She’s A Talker

Neil Goldberg

Artist Neil Goldberg uses a collection of thousands of index cards onto which he's obsessively jotted observations, reflections, and ideas to prompt conversations with some of his favorite New York artists, writers, performers, and beyond.

Introducing SHE'S A TALKER
Trailer 2 min 16 sec

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Songwriter Stephin Merritt talks about bridges and key changes. ABOUT THE GUEST Stephin Merritt is a singer-songwriter who has released more than a dozen albums with his band the Magnetic Fields, along with albums from the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes and the Gothic Archies. He’s also composed music for movies (Pieces of April, Eban and Charley) and stage (Coraline, The Orphan of Zhao, Peach Blossom Fan) and was the subject of the documentary Strange Powers. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Intern: Emme Zhou Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION STEPHIN: Should we do a slate? NEIL: Yeah, sure. I'll just clap. Neil, talking to Stephin Merritt whose work he has adored since whenever the Faraway Bus came out. STEPHIN: Wayward. NEIL: Wayward Bus. There's a faraway. Where does faraway fit in that? I know there's something. STEPHIN: I don't know. I have a large catalog. NEIL: Yeah, I've heard. Word on the street. But it is true, I have just so profoundly loved your work since way back then. STEPHIN: Thank you. I'm thirsty. It's hot in here because I've turned the air conditioner off for audio. NEIL: I appreciate that. STEPHIN: I will be doing product placement for Mineragua Sparkling Water again and again. NEIL: Mineragua sounds like it could be a symptom. I'm sorry, I can't have a podcast today. I have Mineragua. I feel a little bit refreshed just looking at the label. Do you mind my asking, before we got on online, you were mentioning that you had COVID and you are experiencing brain fog. Can you describe what that feels like? STEPHIN: Well, it feels like writer's block and an inability to organize anything. I mean, everybody, pretty much... A lot of people have writer's block, but I have really weird writer's block. I agreed to write an article about ELO for a book someone is doing about the albums that changed my life. And I tried to write about ELO out of the blue. I just had to write 1000 words. I happened to have already written 1000 words on ELO out of the blue in junior high school, so it should not be a problem. But it took me six weeks and I eventually gave up. I just couldn't do it. STEPHIN: At the risk of interviewing you, in your background you have what seems to be a painting studio with a television on it, on the desk. Do you paint the television? STEPHIN: When I was in film school I filmed the television all the time. It's a really good source of images. NEIL: I don't paint, my studio mate does, so those are her paintings. Then the TV, I've got asked to do a project where I'm reviewing some work I did back in the mid 90s and reflect on it, so I broke out the old CRT and I've been pulling a Stephin Merritt in film school, I've been filming the TV set. Which is a very familiar, old feeling because I used to do that a bit too. STEPHIN: Everything looks better if you record it onto more than one medium. NEIL: You mean if there's like a generation loss? STEPHIN: Yes. Well, two generation losses of different kinds so that they have a sort of moire pattern in between them, so that you got the grain of the film and the scan lines of the video distorting each other. It makes everything prettier. NEIL: I love that. It's almost like wearing a plaid tie and a striped shirt, but the plaid tie is translucent or something like that. STEPHIN: Yes. NEIL: I didn't know you went to film school, though. STEPHIN: Yes. I never finished, but I went. NEIL: I remember when you wrote in TimeOut, was that about film? No. Or was it about books? No, it was about music. What the fuck am I talking about? STEPHIN: I reviewed a lot of different things in TimeOut, music, theater, food. I don't think I reviewed any books for TimeOut. Every year, I reviewed the calendars for the following year and the Christmas records, which is the worst job I have ever had. Entailed listening to at least 10, well, I chose 10, so a lot more than 10, Christmas albums. I hate Christmas albums. NEIL: Where are you speaking to me from? STEPHIN: New York City. I have a view of the Empire State Building from my chair. NEIL: Is it a north view, are you looking downtown onto the Empire State Building or uptown? STEPHIN: No. NEIL: Sideways? STEPHIN: You think I'm uptown? Jesus Christ. NEIL: Yeah, sorry. STEPHIN: No, I'm downtown baby. I am looking at the southern angle of the Empire State Building. NEIL: That's beautiful. STEPHIN: Where are you? NEIL: I'm on the lower east side, where I used to be able to actually to see The World Trade Center right out my window, speaking of landmarks. STEPHIN: I hope you were not able to see it burning. NEIL: Yeah, I did see it burning. Did you? STEPHIN: I saw it burning, but not from my room. NEIL: It is a different thing. STEPHIN: I would have been very upset. I mean, I was very upset. No, I saw it from my roof with binoculars, an experience I'm glad to never repeat. I now have a phobia of binoculars. NEIL: Because of that? STEPHIN: Yeah. NEIL: Some entomologist is really loving that they have, on the tip of their tongue, the scientific name for the phobia of binoculars. I've never heard that before, though. STEPHIN: Diocularaphobia, or something. NEIL: Also, there's something about a phobia is sort of in a meta relationship to something, which binoculars are in relationship to the thing being seen, so it's like... I don't know. There's something very complex going on. I'm detecting a kind of like lens theme happening. You spotted the TV set, film school, the filming of one thing with another thing, binoculars. What's going on? STEPHIN: Sometimes when suddenly a theme occurs to one it's always been there in everything and you just grabbed onto it as a filter. NEIL: Can I ask, when people don't know you, do you have a succinct way that you describe what it is you do? STEPHIN: I'm a songwriter not aligned to any particular genre. My preferred genre is variety. And I recently realized that my favorite genre is variety because I grew up on AM radio, and that was what AM radio was like. It would be Frank Sinatra followed by Black Sabbath. NEIL: That's so beautiful. I love it as a genre. I often say my favorite TV show is the menu, and I have spent vast amounts of time pretty contentedly looking through the selection of things to watch on the Netflix menu, whatever, and then kind of called it a night. STEPHIN: Reading the TV guide listings was almost always more entertaining than watching television. NEIL: It was a precursor to the genre variety. STEPHIN: Yes. Also, I'm not a good cook, but I do collect bento boxes and I make bento for lunch for myself. NEIL: Bentos are like a structure for variety. STEPHIN: Yes. NEIL: Shall we try some cards? But if anything doesn't speak to you just say pass or whatever. STEPHIN: No, I'll say brain fog. NEIL: Brain fog. Yeah. But so the first card says certain art ideas, when you come back to them or like a cup of coffee you left out on the counter. STEPHIN: I don't drink coffee, so I don't know what it's like when you leave coffee out on the counter. But I suppose if you have milk in it, the milk is probably curdled. NEIL: It's gotten cold. STEPHIN: What about iced coffee? Can you make iced coffee out of coffee that is simply gone cold or does it now taste bad? NEIL: I have very specific requirements around the iced coffee. I need for it to be designated from the start as iced coffee. STEPHIN: I'm a tea drinker and tea doesn't work that way at all. You can just heat it up again and it's fine. NEIL: Well, what's it like for you? How do you return to something that's in process, the cup of coffee that's been put down, and follow through on it maybe even after the initial heat, I'm really pushing the metaphor, has gone? STEPHIN: If I don't find what I worked on yesterday to be inspiring, I don't work on it again. I guess I don't work on things where the initial heat has dissipated. Red says I dump out the coffee. Or if I don't dump out the coffee, what I'm more likely to do is find something fun in it, cross out everything else, copy that to another page, and just go with the fact that Wallaby turned out to rhyme with. NEIL: Implicit in that is the idea that your working style involves pushing through to a type of finish. STEPHIN: Well, the most recent Magnetic Fields album was called Quickies. And by the standards of, say, The Cure, none of the songs on Quickies are finished because they're all under two minutes 20 seconds long. And I think that the two minutes 20 seconds is actually made that long by the guitarist tacking on an intro and outro that isn't a part of the song. STEPHIN: Everything is under two minutes long and all of the songs are a maximum of two parts, they don't have middle eights or anything, and they end as soon as they can. They don't have vamps at the end and that sort of thing. So there's that kind of finished/unfinished, but also I usually have a pretty wide variety of lengths of song on a given record. 69 Love Songs goes from 15 seconds to five minutes. So a song is really finished when I say it's finished. STEPHIN: I guess the recording is what's going to sound under cooked or not under cooked, not so much the song itself. I don't think I've ever left in a really stupid line in a song just because I can't think of something else. I don't know. Maybe on... I was going to say maybe on my first album, but then I was a perfectionist on my first album, so no, probably not. NEIL: Have you become less of a perfectionist with time? STEPHIN: I think every artist becomes less of a perfectionist with time. Especially Mondrian, who got bored. He got bored quite rightly. NEIL: Is there any correlation between a duration of time that it takes to, let's say, "finish" a song and the duration of the song itself, or can it take a really long time to do a short song? STEPHIN: There's a number of songs on Quickies that have been sitting in notebooks for decades unfinished, and they were finished by, sometimes, my simply looking at them and saying, "Oh, they're finished," and other times by my saying, "Well, if I just subtract this part, then it'll be finished." So I take songs that were really awful because the verse was so terrible, but the chorus was great, just play the chorus, and the song is done. NEIL: That is wisdom. STEPHIN: Finish by subtracting. NEIL: Yeah. Hello. One of the cards I hadn't thought of, but that I remember now, is I hate bridges in music generally. How do you feel about bridges? STEPHIN: I'm trying to think of one that I love. Here's a bridge that I love. In the ABBA song, Hole In Your Soul, it's a hard rock song, the closest ABBA could conceivably come to being hardcore. And then there's a bridge and the bridge is completely different. No drums, everything drops out, and you hear a beautiful synthesizer and an almost operatic tone of voice. You really hear Agnetha doing her Connie Francis imitation, because Connie Francis was her favorite singer, and then it goes out of that into a shrill, very high note, and you can't believe she can sustain this note, as the hardcore comes rushing back. And the bridge has actually done what bridges are supposed to do, which is give you something completely different to listen to for 10 seconds as an excuse to play the chorus a fourth and fifth time. That's the only bridge I can think of that really justifies the existence of bridges. NEIL: I feel like we're comrades on that. Because it always seems to me the bridge is serving a purpose outside itself. You know what I mean? STEPHIN: Generally the purpose of the bridge is to make the song longer than two minutes and 50 seconds, which is the length that singles used to have as a maximum in the heyday of the seven inch single. Before Bohemian Rhapsody you were never going to get a song on the radio if it was more than two minutes and 50 seconds long, unless it was going to be on FM radio and who cares about FM radio? So yeah, bridges are a purely commercial thing. Art songs never have bridges and folk songs never have bridges. NEIL: I feel so vindicated. What about key changes? I feel like often there can be a type of hubris in a key change. STEPHIN: The Barry Manilow problem is that once you're tired of the chorus, he goes up one half step and plays the same exact chorus all over again in identical arrangement, except that it's one half step up. And sometimes that pesky Barry Manilow does it again, more than one. NEIL: Can't Smile Without You. STEPHIN: Can't Smile Without You, yes. I actually love Barry Manilow's voice, but the key change habit drives me nuts. NEIL: You're someone who, if there's a key change in your music, I am 100% all in. Nothing is coming to mind. I know there is one. There's got to be. STEPHIN: I always make sure that if I really hate something, I make sure that I put it into my music. So I agree that there must be an unnecessary modulation somewhere, I just can't think of where it is. NEIL: Perhaps we'll call this episode, unnecessary modulation. Next card. STEPHIN: Maybe gratuitous. Gratuitous modulation. NEIL: Gratuitous modulation. See now gratuitous bridge is almost redundant, right? STEPHIN: Yes, it's redundant. NEIL: We've determined. STEPHIN: Except in Hole In Your Soul, where the bridge is at least half the point of the song. NEIL: I can't wait to hear it. And I should apologize, every now and then I'm speaking over you just because there's a little delay in my earphones. STEPHIN: That's fine. NEIL: Apologies if that's confusing to you. STEPHIN: A friend of mine hates being interrupted. That's her problem. She's miserable. She thinks everyone disrespects her. Not at all, it's the way everyone speaks. She just has a pet peeve that she should get over. NEIL: It's interesting, so I teach and I had this student who was amazing, but was completely... She was wild, and she was also a just insane interrupter of other people in the class, but- STEPHIN: Classrooms are not conversations, and if the other person is trying to learn something from you, then her interrupting them, interrupting a question in particular, is much ruder than it would be in an ordinary conversation. NEIL: Great point. And so I said, "How would you like to be interrupted?" And she said, "I love being interrupted." And I really believed her. It wasn't just like she was okay with it, she loved it. STEPHIN: I also love being interrupted. I'm all in favor of that. However, it's not really her decision to make if this is a hierarchical class. I don't know. Was it a lecture or a seminar? It makes a difference. NEIL: Studio art class. I mean, that's very contested hierarchy there. STEPHIN: If she did it all the time, it's just annoying. NEIL: And she did indeed. She was a great student, though. Sondheim related card. The song Ladies Who Lunch, I really get stopped on the line, aren't they a gem? And I know you're a stickler for grammar, and I don't know if this is a grammatical error or what it is, or it's just a choice. But how do you feel about that? Here's to the ladies who lunch, aren't they a gem? STEPHIN: I'm failing to see what you're pointing out as a grammatical error. NEIL: Aren't they gems? Unless ladies who lunch is singular. STEPHIN: They collectively. Aren't they a circus? Aren't they a gem? Aren't they a peach? NEIL: Aren't they a peach. Aren't they peaches. You don't have a problem with it. See, aren't they a circus I would be okay with because that a circus is a collection of... I guess a gem is a collection of what? STEPHIN: Carbon atoms. NEIL: So you're okay. That was in Sondheim's notebook, aren't they a collection of- STEPHIN: Carbon atom. More than on carbon atom. A gem, in fact. NEIL: All right, you've solved it. We're done in terms of my issues with that song. Next card.   STEPHIN: All of my Sondheim quibbles are from West Side Story, but I don't really want to air them. NEIL: I have a lot of quibbles with Sondheim. Can I just go there? Sorry Stephen Sondheim, if you're a listener of She's A Talker. I don't emotionally trust his work. So much of it is about relationships, but the way he talks about it, it feels very outsider speaking as an insider. It doesn't ring true, maybe, is all I'm saying. STEPHIN: Do Rodgers and Hammerstein ring true? Do you find Flower Drum Song to be a photorealist masterpiece? Not a hint? NEIL: I guess I am talking to the wrong person. But is it claiming to be? Or maybe it's in the uncanny valley of sentiment. Meaning it's trying to represent- STEPHIN: And then it's not realistic enough for you. NEIL: Exactly. I don't go into Rodgers and Hammerstein song, at least in this historical period, expecting that. Sondheim represents himself as offering this kind of acute nuanced insight into the dynamics of relationship. Or am I wrong? STEPHIN: I don't want to speak for him. I certainly don't present myself as offering a particularly subtle or nuanced insight into relationships. NEIL: But, I'm going to interrupt, that's the paradox. STEPHIN: My work is more about other work than it is about portraying reality. And you could say, I'm not sure that Sondheim would be comfortable with it, but you could say that Sondheim's work is more about theater and music than it is about whether Bobby is going to get married. STEPHIN: I always say that the kind of plot that I hate boils down to, will the boring straight people fuck each other? And it is. Two thirds of the plots in the world are, will the boring straight people fuck each other? Which is why gay cinema should not emulate straight cinema. NEIL: Not to mention gay life. STEPHIN: Gay life. NEIL: The thing I was going to say about your work is there's a paradox, for me at least, which is I've heard you say that you don't, and you've just said it, that you're not aiming for a certain type of realism, for lack of a better word, but paradoxically it inadvertently achieves it one way or the other, for me at least. Emotional- STEPHIN: Realism. NEIL: Emotional realism, absolutely. STEPHIN: Psychological realism, in fact. NEIL: Indeed. Verily. STEPHIN: I'm not a fan of psychological realism as a genre, so I don't delve. NEIL: You may be getting in through the back door, as it were, speaking of queer. STEPHIN: Hubba hubba. NEIL: Dog's name? STEPHIN: What's the next card? NEIL: This one's about animals, and I know you're a dog person. What are your pups' names? STEPHIN: Edgar and Agatha. They are not named after the mystery novel prizes, they're named after the people the mystery novel prizes are named after, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie, because they were from mysterious origins. NEIL: Where are they from? Or it's mysterious. STEPHIN: They were found rooting through garbage in Atlanta, Georgia. NEIL: Beautiful origin story. STEPHIN: They should probably have been named after some realist authors like Zola and Tolstoy, or something. NEIL: We could talk more about that, but I'll say that my cat's origin story, and Beverly is the mascot of the podcast, was found hiding in the wheel-well of a car in Brooklyn as a little kitten. She's a survivor. But this card says, the way an animal's affection and vulnerability are connected. STEPHIN: Is what? NEIL: It's just an observation, I guess. That, at least for cats, they'll do things like they'll slow blink, which is a way of making themselves vulnerable, which apparently is a way of, according to the interpreters of cat behavior, it's a way of expressing affection for you. STEPHIN: Like putting your head down is a way of being lower and therefore more vulnerable. NEIL: Yeah. STEPHIN: Like kneeling before the queen to be knighted. She could decapitate you, but she doesn't. She symbolically decapitates you in order to show that you are loyal enough to present your neck for decapitation by the queen. NEIL: Is that what that's about? STEPHIN: Yes. NEIL: How does that live with Edgar and Agatha? STEPHIN: They put their heads down, I don't decapitate them, we live happily. NEIL: All right, one more card. The sound of turning off an NPR story mid-sentence always makes me feel like I'm in a movie. Like, let's say I have to get out of the apartment, but I'm listening to NPR and there's a news story and I turn it off, suddenly I'm like, I'm in a movie. No? Yes? STEPHIN: This is Nina Totenberg reporting on the zombie massacres happening in Lebanon today. We have the BBC correspondent. Are you there? Are you there? I can't quite hear you. Well, we'll have to get back to Lebanon. Now, we go... Yes, sounds like you're in a movie. NEIL: To me, it does. Just when I turn it off in the middle of a sentence, do you have that experience? STEPHIN: I am so unlikely to turn anything off in the middle of a sentence that I would have to say non-applicable. NEIL: Is that because you're a completist or is it because... What's that about? STEPHIN: I'm sure it's a mental illness of some kind, but although I'm willing to interrupt people who are having a conversation with me, I'm less willing to interrupt people who are mechanical reproductions, I guess. NEIL: Kind of reminds me of someone I know, came as a child from Romania for the fall of communism, and she saw Tony the Tiger on TV saying, "Buy Frosted Flakes, they're great." And then she went to the store with her mom and she became desperate, telling her mom, "We have to get the Frosted Flakes." She didn't realize that someone on TV telling her to get something, it's actually optional. Could it be that? STEPHIN: What a sad story. NEIL: She's doing okay now. STEPHIN: It's probably more that I want to hear the end of the sentence. NEIL: So the unit is the sentence. STEPHIN: It's not like I wait until the end of the show to turn it off or anything. NEIL: Got it. All right, well, last question. When current circumstances, however you understand them, COVID, quarantine, social distancing, are over, what is it that you're looking forward to, if anything? STEPHIN: BEAR WEEK!  

