Aristotle proposed that a friend is, in essence, “another self,” and it is indisputable that our relationships with our friends are nearly as complex as the ones we have with ourselves: One minute we’re in perfect accord, another we’re uncertain. Friendships are as mercurial as they are essential. We form friendships that are fraught, friendships that fade, and friendships that are as important to us as our very lives.
Conjunctions: 66, Affinity investigates the phenomenon of friendship in its many forms through innovative and provocative fiction, poetry, and essays by writers of every ilk.
This collection includes contributions by Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke, Robert Coover, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Elizabeth Gaffney, Andrew Ervin, Stephen O’Connor, Gilles Tiberghien, Michelle Herman, Robert Clark, Jonathan Carroll, Sallie Tisdale, Robert Duncan, Jedediah Berry and Emily Houk, Diane Josefowicz, Brandon Hobson, Charles B. Strozier, Spencer Matheson, Paul Lisicky, John Ashbery, J. W. McCormack, Isabella Hammad, Tim Horvath, Roberta Allen, M. J. Rey, Elizabeth Robinson, Matthew Cheney, and Joyce Carol Oates.
About the Author
Bradford Morrow (b. 1951) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of children’s books. He grew up in Colorado and traveled extensively before settling in New York and launching the renowned literary journal Conjunctions. His novel The Almanac Branch was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and for Trinity Fields, Morrow was the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Academy Award in Literature. He has garnered numerous other accolades for his fiction, including O. Henry and Pushcart prizes, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship. Morrow is a professor of literature and Bard Center Fellow at Bard College.
John Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York, and grew up on a farm near Lake Ontario. He has authored more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism, his work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and he has won numerous American literary awards for his poetry, including a MacArthur Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a National Humanities Medal. His book Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. For many years, Ashbery taught graduate and undergraduate poetry courses at Brooklyn College and Bard College, and his most recent book of poems is Quick Question, published in 2012. He lives in New York.
Jonathan Carroll (b. 1949) is an award-winning American author of modern fantasy and slipstream novels. His debut book, The Land of Laughs (1980), tells the story of a children’s author whose imagination has left the printed page and begun to influence reality. The book introduced several hallmarks of Carroll’s writing, including talking animals and worlds that straddle the thin line between reality and the surreal, a technique that has seen him compared to South American magical realists. Outside the Dog Museum (1991) was named the best novel of the year by the British Fantasy Society, and has proven to be one of Carroll’s most popular works. Since then he has written the Crane’s View trilogy, Glass Soup (2005) and, most recently, The Ghost in Love (2008). His short stories have been collected in The Panic Hand (1995) and The Woman Who Married a Cloud (2012). He lives and writes in Vienna.
Roberta Allen is the author of eight books, including two collections of short fiction, The Traveling Woman (Vehicle Editions) and Certain People (Coffee House Press); a novella in short short stories, The Daughter (Autonomedia); a memoir, Amazon Dream (City Lights); the novel The Dreaming Girl (Painted Leaf, 2000, and Ellipsis Press, 2011); and several writing guides.
Allen was on the faculty of The New School for many years and has also taught at Columbia University. She was a Tennessee Williams Fellow in fiction in 1998. An established visual artist, she has exhibited worldwide, with work in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over seventy books encompassing novels, poetry, criticism, story collections, plays, and essays. Her novel Them won the National Book Award in Fiction in 1970. Oates has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for more than three decades and currently holds the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professorship at Princeton University.
Read an Excerpt
Conjunctions, Vol. 66
By Bradford Morrow
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2016 CONJUNCTIONS
All rights reserved.
An Anatomy of Friendship
Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke
October 18, 2015
Where did our friendship start, and does talking about where a friendship starts have meaning for what a friendship is? Isn't the process more important than the time line? Yesterday I was trying to mend a wall in the yard, the destruction of which has been caused by the hill in the back moving ever so slightly. Or that is my guess. We imagine that hills are fixed, but my observation is that they're always moving or eroding just a bit according to the machinations of time and the elements. Friendships move in a similar way. That is my argument for today.
It was in Bennington, VT, or near Bennington, VT, or that is my recollection. And I know that it was Jill Eisenstadt who introduced us. It's funny how sometimes you are close with someone, and then, in turn, you become closer with her friends. I used to see Jill a lot on the street when I was living in Park Slope, but I never sat down and had a cup of coffee with her, even though back in the nineties, when she introduced me to you, I considered her among my dearest friends. We used to do a lot of running in the park together. Now she swims, because of her bad knees. And I live in Queens.
