by Emily Stone
Oh, God. This is so good. This feels so right. I am breathless.
I have only ever written about infatuation. Now I have a cat. I had to disentangle myself from her, all of us in bed together, to write this.
I first met you on Amazon Prime, jetlagged and longing, my partner sleeping in the next room. You were Kevin Bacon on horseback in a series pilot without a series, getting at some kind of elusive, disjunctive truth. Digital editing keeping you in sharp focus while everything was soft behind you, digital distribution making this kind of ruminative ironic project possible on a television screen. As a character, you were every possible combination of person and fantasy, of interpretation and adaptation, a memory of a review essay about intertextual imaginings of you in the New Yorker. From the first time I met you, you were a palimpsest of other people’s projections, Chris Kraus’s epistolary novel of ricocheting between New York and LA as an independent filmmaker in the 1990s superimposed over Ben Lerner’s Marfa, a “weird meditative lyric” cannibalizing its own influences. Time, place, and critical context shifted, the game continuing. When I saw the new paperback, Kraus’s original novel reissued by the press run by her ex-husband, in an art bookshop in East London, I felt for the first time in a long time that I could participate.
Is it possible that I was supposed to vote for you on Amazon, to say that I wanted to see more? Did I have some kind of weird power after all, deciding whether the series would ever be made?
Back at my hotel, where I rediscovered that luxury of being by myself, where I had been upgraded to a suite with a table and chairs and a couch running the length of the room in sweatpants motif, I gave my silent consent. I agreed to enact Chris Kraus’s project. For Chris, too, the counterpoint of this and every story was Guatemala. I discovered longing there, and so writing. I met my first Dick there, playing with the name. That was 2001. He was an Air Force pilot. He was a Republican. I wonder if he survived the Bush years. I wonder now what he has to do, if anything, with Donald Trump. I was in London for a photography course, a course on visual culture and Instagram and competing and finding an audience. In one or two interstitial moments, my classmates asked me, relic of a time when the internet was about text and not image, for writing advice. “Why bother?” is advice I really have given, not meaning to be ungenerous. “Who’s listening?” This time I said, try writing for an audience, even if it’s private, to help you decide which choices to make. Was I inspired by you? I don’t even know you.
At the end of 2016, I woke up in this same light, unable to distinguish between my partner’s breathing and the sounds of a snow shovel hitting the pavement outside our window, outside our lives. That is true. That is private. This morning, I woke up wondering if I should cultivate an audience on Instagram, colleagues on LinkedIn, and friends on Facebook. What is Twitter for? My professional life is like my personal life. I want to be alone, so I don’t write, then others don’t write, and I feel lonely. As an author previously published here, I have been invited to write about my work on the blog. I have wanted to participate.
How to write? I said I let the connections, the links, build up. The perfect time to write is when I see enough connections to put something together, before I see so many that I’m worked up into a frenzy. Last term, one of my own students, a college freshman, pointed out that, speaking from experience as an individual with bipolar disorder, seeing connections between ourselves and everything we encounter is a hallmark both of clinical mania and of the first-person essay. This student, I came to understand, was unsatisfied, both in life and in my class. I sympathized deeply, on both counts, but I kept my distance in the hopes that such an experience could be a private, personal, independent one for my student.
There is a sunset clause on this letter, or a sunrise clause. I have to be finished by the time my partner gets up to go to work. Because I have to get back to my bourgeois life. Goodbye, Dick. I loved your solitude before I ever met you. I have always loved your chest exposed to the sun, your memories of your childhood in the English Midlands, your house at the end of a desert dirt road. I sincerely apologize for all invasions of your privacy.
Emily Stone is very proud to have published her first “literary” piece here on AGNI Online in 2008, and her work has since appeared in Tin House, Fourth Genre, and The North American Review, and been included among the notable entries in The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. She teaches expository writing at NYU and maintains the website Chocolate in Context.