Gabby Gabby (Tipping, Nov. Issue) shit-talks Phillip Roth for no reason while feeling nervous and bad at counting in a way her parents think is unchristian.
1) When you reread something you’ve just written, what are you looking for?
When I reread something I’ve just written I think the first thing that I try to catch straight away is if the sentences I wrote are objectively coherent. Unless I’m working with a specific memory, when I first sit down to write a story I have a vague idea of what I’m trying to convey through the story but I don’t really have the concrete details laid out or outlined. When I write I usually have a feeling or theme that I want to express and then I gradually try to build the concrete story around it. So, a lot of times I’ll start off with rambling incoherent sentences and then I extract the best bits and then edit those down into coherent sentences. After I have a few sentences that don’t seem shitty to me then I can think about how those sentences will dictate the narrative. That may be why my prose comes across as flat. I usually edit down my sentences to the bare-minimum of what I need them to be. I had an editor over at Spork magazine reject this story before I sent it to [PANK]. Their reasoning was that my prose was flat but not so flat that it was stylized. I don’t think I understood the criticism fully.
I don’t like to write extremely long sentences burdened with adjectives just for the sake of it but nor do I feel much interest in writing in the style that Tao Lin wrote “Richard Yates.” I worried a lot about the readability of “Tipping” especially when it got into the paragraphs explaining the types of love. To me those paragraphs seemed extremely incoherent and like how a person talks when they are standing near or on a cardboard box outside of the metro. I tried to edit those sentences down as much as possible and make the ideas more concise.
I appreciate precise word choices. I think that there is just as much beauty in how Tao Lin chose to use language in “Richard Yates,” very sparse, as there is in something with a higher word per sentence density like a Phillip Roth novel, although, I don’t care very much for Phillip Roth’s prose. But, what was I saying, I think, I was just trying to make a point about preference and choices one can make when writing.
Sometimes, vindictively maybe, I start off with Phillip Roth-esque sentences and then I cut them down until they seem non-pretentious and bearable, to me. I think my fixation on Phillip Roth stems from one of my ex-boyfriends always reading Phillip Roth novels aloud to me- especially the bits with the sex and masturbation. I distinctly remember my ex boyfriend saying, in regard to Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint, “…It is written in stream-of-consciousness self-loathing Jewish-American continuous prose. What is with male writers and their cocks? I’ve never felt the urge to write about jacking off. But it is a perennial fixation for Updike and apparently Phillip Roth.” And so it was like I had two rambling and incoherent men going on, unsolicited, about their penises.
I feel like I am shit-talking Phillip Roth for no reason. That seems funny to me.
I just reread the bit that I wrote for this question and it seems very incoherent and rambling. I also caught a lot of typos and misspellings while going through it. Usually most of my typos and misspellings don’t reveal themselves to me until after I have submitted the piece and it is beyond my control. I try to catch most of my typos but somehow they become invisible to me. I think I am mainly concerned with the flow of the story and the arrangement, which goes back to coherency.
In Tipping, I tried to make sure the narrative showed a positive, bonding, interaction between the two main characters, Paige and Roger to ground their relationship. I focused a lot on how and where to show that. I think originally that was the opening scene but I thought it would work more effectively as a memory after the situation had been set up.
2) In the beginning of the story, I didn’t catch the play on the cliché about spilled milk, but at the end I got it because I was thinking of sadness as a baby that wasn’t allowed to cry. It’s terrifying. Why is sadness young and why does it grow up to be anger? Why does it die meaning nothing? It’s terrifying.
Yeah, I quite like thinking about cliché. A lot of them don’t make sense to me. I think it’s funny that when someone spills milk it’s really dramatic for some reason. It was funny because in my house my parents would say, “Don’t cry over spilled milk” when anything happened except for spilling milk. When I was younger my dad used to yell at me when I spilled anything. So then I would quickly wipe up the spill and the spill would be gone but my dad would still be angry and I would still be sad and I didn’t understand why we were feeling those emotions. Everything was cleaned. I could easily get another glass of milk. We could all move forward. Yet we usually stayed fixated on the fact that I fucked up. I think a lot of things are like that. Like you sleep in past your alarm and it seems really dramatic and urgent to try to catch up to the time that you lost. But to me that doesn’t make sense. If something already happens and “fixing it” is beyond your capabilities the next logical and least stressful step would to be to move on and away from it because anything else wouldn’t be productive. To feel sadness, or anger, or any emotion that causes you to fixate on an event that is outside of your control isn’t productive. It helps me to alleviate negative mental states when I view a current situation in the context of the series of situations that I will be faced with in the future and have already faced in the past. It makes everything seem less dramatic and urgent, and ultimately meaningless. And when things appear to be non-dramatic and non-urgent I am able to be calm and productive. In the story, what would be productive is for Paige to wipe up the milk that she spilled onto the ground so that it doesn’t attract ants.
3) Can a love story be interesting if the relationship in the story is fine?
I’m sure it could. I like reading stories where nothing really happens and everything remains normal as long as I feel consistently interested by the characters. This Tao Lin story comes to mind.
But I think people like to read about other people’s problems. It makes them feel more sane.
4) Write a haiku.
haikus make me feel
self-conscious and nervous
and bad at counting
5) Do you sabotage yourself to make those around you feel better and does that make you angry at them?
I don’t think I sabotage myself for others. I try to be very mindful of what would be the considerate and least stressful thing for me to do in terms of the people I am with. I feel like I try to not purposefully be antagonistic. I think when I keep that kind mindset things usually work out optimally for myself and for others. But I usually fuck up.
6) I just did a search for “history” on Netflix and it asked if I meant “satanic stories.” Relate this to your writing, somehow.
Really? That seems weird that it goes from ‘history’ straight to ‘satanic stories.’ My stories may be satanic in the sense that my parents think it is unchristian to write about masturbation.