Anyway, I think it was a dinner party during the summer when she and I were teaching high-school kids at Bennington College, which I did between 1991 and 1998, along with Helen Schulman, and a bunch of other people. Jill knew about it, because she was a Bennington alum, and at some point she hooked me up with the job. I'm not sure it was 1991 that we met at this dinner, but I also don't think it was as late as 1994. Maybe you remember.
I knew a little about your work. Suicide Blonde had come out relatively recently. I hadn't read it in full, nor Up Through the Water. But somehow I was cowed by your reputation. I remember someone saying that you were glamorous, but in a way this is, even in recollection, making that elementary mistake of confusing the book and its character with the author. You were married to Michael then, and I remember being at some house, off campus, for the dinner, and Michael was there, and the two of you radiated a certain kind of contemporary, self-confident monogamy that I found enviable. You guys were both smart, affable, and funny. I felt like a lesser light by comparison, like an angel from a much lower rung. I can't even remember how much I talked to you even, because I was busy feeling not as interesting as you were. I can kind of recall a dining room and a table, and a certain number of faces (more than six), but not one thing about who else was there.
Is feeling less competent than your friend a good basis for a friendship? I don't know if it's good, but it's what we had at the outset, at least as I recall it. I must have contrived with Jill to get her to invite us to a couple more things together. I must admit I wanted to get to know you a bit, more than if you were just another writer in Brooklyn. You were living in Brooklyn Heights then, and so was I, so I guess maybe we did something together, via Jill or otherwise, and then there was a party at your place, which I remember vividly, because I talked with Michael about Selected Ambient Works, Volume II, by Aphex Twin. He didn't really think it was so great, he said, right before putting on No Quarter by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Was that a thing that anyone wanted to hear at a party? And what did I know about it? If that is right, that he played that album, it was 1994, and I probably had already published The Ice Storm. I remember that Michael said The Ice Storm was just proving I could be "professional," and therefore less good than Garden State. One always remembers remarks like that.
But it's disappointing that I can't remember exactly how our friendship started. Except that I am so happy about it now that I sort of don't care so much how it started, just that I'm glad for what it is. It was a slow-moving thing at first, and that is maybe how important friendships go. They meander along until you have some shared purpose.
I was trying to think when we first met too. I kept getting a picture of us sitting outside at a table talking. In my mind's eye this table is set up in front of my apartment on Hicks Street there in Brooklyn Heights but that's not possible. But what I remember from that first lunch is your hair (which frankly was fantastic!). And also the sense I had that you HAD mixed me up with Jesse, the narrator of Suicide Blonde. I remember you seemed a little disappointed that I was maybe a little less depraved and a little bit more wholesome than you thought! Also you were interested in God. I was interested in God too. Very few people that we knew at this time were interested in God. This made me want to stay close to you.
But let me go back to Bennington. I do remember we came to visit Jill and her saying, Let me get Rick; he wants to meet you. I had read Garden State. I think Jill got me to read it. I really loved it. Partly because it seemed to be about something I was interested in then, the idea of people who stayed in their hometown versus people who left. At that time I was most likely feeling sort of proud of myself for leaving my hometown and coming to the city. You seemed very smart to me and also vulnerable. A combination I have always been drawn to. In my mind you had on white tennis shorts but this can't be true.
You were at a few parties at our apartment on Hicks Street. We had so many parties in those days! Through my grandmother we'd lucked into a big prewar rent-controlled apartment and it was party central there for a while. I remember Moby DJing once. And a female writer, who will remain nameless, shooting up and then passing out in the bathroom. Michael, my first husband, had been a local rock star in Portland, Oregon, and so had many strict ideas about music. He was making a Wax Trax! record at about that time. The one with "Mind the Gap" on it. House music was new then.
My main memory of you from the early part of our friendship is seeing you on the street trying to hail a taxi, either on your own or with Jeffrey Eugenides or Donald Antrim. Just you standing in the dark outside a Paris Review party or in Brooklyn trying to get a cab into the city. You seemed to me like a rocket that had already been launched. Even when you pretended to be relaxed I could tell you were thinking. You tried all the time. I liked this a lot.
About a year in, as you say, we started to have our Friday afternoon cabbage soup lunches at the Long Island Restaurant. Which was the greatest place. The red booths! Remember them? Now it's gentrified and I am sure nice, but remember that lovely women who ran the place, she was so kind to us. Once you put your palm against the vinyl and said, "I could write about these all day long!" We started to talk about God in earnest then. It was, for me, a deeply meaningful phase. Even more so in retrospect.
