first day<br>david’s house<br>tuesday before class<br>in the living room, playing chess<br>his dogs slinking back and forth over carpet<br>3/5/96<br> <br><i>You were saying about the tour that while we travel, “I need to know that</i><br><i>anything that I ask you fi ve minutes later to not put in, you won’t put in.”</i><br><i> </i><br>Given my level of fatigue and fuck- up quotient lately, it’s the only<br>way I can see doin’ it and not going crazy.<br> <br>[Drone—he’s got two dogs—is chewing on the chair David sits in.<br>He now has an unlisted phone number, because of fans.]<br> <br>I don’t know if “fan” would be the right word . . .<br> <br>[Looking at bookcases . . . He had a board out, and is eager to play.<br>So we are playing chess.]<br> <br>I think when I was twenty- five this was what I wanted. But . . . I<br>don’t mind it now. I mean, I’m proud of the book, I’m glad the<br>book is getting attention. Stuff about me is (a) makes me uncomfortable<br>and (b) is bad for me, because it makes me self- conscious<br>when I write. And I do not need to be more self- conscious. Oh,<br>fuck me! It takes a while for me to get in a groove. I honestly don’t<br>know what’s gonna sort of eventuate here. Well, fuck! (Looking at<br>the board)<br>Little, Brown bought both the hardcover and the softcover rights<br>at the same time. I think I could make a lot if I took an advance for<br>the next thing, but I can’t do that, so . . .<br> <br>[He’s not interested in money for next novels, which friends have<br>said is the wisest course. I talk about my own friends—people<br>he knows too—who arranged deals while touring for successful<br>books.]<br> <br>That’s incredible. I’ve got this thing where I just can’t take money<br>for something till it’s done. So I’m sort of <i>screwed </i>about that stuff.<br>(Slow, Southernish voice) I’ve been burnt on this before, I just can’t<br>do it.<br>I had no choice on this book, it was sort of under way. There was<br>so much research I had to do, that I literally could <i>not </i>teach and do<br>it at the same time. So I decided to eat it, and do it. But it would have<br>been a lot more fun if I hadn’t taken any money for it.<br> <br>[He’s playing pop radio, the local college station. I haven’t heard this<br>song in so much time: INXS, “It’s the One Thing.” David nods, says<br>he loves their song “Don’t Change.”]<br> <br>You know, I went through such a bad time in my twenties. Thinking<br>like, Oh no, I’m this genius writer, everything I do’s gotta be ingenious,<br>blah blah blah blah, and bein’ so shut down and miserable for<br>three or four years. That it’s worth <i>any </i>amount of money to me, not<br>to go there again. And I’m aware that that sounds maybe Pollyannaish<br>or sound- bitish. But it’s actually just the truth.<br>I was twenty- eight years old, and that means not taking an ad-<br>vance for stuff before it’s done. And it’s money well spent as far as<br>I’m concerned.<br> <br><i>Aware of your fame here?</i><br><i> </i><br>The grad students are vaguely aware I think.<br> <br><i>They must follow it?</i><br><i> </i><br>I think kids in the Midwest are different than kids on the East Coast.<br>I think <i>Time </i>and <i>Newsweek </i>are fairly inescapable. So I think they<br>kinda know. I’m sort of so nasty when they start talking about that<br>stuff in class that I think I’ve scared them into just leaving it alone.<br> <br><i>Why?</i><br><i> </i><br>Because it’s toxic to them and it’s toxic to me. That class is my<br>uh—I’m there to learn, not to talk about my own stuff. And I’m<br>there . . . when I’m teaching, I’m there as a reader, not a writer. And<br>the more—it’s extremely unpleasant, the more, uh, the more I’m<br>there in a kind of writerly persona . . .<br>There’s this weird scam in creative writing workshops that<br>somehow the teacher’s gonna teach you how—they’re gonna be<br>able to teach you how to do exactly what it is they do. Which is why<br>these programs try to pack themselves with the best- known and<br>most- respected writers. (“Wraters”) As if how good a writer you<br>are and how good a teacher you are have <i>anything </i>to do with each<br>other. I don’t think so. I know too many really good writers who are<br>shitty teachers, and vice versa, to think that. I think that the teaching<br>. . . well, the teaching has helped my own writing a lot . . . So<br>maybe I don’t think that anymore. But the writers are often interested<br>in preserving as much of their own time as they can.