E

Mar 14

39 min 17 sec

Artist Oscar René Cornejo talks about burning his home down as a child and other early artistic endeavors. Neil talks about the erotics of Amazon checkout. ABOUT THE GUEST Oscar René Cornejo earned an MFA from Yale School of Art, a BFA from the Cooper Union, and was a recipient of the J. William Fulbright Scholarship for research in El Salvador. In 2004, he cofounded the Latin American Community Art Project (LA CAPacidad), where for seven years he directed summer artist residencies to promote intercultural awareness through community art education. He is a founding member of Junte, an artist project based in Adjuntas, a town in the mountains of southern Puerto Rico. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions, including To look at the sea is to become what one is, at Radiator Gallery, Queens International 2018: Volumes, at The Queens Museum, White Flag, at Princeton University; and Parliament of Owls, Diverseworks, Houston, TX. Cornejo has completed residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where he is a Fresco Instructor, and at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2016. He currently teaches at the Cooper Union. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: I'm so happy to have with me on SHE'S A TALKER, Oscar Rene Cornejo. I fear my pronunciation probably leaves something to be desired. OSCAR: No worries. It sounds good. You can't, unless you want to start rolling your R's that's another thing, but it sounds pretty good to me. NEIL: Okay. Well, I can roll an R but I think this is like a little metaphor for how I can go through life. It's like, I'd rather not try and then not be accountable for having tried, in terms of the rolling the R's, is a metaphor for me. OSCAR: They say that some, even though I do roll my R's, sometimes my parents tell me I exaggerate the rolling. NEIL: What do you think that's about? OSCAR: I don't know what it is. Maybe it's growing up and teaching others to roll the R. And so you backlog some self consciousness in the back of your head and you [inaudible 00:01:02] . And I have no idea, but it's like, "Oh, okay. That's a little extra, but it's fine." It's like, "All right. Well, I'm always caught in between where I'm like, English is my second language here. And then I visit El Salvador and then Spanish becomes my second language over there. I'm stuck in between. NEIL: Do you have anything that you would consider your first language? OSCAR: Yeah, I guess just loving to manipulate material. Just fucking with shit since did one. I remember, I don't know what age I was, but they called me ranch burner back in El Salvador. Because I was always tinkering with things. And that led me to burn a ranch down when I was a small child. NEIL: What is a ranch? A whole house? OSCAR: There was apparently an original ranch burner in El Salvador and my parents came over. I don't know if it was four or five, and I burned an apartment down and only left everyone with the clothes on their back. NEIL: Wow! OSCAR: They got wind of it in El Salvador. And apparently when I burned it down, was the week that the original ranch burner passed away. And so I inherited, Quemar Rancho, is what they called me, ranch burner. NEIL: Wow! And where was the apartment that you burned down? OSCAR: Houston, Texas. So it was an apartment unit, I think on the second floor they say. NEIL: And how did you burn it down? You were how old? OSCAR: I don't know, like four or five. I do have a memory of lighting something on fire, like in a closet, on a shiny surface. It was like the dry clean plastic that you cover your clothes. And I think the plastic caught on fire and it turned into liquid flame or something. And it got out of hand. NEIL: Do you put this on your art resume by the way? OSCAR: No, but it used to be my Instagram profile, ranch burner, in Spanish. Like what the hell is Quemar Rancho? Well, it's Quemar Rancho. NEIL: I was expecting it was your first enchantment with materiality, the translucence of the dry cleaning bag. And do you need it to do an intervention on it by way of a match? OSCAR: Yeah. Well, before that there was a draw towards the flame and I would set up stuff and then burn them down. I guess maybe I was a little pyromaniac or something, but I was always fiddling with things. NEIL: How do you succinctly describe to someone who doesn't know you, what it is you do? We're talking like you have an elevator ride with them. OSCAR: That's a tough one. I guess I reflect on the histories that I come from, that at a young age I had no idea that I was a part of. And so to make visible the history of my immediate family and community through objects. I feel that growing up my community and my family had a lot of PTSD due to the civil war conflict. They absorbed and internalized a lot of violence and were displaced. And so where do those energies go? And so I tried to, in my head, reconcile those energies in the types of objects that I'm making. So the objects become, not necessarily a MacGuffin. You have a conversation around the object, but it's something where you start project and amplify things that are considered whispers or not important. NEIL: Mm-hmm (affirmative). OSCAR: And so it becomes a speaking piece, something to a screen in order to project light onto and see what shadows have been cast onto that screen. NEIL: How would your parents describe what it is you do to their friends? OSCAR: They probably have no... They're like, "Oh, he's obsessed in working with kids in villages somewhere, like missionary work. Not that it's futile, you should just get a real job. NEIL: Can you just for our listeners, describe the work that you're talking about, that they would say he's a missionary. OSCAR: I spent a lot of time, when I was still an undergrad, I felt the closing door or light of losing that community and facilities. And while I was, I think towards the end of sophomore year into my junior year of undergrad, I started inviting my peers and friends of my peers down South to central America, offered them free studio space, but they had to teach two to three days out of the week what they knew, to the community.                 And so it was this mutual cultural exchange. It was a way to put our theories into practice and to anchor some of our ideas around some of the injustices that we thought were going on in the world. And then hitting hard reality too, with trying to do idealistic things in like a place with no running water, for instance. How do you run silkscreen workshops for that? How do we basically apply these idealistic notions of what a community should be developed when there's these conditions present? Like people living on dirt floors, or no running water, but they still should be exposed to culture and not just be treated as a workforce thing. NEIL: Right. OSCAR: So, yeah, that's the missionary work. NEIL: And your parents don't like that you do this work or what did they say about it? OSCAR: I know you mean well, but these people don't care kind of thing. You need to take care of yourself because it's always about the struggle and surviving and taking care of the family. NEIL: In their eyes? OSCAR: Yeah. It's like, "Why do you care so much about these other people?" Kind of thing. And I was like, "Well, that's exactly why. Because you're saying that." Because someone said that about you when you were displaced immigrant fleeing death squads in El Salvador and you're being dismissed as criminals or cockroaches in a new society. And so that's exactly why I do it. They don't really know, I guess the resume and what that means. They don't know Cooper union or... I don't want to start listing names. But Things that- NEIL: I'll do that for you at the beginning. OSCAR: No. Other people, their parents would be very proud. And for me they're like, "What about being a mechanic?" Which I don't mind, I would love to fix cars and pay bills that way. But they just want something that they feel that it's stable and it's not fleeting. I guess they'll stop thinking that way if I get a tenure track position or something. NEIL: There we go. Which if there's any justice, which there isn't, but if there were, and maybe there will be, you would have. It sounds like your parents' histories really informed the themes in your work. Have they informed the making of the objects, the form of the objects? OSCAR: I don't know something about just seeing my mom always cooking and my dad always working in constr... Working with their hands, their hands were always manipulating things. And I think I just tried to copy them. And then as I got old enough, I ended up joining them. I would clean houses with my mom and, or being assistant to my dad on construction sites.                 I didn't see it immediately. It became very evident much later, I would say even into my early thirties, when I started to be very over scrutinizing every decision I was making, formal decisions. Then I started seeing fabrics, draped fabrics. Thinking about changing beds and pillows or washing clothes with my mom. And then carpentry. Even before carpentry, I got into woodcuts a lot, carving wood to make images. And so that was the close connection that I had with my dad, as far using knives and tools and manipulating wood that eventually evolved into carpentry and fresco, which I feel share a relationship to the construction site. Working with plaster and covering surfaces. That instead of using cement, you're using plaster, but there's an [inaudible 00:10:42] affinity, it's physics and it's chemistry that made it easy for me to be drawn to those mediums as an artist, just the visual vernacular of the construction site starts to come into the way I make decisions in the studio. Yeah. NEIL: If your parents were looking at, let's say an object that you made, how would they describe that? OSCAR: I had an installation at the Queens Museum, and I think that my mom would respond to the fabrics, the naturally dyed cotton fabrics. She would associate them to altars. And my dad would respond to the material, the construction, like joints and carpentry and chalk lines and tar. He would respond to the materiality, that it's being used in a fine art setting, but they could easily translate to finishing the surface of a countertop or cutting a surface of a wall or cutting into and repairing a broken window by putting new two by four studs. And so he would respond to it in a construction material manner. NEIL: Deep. Did any of them- OSCAR: What's a right angle. What's not. It's like, "Oh, that's not meeting," and stuff. NEIL: Do you get critiques about your construction skills? OSCAR: Oh yeah. It's still a little wonky. NEIL: That's what they would say. I would say your work is often strategically wonky. Wouldn't you say? OSCAR: Yeah. NEIL: If I looked at, not consistently, but if I see something that isn't a good right angle, I feel deep trust that that is significant. Is there ever any joking about like, let's set this on fire, burn down the ranch. OSCAR: Personally, I do have a fantasy of a body of work in a certain timeframe to, instead of keep paying storage on it. Like burn all that series of work and take the ash as pigment and a one monochrome painting. So I've consolidated and condensed the entire body work into one piece. NEIL: And would you call it... How do you say ranch burner? OSCAR: Quemar Rancho's dream or requiem or something. I don't know. I don't know why. NEIL: Not to put titles on your piece, but I could talk about this forever, but shall we, Oscar, move to some cards? OSCAR: Yeah, sure. NEIL: First card is, the uncanniness of bird songs. Not just the sound of them, which can sound so electronic, but how the sound feels disconnected from the movement of the bird's mouth. OSCAR: I have a bird myself. I have a parrot. NEIL: What's your parrot's name? OSCAR: Her name is Pepper. She's charcoal, peppery and has a bright red tail like a red pepper, but she's also sassy and spicy in character. So it's just like pepper all over. Uncanniness of bird songs. Yeah, it's like really weird to see this static beak. You usually associate lips and you think that lips and the tongue is super important to articulate the sounds, but their beak is just static and just opening and shutting and they have a stiff tongue.                 