad, right? Whatever. It’s like, so Lorrie Moore is someone who you go, “This person feels fucking awful sometimes.”

DL: That’s right.

RB [laughing]: Ye-heh!

SM: Actually I can’t deal with people who I never think feel awful? I don’t really care if people are mean, I only care if they are mean and then ask, like, “What are you talking about?”

* * *

DL: “Gooseberries,”—anyone else could have written the story where he’s a dick. But then they wouldn’t have allowed him to murder his wife for the cash. Make him actually culpable.

RB: It took literally a paragraph in the story. Crazy.

DL: Or, it would be like “OK, like, he never actually buys the farm.” That would be the ironic ending, right? Or he buys the farm and the gooseberry bushes don’t yield.

[general assent]

DL: But the thing that’s surprising, it’s a double surprise, is that only Chekov would have the really dirty human truth he’s giving us—he buys the farm. The bushes yield, the berries are sour. He eats them anyway, thinking they’re sweet. Both Updike and Raymond Carver said the same thing about fiction. Which is: it’s always bringing news from one world to another. And they’re such different kinds of writers—if those two guys say the same thing, it’s kind of worth thinking about. (And this is news, a deeper, sadder headline: that our tastes might not even be our tastes at all.)

Did you ever have a thing—like, with your boyfriend or your parents, and they’re really wanting to like, have a good holiday? Thanksgiving is coming, it’s more like for family, and you’re really just hoping that the fight won’t get that bad this time, right? Or the food will be okay. And so we can class this thing, this day, as successful, when it’s over, and just ignore all the shit that’s going on.

And that’s kind of like the “Gooseberries” story. Which is: he’s going to grow those gooseberries, he wants them to be good. And even though they suck, he’s going to eat them.

RB: And enjoy ’em!

DL: Yes. He keeps getting up in the middle of the night, to have more of these shitty berries.

RB: Yeah!

DL: And that is dirty, useful, jubilant—the “jubilant awful truth” that Updike is talking about. And that’s why I love that story.

RB: Like, there’s zero, like real come-uppance to him.

MB: No, not a bit.

RB: Right, his brother gets everything that he wants, it’s only, it’s only in that, it’s through the lens of, of, Ivan, telling it—

DL: Yeah.

RB: That will tell you, “These gooseberries were gross.” And bad.

DL: And the second joke—which is your joke, Sarah—when it’s over? He tells the story, and the story is a great thing to have told somebody. And the listeners, the other people didn’t get it: “That wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to hear.”

MB: God yeah. “Uh… I wasn’t digging that.”

DL: And that’s great. That’s the reverse. They were served, those three people were served a really sweet plate of gooseberries. And they didn’t realise they were sweet, they thought they were hard and sour, and that’s the third joke.

MB: Yeah. The brother had this whole other concept. He was so disgusted by the idea that you would be taken in by these shitty…

DL: Yeah.

MB: Like, what the hell? You know, you gave up everything. And this is what you got.

RB: In my re-reading of it I really latched on to… in the politics section, in his rant, his notion of… like, if only there were a guy behind the door with a hammer reminding you of all the tragedy. I think that is the problem of being a free person in the world.

There are people who accept the constant horribleness of reality; that people are suffering really tragic, really unjust deaths, not just people but animals, like there is tragedy all around us, but [caustic laugh] just to get by, most of us… ignore it.

MB: Have to.

RB: Have to. Just to exist in the world, we have to ignore it. But in order to be a good person and make the right choice, always, you need the guy behind the door, the dude with the gun pointed at you, like, you know, because… we’re constantly making choices that are not [sardonic laugh] morally the perfect choice.

MB: Or even… vaguely defensible.

RB: Or even defensible! Right! You’re right! Like, I’m constantly making choices that are not defensible, really morally.

SM: Really?

RB: Oh yeah. Like…

MB: Like flying here in an airplane.

RB: Yeah. Exactly.

SM: Ah. Okay.

MB: Yeah, it’s almost like… The artificial structures that you create in order to be able to, uh, sort of posit the idea of a good answer… This is why I love Chekhov, I didn’t realize… he doesn’t create the scenario by which you even could decide that there’s a good answer. He just creates a scenario and says, “I’m sorry, you’re on your own now. I have absolutely no idea. Sorry! That’s all I got.”

DL: Sarah, what were you about to say just now?

SM: Oh. It just reminds me of Grizzly Man, how—does this guy deserve to get eaten by a bear because he’s so fucking dumb?

RB: Right.

SM: That’s kind of what that movie’s about, isn’t it?

RB: No, yeah. Like, a dude made a choice to hang out with bears a lot, and he got eaten.

* * *

DL: Czeslaw Milosz said, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished. . . . ” But the reality is the reverse. If you think about that Updike thing, Updike’s early work—his family is still sitting at that table in the stories, even though everybody is dead. If you write honestly and directly, right? When a family is born, when a writer is born into the family, the family is saved.

SM: I should tell my parents that when they write me and say—

[general hilarity and noise]

SM: “You guys are going to live forever on the page.”

* * *

MB: I had such an affinity with Ivan, because I am boycotting my family holidays this year because of the election, and I told them, I can’t come to this party, I can’t do it, you know, it’s unfortunate, but I can’t, when so many of you guys voted for someone who has directly threatened harm to me and mine. And my niece wrote back and said “I understand and I respect your decision blah blah,” and I’m like, you know what? If I never see you again, and I love you, I—I have very confused feelings about this, so I kind of feel like that’s that’s… that’s how Ivan feels. He’s basically saying to his brother: “You have ruined what I thought was good by being such a dick.”

RB: It’s funny though, because he never told the brother off.

MB: You can’t! What good would it do, I feel the same way. It’s like what am I going to say: “You’re an idiot.”

DL: Maria, there’s this Flannery O’ Connor story called “Revelation.” This woman who thinks really well of herself—she’s in a waiting room for her doctor, and she’s congratulating herself on her politeness and her model behaviour at all times. And there’s like a kid who like obviously has some control issues. And she’s like judging this girl, and is being in her own eyes very Christian. And at one point the girl says “Oh get away from me, you old warthog from hell.” And she realizes, “I am a warthog,” and that’s how the story ends. So it can be useful, actually, to tell somebody off.

* * *

MB: This is one of the best nights of my life.

DL: I feel you might be exaggerating because of the pleasure of the moment.

MB: That’s all there is! As Chekhov teaches us.

* * *