I decided to finally sit down and have a conversation with the one of the lead characters in this story. I find her fascinating and full of surprises. I’m not sure who she is and whether she exists outside of myself or whether she is simply an amalgam of women I’ve known. She isn’t especially patient with the notion that I made her up. All of this is with Apologies to Laurence Sterne to whom I dedicate this chapter – in spite of the shit I’ll get from her.
Her: You finally asked me here.
Me: Well, yeah.
Her: But you’re such the God – Man aren’t you?
Me: Do we have to start that way? I’m trying to get to know you better.
Her: Know me? You think you created me? You didn’t. I exist already. You thinking you can claim me as a character you created is fucked. That just isn’t true.
Me: But you are a character. You are in a story I’m writing.
Her: Yes, but you discovered me. I existed already.
Me: You did not, except in my brain. C’mon.
Her: Fuck you! Like you made me up. Like I’m a thing, a person you made, like Eve. No way!
Me: But, I did. We wouldn’t be here…
Her: You still don’t understand. Your brain picked me up like a radio signal, motherfucker. You’re no creator.
Me: Now you’re scaring me! What the hell? Like you’re out there and I dialed you in?
Her: Exactly! Don’t forget that. I’m out here. You’re just lucky your antenna picked up my signal.
Me: But you’re from Kansas? I got that right?
Her: I am. I am from Lebanon. That’s my town. That’s where I dressed up my dolls, and that’s where I saw my mom, well who I thought was my mom, get beat up by my dad. Yes. That’s my place.
Me: But ok. Then who are you to me?
Her: You think I’m a cousin of yours. I mean the character you created is based on her, but I’m not your cousin.
Me: Well, wait. Why’d you bring that up, your dad hitting your mom?
Her: You didn’t know that did you? That’s just one example of what you don’t know about me.
Me: But that scene when you leave for New Mexico?
Her: Yeah, that was good. That was good. You got that right. Yes, I still loved my dad and my mom, so called.
Me: All that made you tough.
Her: Now see, that’s the sort of thing a man would say. That’s so trite. Character building. Suffering builds character.
Me: Doesn’t it? Why is that something a man would say?
Her: Suffering is suffering. Men have to make it mean something. You’re a Christian. Christ’s suffering and death had a purpose — most importantly, it had meaning. Narrative is power, and turning suffering and victimhood into meaning gives vulnerability its opposite, power.
Me: Yes. That’s good. So, here’s where I am failing you. I made you an anthropologist.
Her: I’m not going to talk to you anymore if you keep talking to me like you’re God and I’m Eve. Fuck, “I made you an anthropologist.” You did not. Maybe I made you, a wanna be writer of loosely autobiographical fiction. Maybe I’m trying to figure you out. You need to think through the possibilities of that. Maybe I’m God.
Me: Ok. God? Maybe. I like that idea. Let’s come back to that. But, aside from maybe being God, you are — well, are you an anthropologist?
Her: I am. And you know next to nothing about anthropology. You’re as bad as that character you created that I’m supposed to be in love with, the character based on you.
Me: Now, isn’t he real too?
Her: Your words betray you. Real. You think that this is about real. You’re smarter than that. What’s real? You want to try to answer that question tonight?
Me: Ok. Let me put it this way. Did I pick him up like a radio signal too?
Her: You’d have to ask him.
Me: But don’t you know him?
Her: Look, your view of me is like someone looking through a keyhole. Everything I am, who I love, what I do, my kid…
Me: Ah. So the kid, I got that right.
Her: You know, let’s not make this a guessing game about what’s real, and what you got right. If you want learn about me you’ve got to listen. Listen and learn.
Me: Holism. Ethnography. I’ve been reading about it. Are you the anthropologist or am I?
Her: Well, there you go. Now you’re on to something. Anthropology was a colonial endeavor. It was about learning about “those people,” “them,” you remember, “the other.”
Me: Yeah. The other. There’s a website…
Her: I know. The Otter. Yes. It’s funny. An overused term I know. The mockery of it was overdue. But still, it was about doing what you want to do, give meaning to something outside of meaning, gaining an understanding of something not understood. It was about power.
Me: What isn’t about power?
Her: Nothing. It’s all about power. But what I do is about being vulnerable. One has to become a victim of culture, to become infected by it.
Me: Sounds like, “going native.”
Her: Well for stupid people yes. Dress up and dance around. That’s just escapism. That’s not vulnerability. The real work is turning yourself in. Think of that phrase. “I’m turning myself in!” It’s not done. I’m turning myself in to…
Me: Something else.
Her: Yes, something else.
Me: A cicada. That whole thing with the cicada. You did it on that trip. You turned your self in to….what?
Her: That’s what you’d like to know, isn’t it.
Me: That’s why we’re here. You’re, well, someone I feel like I know but I’d like to know better.
Her: Let me go back on what I said. You are a God creator — of your own reality. Those anxiety dreams you have, that part of your brain. You are a creator. We all are. We all manufacture meaning out of narrative to exert control, to be empowered — especially in the face of our smallness.
Me: All that makes sense to me.
Her: But what I am not is an amalgam of some of your girlfriends or a relative. You have to know me somehow. You’re going to filter me the same way you’d filter any woman. That’s how you see women, on a scale from your mom on one end to your dad on the other.
Me: Are you an anthropologist or a psychologist?
Her: Holism, remember. I have to do it all.
Me: Ok. There are two things here. There’s the weird thing that I am having a dialogue with a character in a story I’m writing — and don’t roll your eyes, give me a second — and then there’s the person you are. I mean, forget about the thing about whether you’re a character or real or whatever, you fascinate me.
Her: Listen, what you’re doing is interesting — at least to yourself. This sort of interview with me. I think it’s fine. I suggest before we go any further you go back and read what you’ve written. Read it all. End to end.
Me: Mmmmm. Ok. Sure.
Her: And don’t just read those textbooks. Read some Geertz, and Mauss, and Levi-Strauss, and take another look at Cabeza de Vaca. And Their Eyes Were Watching God. You started that. Look again there. Then you can come back and let’s talk again.
Back to At Last!