And so that for me is so super weird. And especially with birds that speak, right? NEIL: Right. OSCAR: How did you just say that word without lips and very stiff tongue? NEIL: Did you ever say that on a date? OSCAR: No, I think they bring it up. Especially parrot tongues, it looks like the head of a penis. NEIL: Oh, really. OSCAR: Yeah. It's weird. NEIL: Wow! Sexy. OSCAR: Yeah. They're like, ugh. But I think that the way it operates is that they have amazing muscles in their trachea. And so their tubes or their trachea is so sophisticated that it does all that movement for them to create the sound of words. Or even like a chainsaw. NEIL: Yeah. OSCAR: It's so weird. NEIL: You've named something though, so the uncanniness is about the lack of lips, primarily, and also the stiff tongue, which I haven't observed before. But now that you say it, yeah, I could see that. OSCAR: I think that's what it is. It's kind of opening and shutting that beak and these sophisticated sounds are coming out of it. Like it's being let loose. It's being let loose, like prerecorded. NEIL: Right. OSCAR: But it's this kind of internal thing that you're not seeing that's moving in such a complicated way, that's manipulating those sound waves that create such a beautiful thing. NEIL: I love it. It just sounds other worldly. It's like an electronic, like I said, it has an electronic quality to it or something. OSCAR: My parrot sounds like a robot or a voicemail. Usually there's parrots that sound phonetically like their masters or their owners or whatever you want to call it, their companions. But mine sounds like a terminator. It's like, "Hello Oscar," like, "Stop it, stop it." And they pick up electrical sounds easily. Those are first things that she picks up, are those electrical sounds. And I'm sure there's other things on higher frequencies that we're not even catching or lower frequencies. That I think it is, I'm wondering how it sounds to a bird. It sounds electronic to us because of the type of limited hearing that we have, but to birds could sound completely, I don't know, godly. NEIL: Right. OSCAR: They also have ultraviolet, like I know parents have ultraviolet vision. They can see [inaudible 00:17:29]. Right? And so certain flowers look like landing strips and we just see a little flower. NEIL: Oh God. I spend so much time thinking about what things look like to animals, especially my cat. But just generally it's the eternal question. Because cats, we have our cat, Beverly. He just spends so much time looking, and so you spend a lot of time looking at them looking, and I'm just wondering like, what is it?                 And you know that they have different color spectrum, as you say, are available, or in the case of predator animals, I know they have different contrast or reduce variation in color as a way to target and focus their attention. So I have a pet that prays on your pet. How do you feel about that? OSCAR: I'm always flirting... We were talking about, when things go out there, there's always that danger. Like God, my roommates, I'm enlightened at the moment, and my roommates have two cats at this farm house and one's definitely a killer. And it's not like you want to prevent anyone from doing what they got to do, but it's like you just got to monitor and be very mindful. I haven't been put in a position of a [inaudible 00:18:49] cat where you see those memes where the parrot is hanging out with the cat or it's on top off the cat and they're cuddling.                 But there's always that sense of danger in the back of my head, because just a cat scratch can kill a bird, just the bacteria in its claws. NEIL: Yeah. I never trust those videos of the... It's such a trope in internet culture in generally this idea of animals getting along. And I think I read something about that in certain interpretations of the story of the garden of Eden. It's that before the fall there was no predation. But whenever I see, yeah, the cat snugging with the parrot, it's like, "Well, what comes next? OSCAR: Yeah. Well, and that's where the hard wired nature of the animal. Like you can socialize a parrot but it's still wild. It's not domesticated like dogs. NEIL: Right. OSCAR: And they even say that with cats, if the cat's were just- NEIL: Exactly. OSCAR: 20 pounds larger, they will totally kill their owners. NEIL: I hear that. Totally. OSCAR: They're like,"You didn't feed me, you got to feed me. All right?" NEIL: Yeah. Next card. How everything changes at the cart stage of an online transaction, like in sex when you say, "I'm close." OSCAR: I'm more curious what you have to say about it. NEIL: All right. So this is something I had the other day, I'm just going to talk about Amazon here, speaking of birds. So when you're browsing on Amazon, it's a guilty thing I try not to do. But when you're browsing on Amazon, there's a kind of casualness. It's like, this is what other people say. You might also like this, click here. And then you put it in your cart, and okay, it's in your cart and maybe you go look at something else you need. But then I find, once you hit the cart button, everything gets really fucking intense. It's like, "Do you want to buy it in one click? "Where do you want to send it?" And it just reminds me of like, okay, that's like in sex when you go from just fooling around to, okay- OSCAR: That moment. NEIL: I'm going to cum, or I'm getting close. Do you feel that at all? OSCAR: Yeah. I think, I think when you started sharing your relationship to that, it is being like overly self aware and not being... When you're shopping, you're kind of swept off your feet. You're shopping, you're only gazing, you're going through, you're not over analyzing. And if you are over analyzing, it's like really to legitimize your buy, it's like [crosstalk 00:21:39] in the reviews and all that. But it's still part of the courting, the dancing of that final [inaudible 00:21:45], that final click. And I feel like going to the cart is somehow replaying all the foreplay and then putting up the possibility of criticizing, "Oh, I did that wrong." Or I took too long. It's like, "Do I really need to buy all this stuff?" It's like you're overthinking it. And it's funny you say that because you're kind of reliving your life right before you cum.                 And for some people, they say when you cum, [inaudible 00:22:20], that it's a little death. NEIL: Oh right. OSCAR: Yeah. NEIL: [inaudible 00:22:26]. OSCAR: Yeah. And so I think that the cart or the clicking is like seeing a little portrait of how you lived your life in that shopping cycle. And it's like, "Do you really need that?" When it just started with a casual, like, Oh, and then being captivated and seduced by the product, and you courting it and being coy and all that stuff. And then you come to the finish line, it's like, "Oh, was it all worth it?" NEIL: Oh my God. I love it. I love it. It's also a little different for me. I think this also speaks to, well, it speaks to a lot of things, but I find, like in sex, not to go too deep into it. There can be a certain part of me that's like, "Okay, this is so intense. Let's just get this over with.' So with shopping, it can also be like, "Let's just resolve this. Let's just-" OSCAR: Well, they even add more stuff. It's like, "Is this a one time buy? Is this a 12 week recurring buy?" Or, "We do have warranty on it. And if you want one its used at 30 days.", How committed are you into this [crosstalk 00:23:37] or this relationship? NEIL: Right. It's almost like that, you know that meatloaf song, I'm going to date myself like paradise by the dashboard light. OSCAR: Oh my God, no. NEIL: Do you know that song? OSCAR: I've probably heard it. I just don't know it by title. NEIL: Basically, it's a fucked up song, but the gist of it is he wants to have sex. His partner wants to get him to commit to marrying him. So there's this negotiation of, he's saying, "Let me sleep on it. I'll give you an answer in the morning." And she's like, "I got to know right now." And so, I think that thing that happens with the ad-ons is like, because you're trying to cum, you're trying to make the purchase, and then they're like, "Yeah, do you want to subscribe? Can we do the subscribe and save?" Because they have you, they have your right before you're about to cum. OSCAR: Yeah. And sometimes, yeah, there's a shame of, of course it's like I definitely don't shy away at it from commitment, but the kind of sincerity, and maybe impulse is a strong word, but the initial seduction or eye contact, the initial moment of connecting and organically following through to then start to rationalize it. Like, what is this? Is this going to be a longterm thing? When you could just be in the present and enjoying the moment. NEIL: But that also is a big part of like, I don't know how this extends to the Amazon shopping cart stage. But so much, I think of the work in a relationship where you're already fully committed is finding your way back to those initial seductions where the pleasure is not knowing, you know what I mean? OSCAR: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). NEIL: It's just in your cart. OSCAR: I think that's romance right there. NEIL: Neoliberalism and feeling virtuous about donating your plasma. I noticed I had COVID as, maybe, no. And as soon as that happened, this is early in the pandemic. It was like, "Well, you get to be a hero by donating your plasma." And there was a type of language around it. I often feel that way about like, to me, blood drives or the height of neoliberalism or walk-a-thons. It's like, "Why should this be something that gets this outsized validation?" Why isn't it just something you do? I don't know. Does that resonate with you at all? OSCAR: Yeah. It's the same... Valentine's day or you show your love by how much you spend. Yeah. It cheapens things. It should be natural for you to want to share your plasma because you're trying to find a cure. But it doesn't mean it should be tied to heroic deeds. But it's not in your nature to supposedly share and care about the other, you're just trying to survive. But if you do this, you're a hero. I start to think in relationship to neoliberalism is that you start to create human emotions and human qualities into commodities. NEIL: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. Yeah. Yeah. OSCAR: Because what they're asking is literally a piece of you and your time, which is precious. And so, what do you have for me, for me to take time out of my day? What do I get out of it? NEIL: Right. And so what they're offering you is the feeling of being a hero rather than whatever you wouldn't- OSCAR: Whatever sells at the moment. If it's xenophobia or nationalism, or whatever's kind of hot at the moment. They'll use something that's very natural and a part of us, but it's been pushed down. It's not practical to evoke those feelings of like, yeah, I am contributing. I guess it's social capital to think that you're courageous and a hero, short of like giving you money.                 And so they're selling you an idea for you to donate instead of it being like, I don't want to say social duty, but your care and love for your people. NEIL: All right. Some closing questions. What is a bad X you take over a good Y? OSCAR: Huh. A bad X over a good Y. I'm going to expose myself here. I'll take a really funny, dumb cartoon over a good independent or supposedly good independent film. Because I'm maybe spending a little bit too much time watching the good independent films for preparing for a syllabus or something, I'll probably take a break and breather for a good bad episode of cartoon network, which I haven't done in a year or something. But now you've reminded me. NEIL: When the specific limitations of quarantine, however you want to describe this current situation around COVID is over, what are you looking forward to? OSCAR: When it's over? NEIL: Yeah. OSCAR: When I drive through New York, I do get nostalgic feeling when people are basically not social distancing, they're not wearing masks. They're like, "Oh my God, you're killing me." But I'm like, "Oh man, I miss just going out to a bar and just meeting with a bunch of friends with the coffee in the background of-" NEIL: Right. OSCAR: Connecting on a social level without the invisible boogeyman. NEIL: Right. So you're having, when I look at those scenes and I think when a lot of people look at them, they're like, "How fucking irresponsible." Like a lot of judgment, a lot of anger. You're secretly not feeling that or not so secretly not feeling that. OSCAR: I do feel that, but then there's this aftertaste of like, "Oh man, it would be nice to just go it all, just to be social in that manner. NEIL: Yeah. OSCAR: But then going back to what is COVID or this situation presenting is presenting a situation to be more nuanced of the different types of way that we are social. For instance, in this, like what we're doing now, it's like another element of... And so that has been amped up like FaceTiming and connecting with people more frequently, that usually it would be related to a zip code if you're not in the city. Like, I probably won't see you. So there is a silver lining of gaining that type of social connection, even though it's mediated through technology that is being lost by just the kind of serendipity of going to a bar and then bumping into someone. Which in New York is I think the great thing about New York. Is walking through space and just meeting someone by chance and like, "Oh, what are you doing here?" And then you grab a coffee or a beer or something. NEIL: Let's say I never liked that kind of stuff. OSCAR: No. NEIL: I'm so relieved not to have that opportunity, but that's me. But on that note, Oscar Rene Cornejo, I try to do a little [crosstalk 00:31:52]. But what about if you were trying to do that thing you were talking about before of like doing a more flamboyant rolling of the R. OSCAR: It'd be like, Oscar Rene Cornejo. Yeah. So there's a little like, okay, that R was a little bit millisecond too long. NEIL: Right. Oh, I love you. I love talking to you. Thank you for making the time. I do feel like this is a model for me of like, God, a hopeful model for how one can exist in the world without physical presence. Thank you for being on SHE'S A TALKER.      

