Various Paradigms is a new bimonthly column written by Ann DeWitt about words, art, film, politics and poetics. The title is a tribute to conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s typographic texts. Weiner once wrote, “Bits and Pieces Put Together To Present A Semblance of A Whole.” This column hopes to follow in that tradition of engagement, intimacy and experiment.
Photo of Luke Goebel by Marie Goebel.
Various Paradigms Conversed About in Full or Brief: The Corona Cougar portable typewriter, gaping wounds, emotional support animals, units of sound, Barry Hannah, Freudian analysts, Texas, the Breaking Bad RV, writing in the “Bounder,” how to farm out a plane.
Luke Goebel and I first crossed paths in the world in 2010 when he was guest editing an issue of Everyday Genius. He solicited a story of mine called “Congregation.” He sent me the following reply to my story:
“Dear Ann, Heft and grit! You have the words of those I admire greatly. Calls to mind Noy Holland, one of my teachers, mentors, gods. Don’t tell anyone, but there’s a reprint of one of her stories in the next issue. One from her first book now out of print, THE SPECTACLE OF THE BODY. Thank you, also, for your admiration of TYRANT. Giancarlo is truly a great editor, in all meanings of the word.
Ann, You can send to me now if you like. The next issue, as I said, is full. But I can read work for the next TYRANT now.
As far as word count, page limits, etc. No such thing. What we do want is to be implicated in the story as soon as possible. I have to give credit for the word implicated in this use to Gordon Lish.
Anyhow, you have my blessing. Send whatever you like, whenever. And it will be considered for the next issue.
Heft and grit, I thought. "This guy gets it.“ Here was my original email, laconic but sincere:
I am a fan. Many humble thank yous for reading.
And my reply:
"Luke, Hope the sense of strangeness carries you home. Sent a few things over at your Tyrant account for Genius and Tyrant. Whenever. Let me know. Thanks for the window. Cheers. ~A.”
Through the years we stayed indiscriminately but curiously in touch:
Luke: "I’m sitting at my vinyl lemon yellow kitchenette set listening to Hall & Oats and eating salad with my sister about to head to SXSW in Austin.“
Annie: "I am ALSO actually sitting at my vinyl yellow kitchenette set. (I’m convinced, Life exists in these weird overlapping transparencies.) But I’m in Brooklyn listening to an old Rita Coolidge record, "It’s Only Love.”
We went on to publish Luke’s story, “So Many Sons,” in an early issue of Gigantic. Afterward I ran into him one night in the city: "Nice to find another small-towner around these parts,“ I emailed. "I guess most of us in this city are all immigrants of something.” "It was really good to meet you, too. Loved your jumpsuit!!“ he said.
"Luke Goebel sent me another story,” the Gchat to my fellow editor months later reads. "For you or for Gigantic?“ "I don’t know,” I replied. "I sent him back radical edits.“
As it turns out, Luke and I are both fans of bringing a radical eye to the page. He has worked closely with Gordon Lish and I have had the immense pleasure of working with Diane Williams over the years.
Once, Luke took a lovely woman to Vieques, an island of the coast of Puerto Rico where my partner and I had recently visited. I sent him and his flame a little list of places to visit. His lovely woman sent me this email after the trip. "The whole fish! It was delicious.”
Luke and I finally and had chance to catch up at a coffee shop the morning after reading together at Franklin Park last week. He had crashed at a young friend and fan or his work house around the corner form me in BedStuy on Herkimer. When I got to the coffee shop, we had a conversation about craft, life, love, and Luke’s new collection, 14 Stories: None of Them Are Yours, due out from FC2 this spring. I happened to record our reunion that morning, because I like the way this guy tells stories. The below is a word for word transcription of our brief encounter.
LUKE GOEBEL: I’m an outsider. In New York, I think that’s… yeah I never really figured it all out.
ANNIE DEWITT: So what was the opening image or word, or was it a concept?
LG: In the book itself? Well, the book was just a … I mean I wasn’t planning on writing a book. I was trying to write a story. For Gordon. During the class. Or after the class. You know it’s like trying to get a first mattering on the page.
AD: A sentence you could actually breathe some life into.
LG: I think Lish’s class led people to story of origins. You know? Cause you’re trying to get that thing that’s yours. So I just started trying to get that, you know, my voice or my persona or my experience onto the page. So I was just writing stories.
AD: What was the first story that you wrote?
LG: Well the first story in the collection that I wrote was an old story called “The Minds of Boys,” which is a kids story kind of, on a beach. I wrote that back at UMass before I took the class. But the first story I wrote for the collection would have been “Eagle Feather,” which was in The Tyrant. Although it changed now from what it was then. I mean that was just about finding a fucking bald eagle feather and sending it to this guy. (Ah! You can’t say anything about Gordon.)
