Smoking With John Leary

Read the Story March 15, 2007
story art

Some writers might be leery of evoking the war. Why do you think it’s important for writers to turn their focus and visions to the current climate of violence and war?

Do I really know anything about the war or am I qualified to say anything intelligent about it? No. But that’s what the internet is for, right?

One possibility that no one talks about is the possibility of sponsorship. It’s possible that if corporations sponsored the war, they might ask us to cut down on the violence a little. We could have the “Siege of Basra” sponsored by Chevy Trucks, “Taking Tikrit” sponsored by Tide detergent. Or “Maintaining the Perimeter in Baghdad” sponsored by Golden Harvest Lo-Fat Margarine (helping you maintain YOUR perimeter since 1972!) Corporate sponsors have a lot of sway, and maybe this would help if they were horrified by the killing, the death.

What gave rise to the structure for this piece?

I find that writing is a lot like sailing. Or tying a necktie. It’s also a little bit like typing, or pulling a rickshaw or bending over because you’re wearing very heavy upper-body armor. I’m a novice at writing, but I am pretty sure that it’s nothing like cooking. That’s a long way of saying that structure comes from your environment. It’s not scientifically proven, but a lot of bloggers have caught on to this notion, and there’s some call for a wikipedia entry. I live in the Great Plains. In the mornings I get up and I stand outside my front door and I can smell all the way to Canada. The thing about living in these states — and let’s face it, they’re pretty much indistinguishable other than by the colors their denizens paint on their cheeks on autumn Saturdays – is that it gives you a sense of openness, of possibility, of (dare I say it) courage. It’s not unlike the experience of opening your mail during an anthrax alert or ordering takeout from an ethnic group you fear. Also, if this global warming shapes up like the movies say it may, my little sod house is going to someday be beachfront property. And when people come to surf at my beach, I’m going to run out after them and be like: “Locals only!” But then before anyone gets aggro, I’ll be like: “Dude. Chill. Kidding! Here – have a Capri Sun.”

Does the state of the world arise from some Fate that inheres in the universe itself or from something within our characters? And if you could change one thing about the world and/or our characters, what would it be?

If I could change one thing, I think all humans would have flippers, like dolphins. Or, wouldn’t it be cool if we all had full-time padding like hockey goalies? And then everyone could paint different kinds of smiles on the masks. You’d have your morning smile, your afternoon smile, and your constipated-from-eating-dumplings smile. The concept of “personal space” would be completely different. That’s a long way of saying that from clothing comes character, unless you shop online, in which case nothing ever fits and what looks soft, is itchy. I’d also like someone to invent mosquito harnesses, “fancy” cookies that don’t spoil, a shampoo bottle without the word “repeat” on it, kinder spiders, cats that don’t shed, kids that don’t cry and dogs that don’t bark. Also, the rubber tomato. Fake barf that looks a lot more real than the stuff on the market today. I’d also like pills that give you the ability to speak a foreign language and for someone to invent exercise that doesn’t require any actual exertion. And a time machine.

Talk, if you would be so kind, about this gap between what we want to write and the words we actually write.

As the guy says, between what we want to write and the words we actually write, falls the shadow. Though for me, I’m not sure it’s a shadow; I think it’s more like a giant moth. I have a friend, Ritmo Dinker (not his real name), who is terrified of moths—he thinks they will sew his lips together while he sleeps. He knows the fear is irrational, but it stems from a childhood episode when a gang of moths tipped his car over. Just being around him gives me the creeps, but the other day we were talking about the “idea” of moths versus the world’s “expression” of moths and he said, “You know what? I’m fed up with this. I’m going to write someone a letter!” And then we laughed for a while then were sad.

At the recent AWP conference, a number of writers talked about their old flames, books that have influenced them during a formative time in their lives—and ones they return to for lessons in writing and, of course, life. Discuss your old flame, both what it meant to you then and what it means to you now.

Yes, that’s a good question that deserves a thoughtful answer. Instead I’ll say: What is a “flame” but a dream deferred? I think if I could have any dream come true, I would be a centaur-pony, with blue shimmery lustery hair. Also, it is my goal to make “shimmery” and “lustery,” which Microsoft Word doesn’t seem to recognize as words, words. They will be my “pompatus.”

About the Author:

John Leary was built to run heedlessly through the gumdrops.