E

Sep 2020

47 min 13 sec

Writer Ray Lipstein describes the melodrama of looking in the mirror.  ABOUT THE GUEST RL (Ray) Lipstein is a writer, editor, and performer who works for The New Yorker, and previously for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and the United Nations. They were elected president of Girls Nation in 2009, on a universal healthcare platform, before leaving mock politics and organized gender. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: I am so happy to have Ray Lipstein with me on a remote version of She's a Talker. Ray, thank you so much for being with me. RAY: It is my pleasure. More than my pleasure. NEIL: What is more than your pleasure? RAY: My pain, I guess. I don't know. NEIL: So you're saying it is painful to be here. RAY: Yeah. It fits somewhere between ennui and delight. It goes backwards. NEIL: There falls the shadow. So we're talking remotely, how are you doing? Whatever that means. We're talking, I think, probably two months into quarantine in New York. RAY: I am holding up well. I rearranged my bedroom last night in a feat of extreme 2:00 AM industriousness and it feels great. It's converted the bed psychologically into a day bed, the new orientation. So I'm excited for my roommate to get back who is with their partner. They're not a Gog. I'm going to send them away again. It's very big news. NEIL: Okay. When someone asks you what you do, how do you succinctly describe to them what it is? RAY: I work at The New Yorker. No further questions. NEIL: Okay. I'll accept that. RAY: No, no, no, don't accept it. Don't accept it. If someone asks me, what do I do, well, first of all, I would say, "Do you mean for a living? What do you mean? And why are you asking?" Those are all first line questions. And if push comes to shove, I say I'm a copy editor at The New Yorker. NEIL: All right. So first card is most photography is melodramatic. By definition, photography is melodramatic because it's the moment, right? It's always the moment. RAY: To preserve a moment is melodramatic. NEIL: Well, I don't know if to preserve it, to present it, to say, okay, here's this flux of life and I am going to take this one moment. Fuck preserving it. And I'm going to offer it. I'm offering you this one moment. Okay. That's the theoretical problem with it, but then I think pragmatically, photographs often look melodramatic just by virtue of something being stopped in the middle of something. So let's say you're looking at a picture from a photo album where your mother is looking into the camera and your father is looking off to the side and you're in the baby carriage holding a rattle. That is melodrama, because all that shit by virtue of being extracted from the flux of time is being given this outsized importance. RAY: It definitely seems like a bit arrogant or presumptuous. I mean, that seems like part of it, right? What you're saying that, to free. Yeah. And to present any moment, any given moment in time, it's something worthy of, as you say, isolating it out of that flux. I associate melodrama with overwrought emotionalism. NEIL: Which I think this has paradoxically by its restraint. RAY: Huh? Yeah. I mean, if you're going to say that, I mean, I have to say that all art is melodramatic then. I would say that card is melodramatic. NEIL: Oh, all the cards are melodramatic because it's by virtue of saying, look at this thought I had. It's worth your attention. It's sort of like at the beginning of the podcast, can I tell you this may be a slightly different thing, I've in the past introduced it by saying, "Hi, I'm Neil Goldberg, and this is She's A Talker. That to me seems like the height of presumption or melodrama or something, like who the fuck cares if you're Neil Goldberg and who cares if the podcast is called She's A Talker? RAY: Well, once you said that it's melodramatic in its restraint, I kind of start to feel like everything, including life, is melodramatic because then both the things that are literally melodramatic and the things that are restrained are melodramatic. And I absolutely feel that way. We're constantly looking to melodrama. NEIL: Everything. Everything is melodramatic basically. RAY: And you would only start it with most photography. How quickly were you realized? Yeah. I mean, I think for practical reasons I can offer a defense of you giving your name and the name of the podcast at the beginning, but I definitely see why it seems crazily hubristic and presumptuous and absurd, but it also feels crazily hubristic and presumptuous and absurd to look at myself in the mirror in the morning and try on multiple outfits and then go out the door thinking about how I look. I mean, it's presumptuous to have an identity. That's why you just got to strive for ego death. Everything short of ego death is melodrama. NEIL: Next card. Does the immune system ever get tired of all the conflict? RAY: This one made me giggle. I love to personify the immune system. NEIL: When you kind of personify it, does it have features? RAY: My immune system would be extremely neurotic. It would be anxious and avoidant and inefficient, over-reactive. Oh, all these sorts of things that you also might characterize me with. It would be true of him, my immune system. NEIL: Okay. Your immune system is gendered male. RAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, yeah. Uses he pronouns for now, I guess. NEIL: You say that your immune system is avoidant. What does it avoid? RAY: I mean, I think of my immune system's avoidant in terms of hay fever. When allergies come, it just absolutely drops. The ball runs the opposite direction. It doesn't even put up or maybe that's wrong. Maybe it's an over, I forget exactly what is it. NEIL: If you have allergies, that means you have an overactive immune system, I believe. RAY: Yeah. I think we're going to have to scratch all this for my pride, but I mean, it may not be avoidant in a literal sense, but it's avoidant emotionally and it knows that and I know it. Just because you're tackling, you could be avoiding a real conflict by throwing yourself at the conflict in an inefficient way. There's all sorts of ways you can avoid. NEIL: Oh my God, that's the story somehow of my art career, but not about conflict, but about opportunities. NEIL: Once one has decided that the Zoom meeting is over the rush to end the call. I'm talking about pressing the button that actually ends the call, so as not to be in that zone between when the meeting is over and the call has been disconnected. RAY: Yeah. I'm so glad you named this. I relate to it strongly. And I embarrassed myself at work Slack bemoaning it happening to me with my therapist. Every time we Zoom, she beats me out of there. So I'm working on it. Because it feels, and that doesn't just feel like embarrassment. That feels like abandonment. I mean, it's therapy. Every time. NEIL: You don't want to be abandoned. RAY: You don't want to be abandoned. NEIL: That's it right? It's about abandonment. RAY: You don't want to be the schmuck alone in the room. Yeah. It feels like rejection, I suppose. But the Zoom, you have to click it and then it'll say, "Are you sure you want to leave the meeting?" So there's that second. That's where I always get held up. Everyone leaves while I'm waiting to confirm that I want to leave, but on FaceTime, they don't ask you anything. And I was talking to a good friend of mine yesterday or two days ago, and I wanted to beat her out of that call so that I didn't feel abandoned. And I tried to compensate for the popup and there was no popup. And instead I hung up on her in mid sentence and that's kind of like, that's the price you pay to make sure you're not the last one left. NEIL: That really reminds me. I was deep into magic as a kid in high school. No. Well, yes, in high school, but all the way in elementary school. And I remember I once did a magic show for the elementary school. Maybe I was in junior high and I came back to the elementary school to do a magic show. And the teacher was introducing me, but I had the feeling like, wait, she's actually not going to introduce me. She was doing kind of a roundabout introduction that I think was maybe speaking to magic broadly, and I had this profound fear that she's just going to forget to introduce me. So I just came out in the middle of her introduction and started doing my show. Let's sit with that, right? RAY: There's a lot there. NEIL: I think I do, and I suspect you do too, if someone is, well, an introduction is often praising and of course I desperately want to be praised, but I don't want to be seen needing the praise, so I try to preempt it. So if someone is saying something nice about my art, which of course I want to hear, but I'll often cut them off. This connects to a card actually that I have here, which is when people praise me, it makes me wonder what narcissistic thing they detect in me that is pulling for them to praise me. Whenever someone's praising me, I think, oh wait, they can tell I'm asking for the praise or my whole personality is structured around needing praise. RAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What makes you think that they can tell? NEIL: Because I feel like one is always 100% transparent. That I deeply believe. People can always tell, don't you think? RAY: I don't know. I don't know. I was in a dialectical behavioral therapy group for a bit and they have these versions of Zen koans, but they're kind of very banal phrases instead. And there's one that's like, never in the history of the universe has anyone ever read another person's mind. But I took issue with that one because I mean, it really just eliminates the idea of magic from the schema. I don't want to believe it, but also it does give me some comfort because then no one, you know. I remind myself that constantly that no one can read my mind and it helps. It might help you receive compliments, because you do. We really want them. NEIL: Okay. There's the magic version of reading minds, but reading a mind is also just picking up on cues that manifest themselves. I feel like I'm a terrible liar. I just know if I'm lying to someone, unless they're just really tuned out, they can tell it. So that's not them reading my mind that they know what I'm saying is a lie. They can read it on my face. Likewise, if I'm feeling greedy for a compliment, I just think that manifests itself. RAY: Maybe you have very expressive body language. NEIL: This card says, how animals hide their pain, but what about a hypochondriacal animal? RAY: Do you have an animal that is hypochondriacal? NEIL: No, I had known lots of people and people are animals, but no, the closest I could come up with are those birds that as a strategy to protect their nests, they fly away from the nest and pretend they have a broken wing to attract the predator to them and then they fly away. Is that hypochondria or is that, well, it's a strategy and maybe hypochondria is a strategy. And it draws attention, which hypochondria does. RAY: That's interesting. NEIL: That's the closest I can get to a hypochondriacal animal. RAY: There is a dog in this 19 whatever vet book about an English veterinarian who lives in the countryside. NEIL: All Creatures Great and Small? RAY: All Creatures Great and Small. NEIL: Oh my God. That was, I think, the first book I ever read. RAY: No shit. Yeah. Really? NEIL: Oh, I was obsessed with it. James Harriot. James Harriot, right? RAY: Yeah. Totally. So right. James Harriot goes, he's this country doctor and he has to earn the respect of his eccentric boss and join the practice. He's seeing a Pekingese, I think, who is owned, I forget what the Pekingese's name is. I'm trying to find the, oh, I opened to it. Amazing. Ms. Pumphrey. Oh, yeah. Tricky, the Pekingese and Tricky needs, I don't know whether it's Tricky who is the hypochondriac or Mrs. Pumphrey, but he needs to squeeze Tricky's anal glands every so often. NEIL: Oh, I remember this vaguely. RAY: Tricky gets uncomfortable. Yeah. Iconic. I mean, definitely an iconic one. And then the story is really about how Mrs. Pumphrey anthropomorphizes Tricky and how James Harriot has to make sure to thank Tricky and not Mrs. Pumphrey for the cigars and the sherry or whatever he gets at Christmas because the gift is from the dog, but the dog, he doesn't really even seem to need the anal glands being squeezed. So actually I think it's still the owner who's hypochondriacal unfortunately at the end of this whole story. NEIL: You're right. It's like Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. God, lots of memories from that book. And I worked summers in high school at veterinarian's offices, because I wanted to be a veterinarian for a long time. An animal lover. RAY: Was it because of the books? NEIL: I think the books were because of that. I was just obsessed with animals from an early age, but one thing that will turn you off to being a veterinarian is working for veterinarians. I think for me, it was just seeing a lot of animals suffering. I just couldn't deal with it. But I saw a lot of anal glands being expressed. Did you say express? RAY: I didn't. NEIL: Because that's what it's called. You express the anal glands. RAY: I love that more than anything I've heard all day. That is. Tell me if this is true, because if so, it's tragic. Must anal glands always be expressed by another or can they express themselves? NEIL: I don't have the answer to that question. I got to believe that they can be expressed themselves, unless that was some real clever form of domestication that happened. It's like maybe that's why dogs domesticated themselves, to get their anal glands expressed. RAY: They lost the ability to express. Yeah. Well, let's just hope they don't take up photography. NEIL: People who go through a stage where they don't smile for photos should just skip that phase. I went through that phase, I should say. RAY: Let them just skip it. Let them skip it. They don't need it. NEIL: And there are some people who are stuck in that phase. But you're right. You don't need it, but is there any photograph that's better by virtue of the fact that the person's not smiling? RAY: Loads, millions, all of the ones. I think so. It introduces this kind of amazing mystery to all the photos before the convention of smiling in photographs. There's a photograph in my parents' basement of a great aunt of ours. And there're just all these incredibly pale looking Latvian girls in dark robes and they all look, they're so serious, but you know that they're school girls and someone's got gum in someone's hair and eight of them have crushes on each other. What's happening? And you can't tell. There's this sort of unaccountable distance that the imagination has to bridge between what these faces might look like if their personalities could have come through if they'd had more choice, I suppose, in how to form their expressions. RAY: I guess what I advocate for is choice ultimately. There shouldn't be a mandate to smile. If you think you have a crappy smile and it makes your face look funny, as I kind of feel about my face, then you shouldn't have to smile. You choose the expression most appropriate in the moment. NEIL: I like that. RAY: And that's the only way to really keep it from being a melodramatic photograph, I think. NEIL: I think smiling in a photograph is a way to acknowledge the melodrama. How's that? I think not smiling supports the melodrama. RAY: Yeah. Smiling fights it. I agree, because then it's a farce if you're smiling. NEIL: You're acknowledging. You're acknowledging it. RAY: Yeah. I'll just say if you take away the coy avoidant pout from me for a photograph, you'd be depriving me of one of my few remaining crutches, so I hope you come around. NEIL: I do know that pout. I know that pout. I like it. I love it. I also love your smile though, because I feel like your smile is a hard one smile. RAY: Interesting. It's about a great battle. That does recall, yeah, I was going to say something earlier when you were talking on the card, the card on people praising you because it makes you wonder what narcissistic thing you did they detect. I mean, please don't include this. But there was in high school, they called this face I made the a hundred face, which was when I got back an a hundred on a quiz or a test and it would be this evil, a rapid flicker between a smile and a frown and a frown that was exaggeratedly. It's a horrific, horrific bastardization of what a facial expression should be. Just a constantly moving war to prevent a smirk, a smirk for getting at a hundred on a quiz or a test, or just to hide the joy or to hide whatever the self satisfaction. And whenever it came, I was so conscious of what my face looked like to others, that they gave it a name. NEIL: The hundred face, but can we just completely put a button on this by saying, you say there's no such thing as mind reading, you were trying to kind of jam the signal of people's ability to read your mind as expressed by your facial expression. This speaks to the truth that people can read your mind, or at least you fear people read your mind. I have to include this. You prefaced by saying not include it. I just feel like I would violate, even though this isn't journalism, I would violate journalistic ethics to include that. RAY: Oh my God. Only if your credibility as a journalist is on the line. If those are the stakes, then I will see. NEIL: Oh my God. RAY: And maybe my friend, Lizzie, will hear her famous phrase. NEIL: Oh, I love Lizzie for naming that. You know what the hundred phase reminds me of by the way, although I think it's actually totally different, but it's this thing I do where I'm saying something and I'm about to use a fancy word. And by the way, I'm using that word not to show off, I think, but because it feels like the right word, but I don't want to be seen as trying to show off. So there's this little stumble or pause or something I do before I say the word that actually I think it then draws attention to the word or to me. I don't know. Do you have that situation? RAY: Yeah, I have that situation really bad. I don't know if I do the pause, but no matter what, the way I handle the self consciousness makes it more conspicuous. I think I just make a really shameful hand in the cookie jar kind of face and dark glances to see if anyone's noticed that I've used an unacceptable word. And I mean, I was made fun of this my whole life for using big words, I guess, was the common accusation. And like, "Why do you have to talk like that?" All sorts. And they're absolutely right. There was no reason to talk like that. I mean, it's just I was getting vocab words in my lunchbox every day from my mom from a book and there's only so much you can do with that much input and had to use it, use it or lose it. NEIL: Because your mom is a librarian, right? RAY: My mom, she works at the library. She is a library circulation. She's a clerk. NEIL: And she would slip a word into your lunchbox every day? RAY: She would casually slip a word of the day every day of the week. And then on Fridays, a vocab quiz, or maybe it was the end of the month after and I do 30 of them, I'd get quiz. NEIL: Wow. Now, would she ever slip in a vocabulary word, but forget your actual lunch? RAY: I think probably the words were what kept her remembering to make lunch. NEIL: Maybe your mom should be on She's A Talker since it's so centered around these index cards. RAY: Yeah. Well, in fairness, they were cards printed with the names of Lindt chocolates in different combinations, like milk chocolate shell with a hazelnut filling and a coconut shavings on top and numbered and then the backside was blank, and they were being reused from when my dad was a market researcher and Lindt Chocolate was his client at one point. And for our whole lives, our note cards were these focus group discarded Lindt Chocolate cards. NEIL: That's so beautiful. I hope you're saving that for whatever, for your novel, for your one person show. RAY: I think I was saving it for this. And this is where this memory will finally be discharged. NEIL: I love it a discharged memory, especially remotely. A remote discharged memory. RAY: I knew you wouldn't let me get away with saying discharge. NEIL: When this is all over, by this I mean our current who the fuck knows what over means, but what is it you're looking forward to? RAY: What am I looking forward to? One thing I miss is getting on the subway and moving through all the cars of the train in case my one true love is somewhere on the train, but not in the car that I got into and going from car to car to see if someone is there who I will meet, and none of that is possible now. NEIL: I love it. I'm sending you a huge virtual hug out to Bed Stuy from the Lower East Side. Thank you so much for being on She's A Talker. RAY: Neil, thank you so much for having me. It's been a total delight. NEIL: She's A Talker with Neil Goldberg. She's a talker with fabulous guests. She's a talker, it's better than it sounds. Yeah.  