October 31, 2015
It's a measure of the way the particular friendship under scrutiny works that I am willing to talk about the theological part of all this in public, in writing, at all. The way our friendship works, it seems to me, is that I am challenged by you, both by your model and by what you actually say, and then I attempt to rise to the occasion. In the process, I believe I am made better as a person. I can't say that I always like this about our friendship, the growth-opportunities portion of it, or I have not liked it at certain times, but I have always ultimately gone in the direction I was meant to go, it seems, finding the gratitude at some later date, and so I will do now with the theological part of the discussion.
I don't remember when I really understood the extent that spiritual feeling played in your life, and as I'm mostly not in the habit of talking about this subject with everyone I meet, I'm not sure how we brought it up. But by the time we were having lunch at the Long Island Restaurant, on Atlantic Avenue, it was the preeminent theme of our friendship.
I know that I was at this dinner in this stretch of months, sponsored by, I think, Karen Rinaldi, who was Donald Antrim's girlfriend at the time (either then or just before then), and there was, at this Rinaldi-hosted dinner, some hand-wringing about the Religious Right. It would have been during the first Clinton term, when these culture wars were far less brutal than they got later on, but still. What to do. I had an epiphanic idea that night that I should try to sponsor some kind of literary project about the Religious Left, that stratum of the religious establishment that was abolitionist, suffragist, antiwar, and strongly pro Civil Rights, over some hundred and fifty years. That part of mainstream American religious life I found deeply admirable, beginning with Emerson and including John Brown and Martin Luther King Jr. And so I was thinking, after the dinner party, about to whom I could talk about this idea, and I remember thinking very much that I wanted to talk about it with you.
This is how we came up with the idea to make the anthology called Joyful Noise, which we then worked on at lunch on Fridays for more than a year. I can't remember when we started work on it, but I remember telling my family that we had sold the book right after my sister had died (twenty years ago tomorrow), and then I know that the book came out in 1997. I don't know if I started wanting to talk about spiritual matters with you because I thought it was a promotable topic of conversation, but as I have (increasingly) felt that it was nobody's business but mine, especially in literary circles, I can't but imagine that there was something about the way we discussed this stuff that was useful to us both. Maybe it was one of these challenges, coming from you.
You often led with "I was a minister's daughter," and after a time I met the minister in question, and your brothers, and it's clear how much that legacy defined you, but that's not the part of the spiritual experience I was interested in. I wasn't even, really, interested in Lutheranism, which was what you practiced with your dad and his various parishes. I was interested in the part of spiritual experience that was keen about God, but terribly uncertain, the part that didn't even know whether, from a congregational perspective, you could do liberal Protestantism anymore. The part that felt some class of experience out there associated with God, but didn't know how religion was part of it. The part that was always looking around the corner for some new way to express this feeling, whether it was interviewing Kurt Cobain, or seeing a lot of new conceptual art, which were things you had done.
Working on the book became the way to talk about this stuff. In the end, I feel sort of mixed about the book itself, as if I could do a lot better if we did it now, but I also feel that doing what we did enabled us to get to be closer friends. There are pieces in Joyful Noise that still seem very important to me: your piece, Barry Hannah's piece, Lucy Grealy's piece, Lydia Davis's, and so on. I wish we had included William Vollmann! (I am mad we got talked out of that.)
The lady at the Long Island Restaurant was a symbol of all this. It seems to me we tried a few other restaurants in the area, which has plenty of them, and then one day we were there, at your suggestion. It must have been a bar at one point, because it looked more like a bar than like a restaurant, and it was perpetually empty, and it was all vinyl (and I used that red vinyl in Purple America), and the proprietrix always came over and said, "Well, today I have some cabbage soup," or something similar. Seems like it was always some kind of soup, and then maybe if you were nice she would make something else, a grilled cheese or something, but I don't think we ever had anything else. Once we discovered her, avatar of the infinite, imitator of Christ, we never went anywhere else, and we just ate what she gave us. Rightly so. We gave her a book at one point too, right? I think when we had a finished book we gave it to her, and I remember her being a bit flustered, like she wished we wouldn't make a big deal out of it, that we had basically commissioned and edited an entire anthology in her restaurant, the restaurant that would definitely go out of business when the neighborhood finished gentrifying, or when she got too old, as she assuredly did not long after.
Those were some great days, when I think back on them. If I were to say what I learned from those lunches, I would probably adduce your essay for Joyful Noise, which is about Mary's labor, and which you were able to write after experiencing labor yourself, as an example of what education in the Joyful Noise project was like. In many quarters, it seems, it would be heretical to write about Mary's labor, but why? Is not Mary's labor, in its way, a most beautiful thing to think about? About how like every other childbirth, in mean circumstances, it must have been, and yet how important too? As they all are, these childbirths.