AD: I won’t.
LG: I mean he’s not in the book. But, yeah. I found him that feather and sent it to him after I wrote the story. I mean I found the feather and that afternoon, drove over a mountain pass, pulled over with a little pocket typewriter, like a Cougar 2. Yeah, a little Corona Cougar 2. You know like the teal ones. Sat down outside the coffee shop and just like ripped out that story.
AD: Is that what you work on most often?
LG: Yeah. I start on typewriters. And then I convert. Like if it’s a long story I’ll do the first page over and over and over and over until I get it just how I want it. And then, if it’s a long story, I’ll switch that over. I’ll enter it into the computer. But most of the time the map is that first page, you know? But if it’s a short story, like eight pages or less, then that’s usually … usually I just do it on the typewriter.
AD: So what is that origin for you? Is it a voice? Is it a sound? Was it a concept? Was it like a pain?
LG: For which one?
AD: I don’t know. Like when Gordon says find your origin and put a sentence down… I feel like working with Diane [Williams] is really similar…
LG: Where it’s like the guttural like bodily sentence?
AD: Yeah. Written on the body.
LG: Well my first sentence is still the way I write now. Speaking of mothers, I mean she just wasn’t ever quite pulling it together. When I was like two she left me on a beach and I got sunburned. A pelican pooped on her sister. And there was all this sand on my mom’s nipples. And when I’d get nursed. Cause I still nursed at two. (That was embarrassing!) Like three months later…
AD: My sister did too. I always thought it was kind of pornographic.
LG: Right. I mean like three months later I said my first sentence and it was like, “Me burn me butt me burn me back big bird poop on Kate; dirty nursey, I wanna go home.” You know it’s that kind of like, I don’t know…
AD: That’s what it is.
LG: Yeah. It’s the same kind of sentence that I still make.
AD: I really like what he says about writing as a speech act. That’s something I always start with when I teach is trying to get students to think about that because I feel like they think about writing as being the opposite of that, of being so far from them. It should be guttural. It should sound like them.
LG: Yeah that’s the first thing I do when I teach kids comp. They have to write their first thing and then I have them read it out loud into a tape recorder and then play it back to themselves.
AD: [Laughing] In a comp class! That’s amazing.
LG: Yeah! Like, does this sound like you? Especially down in Texas. They’re like, “No.” Cause they all get taught to sound like eruditic, fake. You know what I mean? Like that false pseudo academic that they don’t have any idea what they’re doing. I get them to just record it and see how they actually sound. Because once they start sounding the way they sound down in Texas, they’re great!
AD: How do you explain that though? Do you work through units of sound? Do you work through the sentence? Do you work through the image?
LG: How do I teach sound? I think I probably didn’t learn right from Gordon. I don’t think I listened right. Like everyone told me I didn’t. I was always like, “That’s not what he said. That’s not what he’s doing. Katherine was like, “You don’t fucking listen.” [Laughs] Ah! It was about sound. Or just about how to tell stories. Like how to bullshit.
AD: Does he talk storytelling at all?
LG: No but he talks for six hours straight. You know? Without saying “Um.” Or drinking water, or going to the bathroom. He just talks and tells stories. So I … So that’s what I was paying attention to, was like how do you tell a story? How do you keep it interesting? How do you keep like embellishing and then leaving one story to start another and then going back to the story before. And then going and starting a third story. And then going back to the first and the second and then hitting the third and then the … You know what I mean? That whole shit about the plates on the stick. Did they tell you that in grad school? Yeah. Well you watch him do it for six hours and all the stories start to converge into the same story, the same basic lesson, which is like, “Everyone will die and desert you. And like you’re on your own. Or everyone’s shit.” But yeah so, I guess it’s funny, with the book it started out as just like these little stories—some to more, mostly to less, effect. You know? Like “Insides” I think was the first story that I ever like wrote that I was somewhat happy with. I mean I like “Eagle Feather” but it was kids stuff. Gordon like… You know I sent him “Eagle feather.” I sent him… and he’s like, “Oh. This is great. This great. Oh you’re citizen…” All this shit. And then you know next week he’s like, “It’s nothing. You’ve done nothing. Like it’s page. Like Go Fuck Yourself.” But, ah, I think it was smart that I didn’t stay. Gordon. Like I didn’t go back. We stayed friends. Good friends. I love the guy.
AD: Yeah. But you’ve got to let yourself go from there. Develop.
LG: Like I didn’t go for a second round. You know what I mean?
AD: I also feel like that type of stuff needs to kind of trickle, to have the trickledown effect, where you take it for what it is. You emulate it for a while. And then you spinoff on it…
LG: Like you get away. Get away. Get away.