Sep 2020

39 min 9 sec

Actor Kathleen Turner talks about not bringing characters home. Neil wonders if he himself created COVID. ABOUT THE GUEST Among Kathleen Turner’s numerous accolades are Golden Globes for Romancing The Stone and Prizzi’s Honor, an Academy Award nomination for Peggy Sue Got Married, Tony Award nominations for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Most recently she guest starred on The Kominsky Method, Mom and Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. Her film credits include The Man With Two Brains, Jewel Of The Nile, The Accidental Tourist, The Virgin Suicides, among many others. On Broadway, she has starred in High, The Graduate and Indiscretions. Also a best-selling author, she wrote the books Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts On My Life, Love, and Leading Roles and Kathleen Turner On Acting. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: Kathleen Turner, thank you so much for being on SHE'S A TALKER. KATHLEEN: I think this is going to be a pleasure. NEIL: Oh. Let's check in at the end and see. What's something that you find yourself thinking about today, May 16th? KATHLEEN: Oh my. I'll tell you, being able to tolerate this isolation. Because I live alone. I have a wonderful cat, thank you very much, but this really means that I ... I don't have a spouse or a kid or something with me. And I've had a women's poker group for about ... some of them have played together for over 30 years. NEIL: Wow. KATHLEEN: And we get together at least once a month and play poker and eat and have a silly time. And so, we are Zooming together every Sunday evening, but they almost ... well all of them have spouses or people that they are isolating with, but it's hard. It's really hard right now. NEIL: I can totally imagine. Are you finding outside comfort in having your cat there? KATHLEEN: Yes, I do. He's this beautiful black. A little black cat. He can seemingly pretty much sense when I need him. NEIL: This podcast, the mascot of this podcast, is my black cat, Beverly. What's your cat's name and what color are his eyes? KATHLEEN: His name is Simon and his eyes are mostly yellow, sometimes into green. But when I went to get another rescue, I'd had one that died, I've been told that black cats are hard to get adopted out of superstition, or I have found out, being difficult to see in the middle of the night, especially if you have a dark rug. NEIL: Yes. Yeah. Often, if I wake up in the middle of the night, I will mistake certain things for the cat. Let's say I've left my backpack on the floor, and the tender way I touch my backpack makes me kind of think about the backpack differently. If only I touched everything as tenderly as the things I thought are my cat. I know you were born here, but you seem like such a quintessential New Yorker to me. Do you feel that way? KATHLEEN: Oh yeah. I do. I always knew I was coming to New York. I never thought of settling in Los Angeles. And even the time I've spent there working, which is the only reason I go, I'm not comfortable. I'm just not comfortable there at all. Never have been. Never lived there, never invested, which people tell me makes a difference. But no, all I ever wanted was New York, which I consider to be as close to the rest of the world as possible. NEIL: Can you identify what it is about Los Angeles that made you know it wasn't for you? KATHLEEN: Oh, heavens. There's no communication, there's no commune, there's no colony. People get to know each other's cars better than they do the people. They go, "Oh yeah, you're the black BMW 550," or something. You go, "Well, yeah." And it's so isolating. It's so lonely. I don't know how people survive. NEIL: The experience you're describing I connect to in my own way powerfully. My work has always been about New York, and I question everything about my life, but I never question New York, even now. KATHLEEN: Right. NEIL: But this is the first time in my whole time in New York where I'm finding it unpleasant to be on the street. And how are- KATHLEEN: It's hard. NEIL: Yeah. KATHLEEN: It's hard to go out and not being able to see people's faces. NEIL: Yeah. KATHLEEN: I miss that because I love looking at people's faces and seeing how they use them, and it might give me ideas for a character or something. So now this seeing just part of people, and then the shock of seeing somebody with no precautions, without a mask, without anything. NEIL: Yeah. I know. It does bring up a whole level of, for me, among other things, a type of not crankiness, but a like, "What the hell are you doing?" KATHLEEN: Yeah. NEIL: In New York, I can often feel pre-COVID, sort of, I appreciate generally how New York relative to other cities, there's a kind of sense of your body and space. That's something I noticed in LA, for instance, going into a supermarket. The way people occupied space there suggested that they didn't fully take in, "Hey, you know what? We're all sharing this space, so we have to be attuned to the fact that- KATHLEEN: Oh, I agree with that. Yeah, no, I like the unspoken treaties we have. NEIL: Thinking about what you're saying about the masks and not being able to read people's faces, it makes me realize how much I use ... One of my cards is I love mouthing, "Sorry." KATHLEEN: Yeah. Mouthing, "I'm sorry." Yes, I know it. The way somebody moves, holds their lips, you can immediately get a grasp of that person's personality. Does their mouth turn down at the corners in rest, or does it turn up? When they're not thinking about it, when they're not doing anything, what are the signs that their personality is left on their face? I like that stuff. NEIL: First of all, when you're wearing a mask and you want to kind of communicate, I don't know, acknowledgement to someone, do you find you're kind of making a lot of extra use from the nose up or something? KATHLEEN: Well, yeah. I think you kind of see when someone's smiling just from the eyes. I don't know. Yeah, it turns into a kind of sign language, but you use your body for that too. It's its own challenge, but I do miss seeing people's faces. NEIL: Let's just launch right into some of these cards. First card is, "I could see when I get toward the end of my life thinking, 'I'm done with this particular personality, I've worn it out.'" KATHLEEN: It seems to me that I've already had several lives. And I expect that this is the beginning of another. I kind of accept that easily, actually. I like change and having to adapt, it's not frightening to me. NEIL: Where do you think that comes from? KATHLEEN: I think I'm a pretty down to earth person, pretty practical, and some of my experiences fighting rheumatoid arthritis for years and other injuries have just made me more accepting. NEIL: It also seemed like your childhood involved a lot of the need to adapt. KATHLEEN: Oh yeah. A lot of change. NEIL: Yeah. KATHLEEN: Yeah. Yeah. I was the only one of the siblings born in the States, but then we moved to Canada by the time I was three months, and then from there, to Cuba. From Cuba, we had a year or so in Washington, and then Caracas, Venezuela for five years. And then we transferred from Venezuela to London, which was a marvelous thing because it was my high school years, and that's where I was so sure. I became so sure that this was the career I wanted. Many, many actors have had a kind of transitory background, either in the service, or with their parents being high-level executives, or in the military. And I think it kind of makes for good actors, I guess. NEIL: Could you break that down? What about that, do you think? KATHLEEN: Well, I can remember vividly when I went from Venezuela to London thinking, "Well, I can be anybody now. I can be anybody I want to be because nobody there knows me, nobody has any history with me. So how I present myself when I start school or something is completely up to me." And I thought that was rather exhilarating. NEIL: That's interesting. You also in your book talk a lot about the role of empathy in acting. KATHLEEN: Yeah. NEIL: I wonder if having to move around a lot develops empathy. KATHLEEN: Well, I'll tell you one thing it does is it takes away some of your sense of control. These things are out of your control, and that's kind of how I've approached the dealing with the rheumatoid arthritis and other things. I don't control this. Now, if you give up the idea that you control everything around about your life, then you are open to thinking about others and their choices and their needs because you're kind of advocated here. NEIL: So as long as we're talking about thinking about others and empathy, I'd love to talk about this card, which simply says, "Empathy poisoning." And that comes from a place in me where I found myself often as a kid overwhelmed by the empathy I felt for my parents who were going through some tough stuff, and I found that past a certain point, empathy can almost feel toxic. KATHLEEN: Empathy poisoning. If anything, I might get that more from the characters that I play than other people. You play Martha in Virginia Woolf for 500 performances and there's no way you're going to keep yourself completely separate from her. So I would say that that's more empathy poisoning to me than other people. NEIL: So in other words, your empathy with the character can kind of embody itself in you. KATHLEEN: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yes. It's like when you're creating a character, take Martha. At first when you really start to study her, you think, "What is wrong with this woman? She's sitting around drinking endlessly and ruining the one friendship relationship in her life, what the hell?" And then you go a little deeper and you think, "All right, this is 1962, and no women held any tenured position in any university. All their energies and praise came from the status of their husbands." KATHLEEN: She has a husband who has assiduously worked to remain an associate professor for 17 years. She's ambitious, she's intelligent, she has energy, and absolutely no way to use it. What's she going to do? Just host faculty wives teas? And then you start to understand, "Okay, wait a minute now. If I had these endless barriers in my life, how would I fight?" Anyway, you can understand how you would start to really, really feel something for this woman and with her. The rage, I think more than anything. Yeah. NEIL: At the end of a performance, is there a process by which that empathic connection is released, or is it over the course of a run? KATHLEEN: Well, I used to believe that I did not bring any characters home. My ex-husband and my daughter have made it clear that that's not entirely true. Anyway, part of it's the energy at the end of a performance, say. Maybe you just had a standing ovation of 1100 people. It's thrilling, it's fantastic, and you can't just say, "Okay. Well that's all right, now I'm going to go home and have a different life." I have to work it off. I've been known to go up and down the stairs in my building just to get rid of some of this energy that keeps me going. I try to just, I don't know, tire myself a bit, I guess. NEIL: Since we're talking about acting, which I'd love to keep talking with you about, next card would be acting. Pretending to notice something when you walk into a room. I could never do that. That, to me, seems like a monumental challenge. KATHLEEN: But if you wanted to talk about what acting is, I'll tell you that acting is a very carefully chosen series of communications, both physically and through the text. It is incredibly deliberate and detailed, and never really spontaneous. I don't do ... what do you call it when you get