JR Fenn discusses existential crises, growing up, and her story “Altogether,” published in the June Issue.
1. Why write to the screams of seagulls? Wouldn’t it be better if you were doing so to the screams of a Flock of Seagulls?
I think that when living with a ubiquity of seagulls, it’s really quite daring to capitalize them and/or refer to them using their collective noun. I say this because this spring two seagulls made their nest on the ground right outside of my door. I was dive-bombed by the pair of them when coming and going, so much that I Ran (So Far Away). My neighbours had the nest removed, and my daily brushes with death ended there, but I really missed that nest, which looked a lot like a massive upside-down 80s bowl cut.
2. Are all cats gray?
As an American living in Britain, this question has given me an identity crisis. [They are sometimes grey.]
3. Where did this story come from?
In Iceland, mums and dads take their babies out in strollers and park the strollers outside of coffee shops, unattended. On Laugavegur, the main street in Reykjavk, there are some lovely coffee shops and outside of each coffee shop you might see four or five different-colored strollers (pinks, blues, greens, purples, yellows) with babies inside all lined up bumper to bumper. Somehow those quiet babies in their strollers- with their parents inside the coffee shops enjoying their coffee- radiate a strong sense of contentment. This story came from imagining what might have happened before that moment- how that moment might have come to be in the world.
4. Is there any literary fiction out there where having children or motherhood in general is a happy affair?
I don’t know about you, but I often feel that hiding inside that voluminous word happiness are things like keen observation, meditation, and the lucid recognition of things that previously existed only as dim flickers in the bottom of the subconscious. So happiness can inhere in things being exactly as they are, recognized as such with a sense of rightness- the thrill of yes, that’s it, that’s precisely how things are or might be between parents and children. I’ve been admiring Lydia Davis’s “What You Learn About the Baby” for a while now. She writes about the experience of caring for an infant in such razor-thin slices of clear perception that the story imparts a settledness, an even-minded acceptance of the mixed state of parenthood that strikes me as being buoyant with the small realities of childrearing. Lately I’ve also been enjoying Etgar Keret’s short stories in Suddenly, A Knock on the Door, some of which sketch relationships between fathers and children in ways that register imbricated threads of attachment and aversion, the impulse to pull close and palliate a child’s needs titrated with the impulse to be apart, wrapped in another soft world where all of one’s own needs are fully satisfied.
5. What would be on the mixtape that goes along with “Altogether”?
A little humming song you make up in your head.
6. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A good person who writes good books.