AD: Yeah. I think I felt like that with Sam’s work, which I’ve always loved and admired. Where I was constantly reading Venus Drive when I was working on the beginning of the stories that I was doing in grad school. I was just trying to write in that same voice.
LG: Yeah. I knew he [Gordon] was big. Like he was SO big. You’re never gonna get away from him. I knew it the first class. The first class I sat there and I was like, “This guy, he’s a sorcerer.” Like, you know, he could be a witch doctor.
AD: I finally saw him and he is hilarious.
LG: He said he was the first day. You know. He’s huge.
AD: What’s his take on women?
LG: Ah. I think he’s a romantic.
AD: Really? Huh. Are you?
LG: What? A romantic? Sure, yeah. I think Gordon’s a sweetheart. I mean I know that he’s ah … (pause) … we shouldn’t talk about Gordon so much. But he’s, you know, he’s got a reputation.
AD: So tell me about the Katherine in the story.
LG: (Pause.) Yeah. So that’s interesting cause … um … yeah, so like the book, I think that’s what I learned, I mean the book started out as just these stories, right, and then I started like seeing how they could work together.
AD: Yeah. I’m curious to see how that works.
LG: I thought it was really great what Ben was saying. Did you make it to the Q&A with Tobias? He was like, “Well if you have like an Airships or like if you’re Flannery O’Connor or something. You’ve got a collection where every story is a knockout. You can put whatever order you want. You can take Airships and shuffle it. And people do, you know, they start at whatever story and it’s like, whatever. He’s like, but if you’re author, or a writer or whatever, it’s like some decent stories and some that you’re embarrassed about, you know, and some that are better and worse. You know. Then you have to… I don’t know how he said it … but you have to like really work to make it … to trying to mask these gaping … I think he called it gaping wounds … like gaping wounds all over your body. Leaking and seeping. So that’s what I was doing. I was like how do you put these things in order so that they talk to one another, so that they cover up their deficiencies.
AD: And was it about time, or was it about sound, or was it about following a character through an arc?
LG: When I think about stories? Yeah. I mean you know it has a lot of loss in it. I mean it starts out and it’s in the hospital with the loss of love. And then the loss of my only brother was something, you know, that I was writing through.
AD: Was that recent?
LG: Two and a half years ago. Yeah. So, uh, he was the best. Yeah. And so there was a lot of writing about that. And uh, you know, cause all you can feel. But it’s also a way of like dealing with it. Like you’re turning it into like, I feel bad to say it, but you’re like making it an object.
AD: You’re making a tribute.
LG: You’re taking advantage. Yeah but then it becomes two things. Like the real thing and the thing that you made it into. So then you like …
AD: … don’t know what’s real anymore.
LG: Yeah. It’s like a way of kind of like—I didn’t mean to do that—but…
AD: I mean everyone says that life is basically just about the narrative that you’re telling anyway. So in a lot of ways you’re understanding what’s happening.
LG: Yeah you’re in control of that. And then there’s a place for that guilt.
AD: And that’s the whole thing about analysis. The reason always they say is that once you start putting a narrative to your life—I just started going to analysis like six months ago and it’s been so helpful. With my writing.
LG: Really like Freudian? Is it good?
AD: Yeah. It’s great because she says something like, “What’s your first memory of your mother?” And it just spirals, and we’re still working through that one memory six months later. It just puts words to experience. It’s really important, I think. I mean that’s what we’re always doing. But if you can write about an experience like that and then put it into story format.
LG: You’re lucky. I only went to one Freudian last month in Beverly Hills. But that was just to get a bullshit letter so I can fly with my dog on a plane.
AD: [Laughing] I was going to ask you!
LG: Like as an emotional support animal.
AD: I saw that article and I was thinking of you.
AD: There was an article about how JetBlue has allowed like 22,000 people this year to fly with an emotional support animal, and how people… so, he sits on your lap?
LG: Yeah. She sits on the floor and then I bring her up into my lap. She’s sat on like—we’ve only had it for a couple months—she sat on like an art dealer’s lap. The like millionaire woman whose at Art Basel. And then like, you know, the flight attendants all get down on their knees, men and women, and are like, “Oh she’s so cute!” People come up to me and say things like, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you have that? What’s your problem?”
AD: And what do you say?
LG: Like, “Do you have a disease?” I’m like, I’m … “No, it’s a fucking scam.”
AD: Do you tell them it’s an emotional support animal?
LG: I tell them it’s a scam. I’m sorry but it’s a scam. Well I live in Texas and it’s hundred and ten degrees and all you… so you can’t fly… so I’ve been driving up and down every year. Uh. And then we wanted to go to Mexico this winter. You know, she’s a great dog. It really humanizes the whole experience, right? Where … I wish everyone had like a goat. And a snake. And a chicken. Like everyone should have an animal.