thrown something and the- NEIL: Improvisation? KATHLEEN: Yes. I'm not good at improv, no. NEIL: But how does one perform surprise? KATHLEEN: Oh. Well, it isn't just performing. You allow yourself to be surprised. This stuff is half physical, half in the body, and half in your mind making the choices, but then you feel them in the body. NEIL: You teach acting, correct? KATHLEEN: I do. I coach, and now I'm starting to teach online a bit, which is very difficult, really, because I can really work on the text. I can really work with them on the meanings and the basic, but I cannot get them on their feet and have them move. Because then I really wouldn't be able to see them well. And so that, I really miss. I miss being in the room with somebody and looking at them from their feet to their head and going, "Okay, wait a minute. You just said, 'I hate you,' and your legs are crossed." It doesn't work like that. The body is not saying the same thing your mouth is. So I miss not being able to be in the room with them, but still, we can do good work. NEIL: Do you feel effective as a teacher? Yeah. Do you feel- KATHLEEN: Yes. Yeah. I find it very fulfilling. I really enjoy it. NEIL: See, I teach art, visual art, and I also find it super fulfilling, and I also feel effective, but sometimes when I step back, and I'm curious how this is for you, recommending references and theory. I do believe it works, but I don't know. I don't know, I sometimes feel like an effective quack or something like that. KATHLEEN: Well, heavens to Betsy. I'm not sure that's our responsibility. We give them what tools we think they can use, but we're not responsible for what they actually do with them. NEIL: I love that you're able to comfortably ... to own that. And it may be a difference between teaching acting and teaching visual art in that I wonder if there's something less mediated, more direct, I wonder, about teaching acting. KATHLEEN: Well in acting, we have a specific text. Chosen words to work with, which is a structure, and I don't know that you have that in art. NEIL: Not really, no. And I think so much of the teaching of art involves almost manufacturing parameters to contain the ideas. The worst thing you can do for a student is to say like, "Make a video," versus, "Make a video that has to be two minutes long and that doesn't use sound and that involves some aspect of memory." Whereas I guess, as an actor, that's such a great point. You always have the text as a kind of infrastructure for your teaching, correct? KATHLEEN: Yes. Yes. NEIL: I love it. Next card. Actors and animals. They're both about commitment. I feel like my cat is never fully other than 100% in what she's doing, and that could just be a question of I don't know if I'm interpreting her correctly. But it seems to me that actors, to be effective, kind of have to have something akin to that. Do you sense a connection? KATHLEEN: I do. I do. I believe very strongly in getting commitment. Again, you make your choices, and then you have to fill them. You have to fill them physically, vocally, mentally. I can tell when an actor hasn't committed to the role they're playing. It's very clear to me. NEIL: And when you look at Simon, are you ever inspired as an actor? KATHLEEN: I look at Simon and I see just a cat boy. He walks around with this swagger with his ass kind of swinging around and you go, "Oh, you're a real Butch, aren't you, cat?" No, I enjoy him that way, yes. NEIL: Oh, I love their embodied presence. I love the way they walk. KATHLEEN: Yeah. NEIL: You mentioned you can tell when actors aren't committed. Next card would be actors who are bad at acting, even in the posters. KATHLEEN: Oh. Wow. Well, that's very poor photography or choice then. I find still photography very difficult because I feel so fake. I feel staged- NEIL: Interesting. KATHLEEN: ... as opposed to the actual doing of the character, which feels quite natural to me. So then I really have to say, "All right. The PR people, the photographer they choose, I'll listen to them." NEIL: That's interesting. So it's sort of that fact that your character, when you're performing, unfolds in time. KATHLEEN: Yeah. He's moving. NEIL: Right. KATHLEEN: And it's stopped in a poster, in a photograph. NEIL: So do you have any tricks for that? Are you trying to kind of- KATHLEEN: No, I've never been very good at it. I don't like being photographed. Just still photography. It makes me uncomfortable to be just still. NEIL: What's your relationship to a fear of failing? KATHLEEN: Oh, I'm going to. I have to. If I don't risk failure, then I'm not going far enough. If you don't, and I say this to all my students as well, look, you go to the point of failure, you will have to risk to the point of failure. Now, sometimes that means, uh-huh (affirmative), yeah, you will go over the edge. But at the other times it means that have pushed yourself further and found more than you had previously, and I think that's our job. NEIL: Do you feel like in acting, is there the notion of having succeeded? KATHLEEN: Yes, I think so. I know when I've done a good performance when I've hit all the marks that I set up for myself. I know when I have done what I hoped and wanted, what I set out to do. I will never forget opening night on Broadway. Well, any opening night on Broadway, but Virginia Woolf, and there were four of us in that play. And when the curtain came down, I was holding onto two of my co-stars, and I said, "Do not ever forget this moment. Don't ever allow yourself to forget this because they are few and far between." NEIL: As a visual artist, you rarely get that experience. KATHLEEN: Yes. NEIL: It's always mediated. I always say I love attention, but I like it kind of bounced off a wall. But what you're describing sounds so powerful, for lack of a better word. KATHLEEN: It is. It's astounding. There's such an extraordinary phenomena in theater where people sit so close, or they used to sit so close to each other. Total strangers. Closer than they sit in their own homes to people and they start to breathe together and they start to hold their breath at the same time and they laugh at the same time. So in a way, they become one body, one person, and it works for them in that they leave the theater feeling that they were part of something. They weren't just the individual that walked in that door to begin with. That it was something more than that. And as they become more attuned to each other and more one, they're easier in a way for me to work with. NEIL: Is there work that has to be front-loaded in a performance to kind of help create that feeling of coalescent? KATHLEEN: A lot of it has to do with the actor's confidence. Because if they see that you feel confident and good about what you're doing, then they'll trust more easily. NEIL: Do you always go out feeling confident, or do you perform confidence? KATHLEEN: I always think that I'm so much more confident in my working self than in my private self that I'm quite sure the decisions I make as an actor are right. But then take me off the stage and give me a decision to make about whether you want to see these people or not and I'm like, "I don't know. I don't know." Yeah. And so it's very difficult sometimes. NEIL: I'd love to do sort of a quick lightning round of a couple of quick cards. First card would be gratuitous eye work in movies. I notice certain actors sort of try and telegraph a type of subtlety or something by way of a whole lot of stuff going on in the eyes that doesn't need to happen. KATHLEEN: That's interesting. Yeah, I can see that. I don't know, I guess. To me, for example, it will be too much smiling also. It's hiding. It's hiding yourself. It's feeling like you're keeping busy and you're doing something, but in fact, you're just dodging. NEIL: One of the cards here says, "Friendships that are tenured." KATHLEEN: That are what? NEIL: Tenured. KATHLEEN: Oh, yes. Well, to me, and this is something that I learned from my mother, for me, women friends. Really strong, interesting women friends are essential. And out of this poker group, we have an investment banker, a gynecologist, a film editor, a retired lawyer. I don't think any of the businesses are repeated, necessarily. And these are women I've met over the years through some reason or another and wanted in my life and said, "Come on. I want you in my life." I will actually say that. KATHLEEN: Anyway, my mom, when she got older, she had three or four very, very important friends in her life, and they would check on each other, and they would celebrate birthdays together, and they'd go to concerts together, and they'd volunteer at the library together. And so there was a constant. She didn't end up feeling that she was that alone. NEIL: People are less surprised by my age as they used to be. It used to be I would tell people, especially students, I'd say, let's say 10 years ago, I'd say, "I'm 45," and there'd be a, "What?" Now, when I tell them I'm 56, they're like, "That's about right." That's what the look says. KATHLEEN: No. For years and years, I always played characters older than I was, and it started with Body Heat, that once I was cast, only then did the director, Larry Kasdan, say, "By the way, how old are you?" And I said, "Well, I'm going to be 26." "No, you're not. No, you're not. You're 29." It was wrong for a woman to be that powerful that young is what he said. So then for years I played women who were older. I was not 42 when I did Peggy Sue Got Married, for God's sake. I don't think it was until Virginia Woolf, where the character is 50, that I actually got to be 50 playing 50. KATHLEEN: And now, I tell you, the thing that I find most extraordinary, I'm turning 66 next month, and I find it fascinating how the looks have changed over the years. How time and everything that contributes to your life has affected how you look or if you care. NEIL: What is your relationship to caring? KATHLEEN: Yeah. I don't. I certainly don't care as much as I know I used to. I still like to look nice as it were, but no, I don't set out to knock somebody out, you know what I mean? NEIL: I'd love to end, if you don't mind, with two questions I like to ask. First question is, fill in the blank for X and Y. What is a bad X you would take over a good Y? KATHLEEN: What is a bad ... Oh. Hell, why would you? Well, I suppose a bad meal but with good company would be doable. NEIL: I love it. And what's something you're looking forward to when this crisis, as it were, is over? KATHLEEN: Oh, getting back on stage. Theater is just shut down. I was booked for the fall at the Guthrie in Minneapolis and looking forward to that, and they've closed their whole fall season. There's to lot of figure out how you can get an audience again. And if you can only sell half the seats, how do you survive? Because these companies need full houses. So there's a lot of figuring out that's going to be there, and whether we survive or not. And I miss it. I miss being on stage. NEIL: What's something that keeps you going? KATHLEEN: Oh, I suppose a kind of a belief. I'm thinking that there will be something after this and there will be changes to be made and understood, and that keeps me going. NEIL: That seems like such a wonderful place to end it. Kathleen Turner, huge, huge, thank you for being on SHE'S A TALKER. I so appreciate it. KATHLEEN: Well, it was good, Neil. You said I'd know at the end. NEIL: Oh, right. KATHLEEN: Yes. It was good. NEIL: Thank you. I really, really appreciate it. KATHLEEN: You're most welcome. NEIL: All right. Have a great rest of your day. KATHLEEN: I'm leaving the meeting. NEIL: All right, bye-bye. KATHLEEN: Bye-bye.  