<br> <br>[Hums while he plays chess: not tremendously good at chess; strong,<br>however, at humming.]<br> <br>Well, <i>that </i>really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me, did it?<br>Shit. All right, we’ve got time for one more move each and then<br>we have to leave. I’ve got to brush my teeth.<br>I took the job for the health insurance. [Illinois State University]<br> <br>[Bathroom cabinet: lots of tubes of Topol. (He’s a smoker.)<br> <br>Dogs: Drone is “A provisional dog, he just showed up once while<br>we were jogging,” they took him on.]<br> <br>Some kind of weird, “I’ve made a terrible mistake with my life, I<br>need to be selling insurance in Oshkosh” sort of feeling. [We’re talking<br>about John Barth, and other writers who’ve gotten in trouble. A<br>sudden in- the- wrong- place sense. An anxiety he felt before <i>Infi nite</i><br><i>Jest.</i>] I think that happens to a lot of writers.<br> <br>[Went to Arizona State University. Edward Abbey was there . . . Robert<br>Boswell helped him more than anybody . . . ]<br> <br>I was so in thrall to Barth I just knew it would be sort of a grotesque<br>thing. [Why he couldn’t and didn’t go to Hopkins. He patterned the<br>longest part of his second book after Barth.]<br> <br>• • •<br> <br>in car, my rented grand am<br>en route to class<br> <br>This is the thing—you’re gonna have to sit around, you can’t even be<br>in the office, because I’m gonna have to yell at a lot of people. I have<br>to cut it short: just because we’ve gotta get up at five in the morning.<br>This is what’s fucked: it’s that, these poor kids, I haven’t been<br>around for two weeks. And they all are gonna have various deals to<br>discuss. [So sensitive about all performance] I’m usually a much<br>better teacher than this. I swear to God.<br> <br><i>Like doing readings?</i><br><i> </i><br>No.<br> <br><i>You were good.</i><br><i> </i><br><i>Thanks. </i>Tower Books—that’s not one I was particularly pleased with.<br>I get so nervous beforehand, and the nervousness is so unpleasant,<br>that that’s what I dislike. And I don’t think my stuff reads out loud<br>very well. And I think I come off looking like a maniac. Mainly I’m<br>doing what they blew up to larger type size. I give like one or two<br>readings in colleges a year. I gave ’em ten things and they blew up<br>five of them.<br>I read something (“sumpin’ ”) different at Tower just because<br>this unbelievably cute girl from <i>Spin </i>magazine was there, and she<br>didn’t want to hear the same thing twice, so I totally trashed the<br>plan. (He laughs.) And I never saw her again.<br> <br>[The writer Elizabeth Wurtzel was at David’s KGB reading—a kind<br>of Brezhnev- and- <i>Pravda</i>- themed bar in Lower Manhattan. She was<br>standing right up front. We turn out to both know Elizabeth.]<br> <br>I don’t know how Elizabeth—Liz got like the best seat in the house,<br>using skills I think only Elizabeth has. Ah, she’s real nice. She’s a<br>good egg. Good <i>egg.</i><br>When you’re eighteen, you realize that—there’s also a part of us<br>that wants to be the president. And there’s also a part that wants to<br>fuck every attractive person of the gender of our choice. I mean, you<br>know . . . Just, I think she’s gotta be more—it’s not an accident that<br>she’s depressed all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I just project all<br>kinds of weird stuff onto her . . .<br> <br>• • •<br> <br>david’s class<br>class: “advanced prose”<br> <br>[Doesn’t want a tape. Is comfortable with note- taking.]<br> <br>Fluorescents, desks, steel wastepaper cans, boot smell, sweater<br>smell, clock on wall, big table that David doesn’t sit much behind.<br>Fifteen students. Women sit, as at an old- line synagogue, slightly<br>apart from men. David wearing Fryes, blue bandanna. Carrying Diet<br>Pepsi.<br> <br>Dave has noticed some surprising student errors this week.<br> <br>Dave: Before we start, let’s do a moment of Grammar Rock.<br> <br>They laugh. He’s the ideal, the professor you hope for: lightning<br>writer, modern references, charming and funny and firm.<br>The students know another thing: he’s become, their<br>bandanna- wearing teacher, during these past three weeks a suddenly<br>celebrated man. And they want somehow to acknowledge it.<br> <br>Student 1: Done being famous yet?<br> <br>Dave: (Blush smile) Two more minutes.<br> <br>Kid from back, suddenly: I knew him <i>well, </i>Horatio—a man of<br><i>Infinite Jest </i>. . .