AD: I’ll take my two cats, and my one other cat, and put them all in bags and say … [laughs]
LG: Yeah. Like farm out the plane.
AD: Which is basically what they do with babies anyways.
LG: I just don’t know what to do with myself. So I like bought a thirty-one foot RV. Last summer.
AD: How did you find that? Where did you find it?
LG: I got it in Texas. It’s the Breaking Bad RV, which I didn’t know when I bought it. But, it’s like, you know, 31 foot, 1988, Bounder. And, you know, that was like the thing to do to keep me busy. Or I had to go to drive Jewely up and I wanted to have like a generator and the printer and electric. Like the office. Like you know the mobile office.
AD: Incredible! That’s amazing.
LG: So that’s now in the book. Like I basically wove, so I put the stories in order by time I guess, sort of, and theme. You know it made sense. Like you start out with the losing of the love and then you go to the losing of the brother. Like that just makes sense, right? You don’t start with losing your brother and then go to losing a love. One’s worse than the other. You start with the less worse and you get worse. And then, you know I start chronologically, theme wise I just kind of put them in order so that they were a linked collection. That’s what I’ve always been most impressed with, either story collections that are like Hannah or something incredible or ones that kind of work as a whole.
AD: I feel like Amy Hempel’s story collections are always like that. And I mean Jesus’ Son obviously is very much like that too.
LG: Yeah so then I sent that out and Yes Yes took it. Yes Yes Books. This was just kind of like testing the waters. I sent it to like four places and two of them gave me a contract and one them like bit. I was Like, “Oh shit. OK.” But I didn’t send it anywhere big. I entered it in one contest at FC2 because you know I studied with Susan Steinberg and I studied with Noy [Holland] second and you know they were both FC2 writers at the time. Now Susan’s with Graywolf. But always kind of like that was the dream when I was like, Ok if I could get into FC2 that would be awesome. I submitted it and forgot about it. And was with Yes Yes and we had a pub date for like March 2014. And then I got this phone call at like eight in the morning. Which, I don’t do mornings, and I was like [imitating a sore throat], “Hello, like what?” And it was this guy Jeffery DeShell who teaches at CU Boulder and was the judge and he was like, “Hey, is the Luke. You won the Sukenick prize.” And I was like, “What?”
AD: [Laughing] You were like, “I haven’t had my coffee yet. “
LG: He goes, “The Sukenick Prize.” And I was like, “Can I call you later. I mean that’s GREAT. That’s great. Can I call you back?” And he’s like, “No. Don’t call.” “Don’t call back. You won. We’ll be in touch.” I was like, “I can’t call you back?” “No. We’ll talk to you later.” And hung up. So I called Katherine at Yes Yes and I was like, “Hey, can I? What do I do?” And she was like, “Take it.” You know. She’s great. Like, “Just take it. Take the prize. Do it.” So that’s when I’d already linked them and was already doing this thing where I was interrupting stories with parentheticals and telling stories through other stories like filling the narrative. And then I took it even further when I bought the 31-foot RV and was just driving around being a fucking lunatic. You know. With all my anxiety. Driving this like huge, unsafe, crazy rig that like if a tire blew I was gonna flip over and explode and it was like the bushings were bushed and the shocks were shocked and everything was, “RRAATTLLE.” And all this, the electricals were going out and you know learning on the fly how to operate this machine. And then I just started kind of like adding these brackets and these parenthesis so that like the voice goes through all these stories and stories get interrupted. You know because I kind of think about the way Gordon does that when he would do it in class. You know to keep different stories …
AD: … going.
LG: And it’s like Catcher in the Rye, you know, with the divergence. Or Derrida, or whatever. It’s like once you fucking get somebody hooked, or you think they’re hooked enough, then it’s like all about how long can I fuck around and how much can I get out of myself while they’re hooked.
Ann DeWitt’s writing has appeared in NOON, Guernica, BOMBlog, Esquire’s Napkin Fiction Project, The Believer Logger, art+culture, Everyday Genius, The Faster Times, elimae, and Dossier Magazine, amongst others, and is forthcoming in the anthology, Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler due out in 2014. Ann holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Founding Editor of Gigantic: A Magazine of Short Prose and Art in 2008. She currently teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University and in The Art and Design History and Theory department at Parsons, The New School, and is at work on her first novel. For more of her work, please follow her blog at: http://talllikethreeapples.wordpress.com.
Fourteen Stories |None of Them Are Yours will be released at the end of September 2014 by FC2 (Fiction Collective Two)