I do think part of the reason our friendship has lasted so long and has been so kinetic is in part because we challenge each other. I met you at a time when, though I was thinking of having a baby, I was deeply committed to my writing and worried what having a family might do to my artistic life. At that time I still stayed up late writing and smoking cigarettes. I thought of it as my Joan Didion routine. I was writing a lot for Spin then and I flew around some and wrote about rock stars, David Koresh and Waco, and Norwegian Black Metal. But I was worried all that was about to change and I think your commitment to your work really inspired me. And that continues through the years. I feel sometimes after I talk to you I want to throw myself down on the ground with my head pressed up against a book and recommit myself to fiction.
As to how we got started taking about religion, I remember you telling me a story about a hard time you had in prep school. The main thing I remember is you saying that you had a breakdown and you hid under a table and a priest was trying to get you to come out. After this you felt more interested in the divine. I have thought of this now and then, the large lovely wood table, the teenage you hiding underneath and refusing to come out, the patient priest trying to convince you to come. Maybe this is misremembered but to me that story was and is very compelling, the hiding from and mistrust in religion but also the loneliness and the longing.
We talked some too about how annoying it was that nobody thought of religion as an intellectual subject at that time. This was particularly true at the sort of parties I went to then. It was just verboten. I remember once being at a party with a bunch of music critics, and the very smart and wonderful Bob Christgau, when I mentioned something spiritual, said to me, "So you believe in a man with a long gray beard in a white dress," and I just sort of lost it. All the historical theological thought, what religion meant to the civil rights movement, the great thinkers, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, Rabbi Heschel, got reduced to this idea that I was a soft-brained moron believing in a version of Santa Claus.
So I was very interested in your idea of pushing back. I think before we started Joyful Noise, though, we read novels that may or may not have had a religious theme and talked about them. I remember a heated discussion on Endo's Deep River, which at that time was a favorite of mine. I remember we talked about Simone Weil some too. We read Gravity and Grace. Our exchange of ideas about religion was the first I had with another writer. Since then I have had many; over the years I have sought them out. Ours had something very alive about it.
You mention your sister. Another landmark in our friendship was the fact that your sister died and then my daughter, Abbie, was born a week later. When you called me to tell me she had died I was very pregnant and to hear you sobbing on the phone just obliterated me. Also, the details of her putting her kids to bed and the very maternal and domestic way it happened haunted me. I had Abbie just a few days later and I remember calling you on the hospital phone to tell you. I was so anxious to tell you about new life coming into the world. During that call you told me about the plans for your sister's funeral and I told you about my labor. It was a conversation with so much honesty and rawness.
November 15, 2015
I'm writing this on the plane to Seattle, while on book tour, an adventure that I feel both lucky to undertake and about which I am extremely apprehensive. I don't want to do what I have to do this week, the glad-handing, and I feel the cost of doing it. I don't feel like myself when I am touring. I feel simulated, artificial, other than myself. I feel reduced to an animal that can merely survive. That is the extent of it. And yet I also feel like I am lucky to have the chance to meet the readers.
Excerpted from Affinity by Bradford Morrow. Copyright © 2016 CONJUNCTIONS. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke, An Anatomy of Friendship,
Robert Coover, From Huck Out West,
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Useful Knots and How to Tie Them,
Elizabeth Gaffney, Where You Go I'll Go,
Andrew Ervin, Roll for Initiative,
Stephen O'Connor, The End of the End of the World,
Gilles Tiberghien, From Amitier (translated from French by Cole Swensen),
Michelle Herman, All of Us,
Robert Clark, Trailer,
Jonathan Carroll, Plane Light, Plane Bright,
Sallie Tisdale, Gaijin,
Robert Duncan, For Sandra (with an afterword by Margaret Fisher),
Jedediah Berry and Emily Houk, Hansel, Gretel, Grendel,
Diane Josefowicz, Jackals,
Brandon Hobson, The Cardinal,
Charles B. Strozier, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham,
Lincoln and Joshua Speed,
Spencer Matheson, Glenn Gould Syndrome,
Paul Lisicky, Head Full: Prelude to a Friendship,
John Ashbery, Two Poems,
J. W. McCormack, The Soft Disconnect,
Isabella Hammad, Passages,
Tim Horvath, The Spinal Descent,
Roberta Allen, Need,
M. J. Rey, Goodbye, Mister Starfish,
Elizabeth Robinson, Four Poems,
Matthew Cheney, Mass,
Joyce Carol Oates, Friend of My Heart,
Notes on Contributors,