<br> <br>Dave: OK, you’re allowed <i>one </i>reference.<br> <br>Quick chatter about his media appearances. It’s exciting; a piece of<br>their private life—this room and class—has gone suddenly public.<br> <br>Student 2, female: I love the way the <i>Trib </i>described your office.<br> <br>Student 3, female: Did you wind up, like, next to Dick Vitale and<br>Hillary Clinton?<br> <br>Dave says he got real nervous on the fl ights, kept picturing grave<br>etc., from tour.<br> <br>Student 4: Just put pepperoni and mushrooms on my Tombstone.<br> <br>(A take- out, grocery pizza sort of joke.)<br> <br>Dave: The words “pop quiz” is what’s good about that.<br>They talk about his magazine photos. Dave blushes more.<br> <br>Dave: I didn’t think, I didn’t think—you can see my smiling maw. I<br>thought, “Really? Is that me?”<br> <br>Dave fishes out a Styrofoam cup after pawing through two wastebaskets,<br>for someplace to put his chewing tobacco. Is also drinking<br>a Diet Pepsi.<br>Class begins with a jump from celebrity into the supernormal,<br>the administrative.<br> <br>Dave: Office hours next week. Bring light reading material, if you<br>have to wait in the hallway.<br> <br>Begins work on student stories.<br> <br>Dave: (Offering Very Sensible advice. Lots of jobs for fiction, you<br>have to keep track of twelve different things—characters, plot,<br>sound, speed.) But the job of the first eight pages is not to have<br>the reader want to throw the book at the <i>wall, </i>during the first<br>eight pages.<br> <br>He paces around the classroom. Happy, energetic. At one point,<br>thinking, he even drops into a quick knee bend. Class laughs; they<br>really like him.<br> <br>Dave: I know—I get real excited, and now I’m squatting.<br> <br>First story: by pretty student with a Rosanna Arquette mouth. Dave<br>on story, always using TV: “I submit, it’s kinda like a Sam and Diane<br>thing. Or <i>When Harry Met Sally.</i>”<br> <br>Classroom fluorescents flicker on and off, quiet fl ashes. Dave<br>glances up.<br> <br>Another story he likes: it’s very open, but needs to be controlled.<br>“This is just a head kinda vomiting at us . . .”<br>Less likable story: “This is just a campus romance story.<br>And to the average civilian, I’ve gotta tell you, this is not that<br>interesting . . .”<br> <br>Now at desk. Craning up and down when discussion and story<br>get him excited.<br>The student being workshopped is a punkish guy: mohawk,<br>silver- and- yellow collar.<br> <br>Dave: It’s really hard to create a narrator who’s alive. Take it from me.<br> <br>Students: How?<br> <br>Dave’s advice is a kind of comedy, and makes them laugh.<br> <br>Dave: To have the narrator be funny and smart, have him say funny,<br>smart things some of the time.<br> <br>He makes a flub, says quickly, “Brain fart.”<br>He stops for a second. Holds steady. “Excuse me, I’m about to<br>burp.”<br>His delivery is darting and graceful: the Astaire quality of good<br>teaching.<br> <br>On the campus romance story. “The great dread of creative writing<br>professors: ‘Their eyes met over the keg . . . ’ ”<br>The key to writing is learning to differentiate private interest<br>from public entertainment. One aid is, you’re supposed to get less<br>self- interested as you age. But, “I think I am more self- absorbed<br>at thirty- four than twenty- three. Because if it’s interesting to me, I<br>automatically imagine it’s interesting to you. I could spend a half<br>hour telling you about my trip to the store, but that might not be as<br>interesting to you as it is to me.”<br>Reminds the class, as it breaks. Notebooks closing, bookbags rising<br>from floor to desktop. Ruckle noises, kids standing. The week’s<br>two lessons.<br> <br>Dave: Never—don’t go there: “Their eyes met across the keg . . . ”<br>And “What’s interesting to me may not be to you.”<br> <br>Still in good, buzzed- up mood after. Brings me a water to drink.<br> <br>Dave: Where would you be without me?<br>I hope it’s not that same tobacco- Styrofoam cup.<br> <br>• • •<br> <br>isu hallway<br>talking to colleagues after class<br> <br>“Was it a success?” [Colleagues ask about <i>Infinite Jest </i>tour.]<br>No vegetables were thrown, so I consider it a success.<br>I just made enough money to live off it for a couple of years, so<br>that’s good. <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself</b> by <b>David Lipsky</b> Copyright © 2010 by David Lipsky. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.