Smoking With Annam Manthiram

by Beth Thomas Read the Story September 29, 2010

How much success has Model #3 achieved? How are we looking at her? In a retrospective, after years of success? Or on her second day on the job?

She is successful, early on in her career still, but unsure of what that means exactly. She is unaffected, immune to pain, pleasure, joy and sadness. Before Joe, she knew what hurt and what didn’t. After Joe, she doesn’t and is lost as a result.

Have you ever named a plant? If so, what was the name? If not, why not?
No, I have never named a plant because I have never really talked to one at length. If you speak to something, animate or not, it should have a name. But I do have furry marionettes that go by “Carl,” “Steve,” and “Goatie.”

What are the origins of this story? Where did the spark come from?
The idea was originally borne from the belief that if we achieve all of our goals, then we should be happy. This is actually a belief that my immigrant parents share. The irony is that though they pursued and attained the “American Dream,” they are no more satisfied now than they were before. So what exactly is success, how can it be measured, and will it make us happy? Their hypocrisy, and these questions, led me to this character. And the encounter Model #3 has with “Joe” is actually autobiographical; a week prior to beginning this story, I was pricked by the same species of cactus and had a severe immune reaction (my face looked like a Macy’s Parade float). I remember feeling envious of my husband who had been exposed to its needles many times before, but had not had the same reaction, and thinking that it’s life little gifts (like not having sensitive skin) that are gratifying, not necessarily the big picture.

This woman is quirky and interesting. I love the list of things that titillate her. Do you know this woman?
Thanks. I really loved writing her. She is a woman who, because she is unable to experience any sort of visceral or emotional sentiment, tries to provoke others instead. But it’s not a sadistic desire; because her own senses have dulled, she feels she must instigate others as a means of connecting and feeling. I don’t know this woman personally, but I see her in many people I do know and even in myself. We all so desperately want to fit in that we will do whatever it takes, even if it means hurting others or ourselves. We long for those minute connections – whether with a plant or animal – because moments like those are hard to come by. I can definitely think of times in my life where I felt I had more in common with the broccoli head in my fridge than with the guy I was dating.

What titillates you?
Kindness, above all else. A delectable palate and an equally voracious appetite. Finding beauty amidst chaos or destruction. The interconnectedness of everything. Chocolate moons. Introspective conversations. A well-written anything. And love, not necessarily of life, but of humanity.

About the Author:

Annam Manthiram is the author of two novels, The Goju Story and After the Tsunami, and a short story collection (Dysfunction), which received Honorable Mention in Leapfrog Press' 2010 fiction contest. Her work has recently appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, the Cream City Review, the Concho River Review, Straylight, Blink | Ink, the Grey Sparrow Journal, and the anthology, Daily Flash: 365 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press December 2010), and has been nominated for the PEN/OHenry Prize and inclusion in the Best American Short Stories anthology. A graduate of the M.A. Writing program at the University of Southern California, Manthiram resides in New Mexico with her husband, Alex, and son, Sathya.