E

Aug 2020

42 min 3 sec

Writer Monique Truong describes her love of showering when it's raining outside. Neil realizes he is bad in a crisis. ABOUT THE GUEST Monique Truong is the Vietnamese American author of the bestselling, award-winning novels, The Book of Salt, Bitter in the Mouth, and The Sweetest Fruits. She’s also a former refugee, essayist, avid eater, lyricist/librettist, and intellectual property attorney (more or less in this order). ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund, Western Bridge, and the David Shaw and Beth Kobliner Family Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: I'm so happy, Monique Truong, to have you on SHE'S A TALKER. Thank you for joining. You mentioned that you were teaching up until now. I actually don't know where you teach. MONIQUE: Oh, well, it was the first time that I was teaching at Columbia at the school of the arts? Yes. School of arts. I don't know if there's an article. NEIL: It doesn't matter. It feels very important. MONIQUE: Yes. NEIL: Which would you prefer it to be? MONIQUE: The. NEIL: Yes. Exactly. MONIQUE: That sounds even more important. NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. MONIQUE: Yeah. I was teaching a fiction workshop. I had taught undergraduate fiction writing classes before, but never to graduate students and so that was interesting. NEIL: Interesting can contain so much. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: Would you care to unpack interesting for us? MONIQUE: Well, okay. Let's begin here. I had heard from my friends who are women of color, who teach at the graduate level, that respect and authority was often an issue. Specifically, the lack thereof. Their suggestions to me was that really, even though the others professors would say to the students, "Please, call me Neil," that for me, it probably won't work out very well if I did that. I know you teach Neil and so you can imagine it's a small workshop. It ended up being nine students. NEIL: Okay. MONIQUE: Yeah. Yeah. It was really great in that way, and so I said, "Look, I'm going to ask you to call me Professor Truong as opposed to Monique. As soon as this workshop is over, we can see each other on the street and please feel free to call me Monique. For the rest of the semester, it's going to be a professor." They were really, I think, frankly horrified. I do think that it's a mistake to actually encourage your graduate school students to call you by your first name, because it assumes a non-hierarchical relationship. MONIQUE: That's actually a disservice to the students because if the lines are blurry and then let's say we, professor, act in some way inappropriately, it's the student, I feel, who will have the most to pay, will be at the disadvantage. NEIL: It reminds me of ... Maybe it's different, but those therapists who talk a lot about themselves or who do a lot of the talking versus those therapists who withhold that and in a way that can feel to some people ungenerous or something. To me, it actually feels like a form of caretaking maybe for the very reasons that you're talking about. It's establishing a type of care relationship. Not that I feel very, very strongly that as a teacher you're not a therapist, but in terms of certain boundaries setting, I do feel like some of the same ground rules apply. NEIL: I mean, the race and gender dynamic of it has got to be so powerful. It's interesting. I do say, "Call me Neil." In fact, one of my cards says when students call me professor, feels like when a kindergartner calls the teacher, mommy." I feel like that's contingent on a certain type of benefit of the doubt that attaches to gender privilege, white privilege and I think it's actually true on the other end. There are certain students that are only comfortable using professor. NEIL: For a while I was not insisting, but you know, feeding back to them like that, "You can call me Neil." Now, I just say once at the beginning of class, "You can call me Neil." If they call me professor from that point on, I don't correct them because that actually feels like a form of that doesn't feel fair to them in a certain way, or that feels like assertion of a type of casualness that may not serve them. A question I like to ask everybody is, if you're meeting a stranger, how do you succinctly describe what it is you do? MONIQUE: Novelist. NEIL: Period. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: I like that. I don't know what the mortality situation is in your life, but are your parents still alive? MONIQUE: My mom is. NEIL: How does she describe what it is you do to let's say her friends? MONIQUE: Oh, I'm not sure. I'm not sure because I don't know if she would begin by saying that I was a lawyer. You know? NEIL: Right. Brace yourself, or just bear in mind. MONIQUE: That I was once respectable and had a way to make a living. I don't ... Yeah. Maybe she would just call me a writer. My mother is retired now, but when she was working, she was a registered nurse and she was an ICU nurse actually. NEIL: Low stress. Low stress job. MONIQUE: Right. The nurses and the doctors who worked with her, some of them were great avid readers of fiction. They would tell her that they've read one of my novels. I think that was always very surprising to her. You know? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: Every time another feedback in that way would come to her, it would solidify the fact that I indeed wrote books. NEIL: That makes total sense. MONIQUE: Right? Yeah. NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: Well, shall we move to some cards? MONIQUE: Oh yes. NEIL: Okay. First card. I occasionally identify with the food in the pressure cooker and feel bad for it. MONIQUE: I would take out pressure cooker and for me, it's the food that ends up on our airline food tray. NEIL: Aha. MONIQUE: I mean, that is the most degraded thing to happen to a carrot. You know? NEIL: Right. MONIQUE: Or a piece of chicken. I mean, what? What? What? NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: I might disagree with you on that. I mean, I think absolutely there's all kinds of degradation, but it's like what Andy Warhol said about how a can of Coke is 50 cents for everybody? I just like how everything gets leveled to, "Okay. There's this part of the tray, there's this on the ..." It's like the classic TV dinner thing. I find something reassuring about everything becoming compartmentalized, but you're talking about, if I hear you correctly, are you talking about the preparation or the presentation? MONIQUE: The preparation. Just what it becomes. NEIL: Aha, right. MONIQUE: Because I just can't believe what happens to food after all the processing and after all the horrors that we put it through. NEIL: See, but I think it goes to invisibility, this I think connects to factory farming. For me, when I'm cooking with the pressure cooker, I'm in proximity to it and I'm like, "Oh God, what must it be like in there?" Whereas with the airline food, it's like often hidden. It's often the institutional kitchen that thankfully we don't have to see. I'm spared the indignity and just get that the end result. Actually, I think airline food usually looks better than anything that comes out of a pressure cooker. I think- MONIQUE: Oh, well, okay. Well, this is the thing. I should admit that I have never cooked with a pressure cooker, so all of this is theoretical to me. Clearly I have not experienced the horror of this device. NEIL: Well, I can feel it about the oven too, by the way. MONIQUE: Really? NEIL: Yeah. That could just be my Jewish heritage or something. MONIQUE: Oh my God, Neil. Oh my God. Yes. It might be. NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: You don't identify with the food that is enduring when you cook? I just have to believe you cook just given the way that you talk about food. Am I correct? I mean, if- MONIQUE: Yes. NEIL: Okay. MONIQUE: Yes. NEIL: Because there's such intimacy. When you're cooking, you're not necessarily identifying with like, "Ah, okay. What this is going to have to go through." MONIQUE: Right. No. No. NEIL: That's probably for the better. I think that might be some primal animism that is left in me. I mean, I also feel that way about ... Do you have a dishwasher? MONIQUE: Yes. NEIL: I love the dishwasher and I have approximately a million cards about the dishwasher, but I often think about, "Oh God." Putting the dishes in there and thinking what they're going to go through in there. MONIQUE: Wow. NEIL: Do you ever have that? MONIQUE: No. No. I'm just so grateful for it. NEIL: Me too. I mean, my relationship for the dishwasher is truly when someone says it's a religious experience, I mean it literally. Just like redemption. Transformation. Can you imagine if you could have something metaphorically, that type of transformation on some, let's say, I don't know, psychological or spiritual level that's in any way akin to what happens? MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: Also, the ratio of labor to bang for the buck. MONIQUE: Yeah. Well, I think about that in terms of the shower. Indoor plumbing and the shower feels that way to me. I mean- NEIL: Yeah. That's true. MONIQUE: It's more bodily, but sometimes it's definitely spiritual when you're in there. NEIL: Yes. MONIQUE: I have to say that I enjoy the shower the most when it's raining outside. NEIL: Is it because you feel an alignment like? MONIQUE: Yeah. Also, like the absolute kind of ... It's, one's a luxury, but also it's almost like a way of saying, "It's I control the water. I control ..." You know? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: It feels very powerful. NEIL: I totally get that. I mean, it's how I feel when I turn on the air conditioning and I think how my cat understands that. I mean, air conditioning is horrible and I don't like the feeling of it, but I often wonder if it's like, "Wait, not only can he make it be light or dark out, but he can also change the climate." This connects to privilege, but I also love the feeling of simply being inside when it's raining and seeing that thing of there's the rain out there and I have this thing that makes it so that the rain isn't landing on me. MONIQUE: Then you can go into a room of your house and create a rain space. NEIL: Exactly. I wonder if that's the German word for shower, rain space. That's rain space. Do you speak German? MONIQUE: I don't, but that's so funny that you would ask that because I was just listening to a German radio today. NEIL: Okay. Because one can. Is it like talking ... It's like the rain space of the audio space. MONIQUE: I was doing it because ... Okay, the most recent novel, The Sweetest Fruits, the German translation is out. It just came out in January. My books do oddly well in Germany and it was just recently named ... Like among the literary critics, they have this monthly list of books, top 10 books that they wish that readers would discover and read. It's not the bestselling, but it should be, that kind of idea. For the month of June, The Sweetest Fruits is number two, which is really- NEIL: Cheers. MONIQUE: Yay. Thank you. NEIL: As it should be. You all in Germany, you don't know what you're in for. You are in for a real treat. MONIQUE: There I was listening because they did a 15-minute long presentation with a host and two literary critics. I mean, I'm assuming this based on what I can gather from Google translate. Talking about the book. Yeah. I was listening to that, even though I don't have any German, but it was still fun to hear Lafcadio Hearn and Rosa and the names of my characters mentioned. NEIL: That sounds wonderful. Oh my God. Didn't the Greeks, or maybe it was the Romans, would invite people from other ... I'm sure inviting wasn't the right word. In either classical Greece or Rome, they would have people who spoke other languages simply in public speaking and people would just listen to the sound of the speaking. MONIQUE: Wow. NEIL: That could be an urban myth. We'll see. I feel like some very enthusiastic classmate of mine in college told me that. MONIQUE: An urban Greek myth. NEIL: Exactly. Exactly MONIQUE: I love that. I hope it's true. NEIL: Well, I'm going to get all my fact-checkers on it. When homemade bread is just past its prime, how the memory of it in its prime shapes eating it in the present. Very relevant during COVID times. Also- MONIQUE: Exactly. NEIL: I mean, I was making bread before this, but yeah. What does that mean for you? MONIQUE: Yeah. Well, right. I also made bread pre-COVID and bread, I have to tell you, is one of the very first things that I made as a kid in the kitchen. Does that even make sense? NEIL: Yeah. Absolutely. MONIQUE: Yeah? NEIL: Kitchens, making bread. MONIQUE: I know, but- NEIL: Childhood. All the elements stand. MONIQUE: Okay. We can get back to that, but I think it's because so much of the pleasure of food for me has to do with memory. NEIL: Aha. That makes sense. MONIQUE: Right? NEIL: Yeah. It's certainly how it lives in your work. MONIQUE: Yeah. Yeah. I think what I have realized over the years is that the memory is often so much better than trying to recreate the memory. Yeah. The simplest way of thinking about it is, should you wait until you get that beautiful sun-ripened tomato that you get in the middle of the summer? Not in New York, but maybe if you are lucky enough to go somewhere. Yeah. Or should you just cave and buy whatever is in your Key Foods and try to make that simple tomato and grated carrot salad that you once had in Provençal. Do you know what I mean? NEIL: Yeah. I wonder if maybe the way that it doesn't live up to that memory can be actually great in that it buttresses the original memory. You know what I mean? It's like, "Well, this is nothing like that." MONIQUE: Right. Yeah. NEIL: That's interesting. That's a more hopeful reading on the card than I have. For me, it's a little bit about whenever I look at someone who is currently young and beautiful, I can't help but mentally age them and think like, "Okay. Well, this is what they're going to look like when they're maybe still beautiful, but not young." I think partly it's a way to mediate my own, I don't know, ambivalence about getting older or whatever. I would say the flip of this card really lives for me too. NEIL: When I'm eating homemade bread that's fresh, I will sometimes think like, "Okay. Well, this is fleeting. It's not going to be this way. What is this going to taste like tomorrow?" I guess that does help me appreciate it in the moment, but it also just highlights the absolute ephemerality of that experience, and by extension, absolutely everything. It's a real mortality moment somehow. The trajectory between fresh bread and our own death is so direct. MONIQUE: Yes. Do you ever do the reverse, Neil? When you look at someone who is old, do you ever see them as their younger self or imagine? NEIL: Yes. Yeah. Oh, I love that. That's a delight. MONIQUE: Yes. NEIL: I mean, how can you not look at an old person and do that? I think maybe if I'm just real ... old person, whatever that means. I think if I'm really committed to not liking someone, I may not do that process, but otherwise it's one of the great options that's available MONIQUE: That's what I miss about riding the subway. You know? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: Because you have all that time to look at these strangers and imagine things about them. I remember once seeing an older man and a younger man sit back to back. You know? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: They did look like the younger man was the younger version of the older man and vice versa and I mean, really looked like before and after. Yeah. I mean, there were something so uncanny and wonderful and just fabulous about it. I miss that. NEIL: Me too. The smell of food at the end of life. I thought about this because I had COVID and it was mild. It lasted for a long time, but it was mild. I didn't have any of the scary respiratory symptoms. MONIQUE: Oh my goodness. NEIL: By the way, so many people reported losing their appetite. I super didn't. I was hungry all the time. Anyhow, it was like a little preview of death, if I can be melodramatic. Just in that it's like, "Wow." One felt the effort that it took to simply stay alive. That sounds way more dramatic than what the experience was. I found myself thinking like, "How is food going to smell at that point at which you're transitioning out of life?" For instance, when my father was dying, just to go right there, there was a lot of handholding and there was a certain point that he pushed my hand away and I believe the hospice nurse had said that that may happen. NEIL: He died pretty soon after that. It felt like I could totally imagine that like, "Okay. Listen, I have to go die now and so I have to disconnect." I think this card partially comes from that feeling that I was reflecting on during COVID of like, "Well, I wonder if that happens with food at a certain point." It's like, I have to disconnect from the process of nourishing myself and continuing to live. MONIQUE: Right. Wow. The first thing that comes to mind is one of my pet peeves in life is once your meal is done and the dirty dishes are still on the table and the half-eaten food are still in their bowls or whatever, I can't stand the smell of that. Yeah. Because the experience is over, right? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: I think in that way, I would imagine that I may have the same feelings about the smell of food at the end of life, that the experience of the pleasure of food, the community of food, that food brings with it, all of that, that is coming to an end as you say. Yeah, and so let's not linger, maybe. Yeah. NEIL: Next card. The ugly look of people selling things. I find anyone in a sales context to me somehow looks ugly. Maybe it's by virtue of their need, I guess maybe it's my problem with neediness or something. MONIQUE: Yeah. I think for me, I equate that with the desperation. NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. MONIQUE: Right? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: I see ... You know what? That's also something I've been thinking about a lot because folks I know who are writers and performers all of our gigs have been canceled, right? All the book tours, all the readings and all that, so it's all gone online on Zoom and so on. Talk about desperation. I mean, we are at the height, we are at peak desperation. I say this because the paperback edition of The Sweetest Fruits is coming out at the end of June. I'm going to be that desperate author. MONIQUE: I don't know if I could do it, Neil. I really don't. I mean, so what's the alternative? You just sit at home and hope for the best with Amazon? I mean, that seems absurd, but again, I really don't know if I could do it. NEIL: I hear you. What keeps you going? MONIQUE: I feel the pause is very long here on my part. I mean, this question takes on such weight now, right? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: I think about this morning, waking up and not wanting to get out of bed, what got me up. Well, an answer certainly is knowing that we would have this conversation. Yeah. NEIL: That makes me so happy. MONIQUE: Yeah. I suppose it's looking forward to the interactions that I will have with people that keeps me going. I mean, people that I choose to be with and to know. Yeah. I think that's my response. NEIL: I love it. I love it and it makes me happy to figure in your response. Then, the last question is, when social distancing is over, what are you looking forward to? MONIQUE: Again, I think it would have to go back to something as lovely as sitting around a table with friends and having a dinner party. NEIL: Decadent. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: Risky. MONIQUE: Risky. Right. I have to say that I qualify that looking forward to a meal as being a dinner party, as opposed to going out for a meal with friends because I actually don't miss restaurants at all the way that they're configured now. NEIL: Me neither. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: I mean, this is really telling me and I wonder how much is it going to shape behavior? I always had the inkling like, "Wait, I don't feel about restaurants that other people seem to." It's just utterly confirmed during this time. I am not fucking missing restaurants. MONIQUE: [crosstalk 00:28:58]. NEIL: Are you talking though about you're not looking forward to them given that they have that social distancing or just generally your feeling about restaurants? MONIQUE: Generally. Generally, because New York is so full of places to sit down and have a grand meal, simple meal but it's so rare that a place is truly hospitable. You know? NEIL: Yes. Yes. MONIQUE: Right? NEIL: Yeah. MONIQUE: Yeah. NEIL: Totally. Well, on that note of hospitality, Monique Truong, thank you for that hospitableness of being on SHE'S A TALKER, even though I feel like, I guess I was hosting you, but in any case, I appreciate it so much. MONIQUE: Thank you so much for having me on, Neil. NEIL: Cheers.

E

Aug 2020

42 min 48 sec

Artist Angela Dufresne makes the case that painting is like cats, fashion is like dogs. Neil proposes that certain worked-out bodies are never naked. ABOUT THE GUEST Angela Dufresne is a painter originally from Connecticut, raised however in the town in Kansas (Olathe-Suburbs) that Dick and Perry stopped in before they killed the Clutters (In Cold Blood), and now based in Brooklyn. She received the first college degree in her lineage. Her work articulates non-paranoid, porous ways of being in a world fraught by fear, power and possession. Through painting, drawing and performative works, she wields heterotopic narratives that are both non hierarchical and perverse. She’s exhibited The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, The National Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, The Cleveland Institute of Art, The Aldrich Museum in Connecticut, the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz, among others. She is currently Associate Professor of painting at RISD. Awards and honors include National Academy of Arts and Design induction 2018, a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, residency at Yaddo, a Purchase Award at The National Academy of Arts and Letters, two fellowships at The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, The Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California, and a Jerome Foundation Fellowship. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION

E

Aug 2020

37 min 58 sec

Neil discusses the micro-acting exercise of saying “my husband.” Writer Cassie da Costa finds deep truths in customer service language. ABOUT THE GUEST Cassie da Costa is a writer and editor who works for The Daily Beast and the feminist and queer film journal Another Gaze. Her newsletter of stories, Mildly Yours, is irregular and mysterious. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL GOLDBERG: I'm so happy to have with me on SHE'S A TALKER, Cassie. Hi Cassie. CASSIE DA COSTA: Hi Neil. Thanks for having me. NEIL: Oh, it's my pleasure. It's my pleasure. When you're meeting someone for the first time, how might you succinctly describe to them what it is you do? CASSIE: Succinctly. NEIL: Yeah. CASSIE: I would say I'm a writer and an editor, and I write both criticism and sometimes reportage. I sometimes do more investigative stories. NEIL: I believe both of your parents are around. Correct? CASSIE: Yes. They are. NEIL: So how would, if they were talking to their friends, how might they describe what it is you do? CASSIE: They would say that I'm a writer, and that I write for the Daily Beast, and that I used to work at the New Yorker. Yeah, that I'm a writer and an editor, I guess they would say. My dad's always been saying I'm going to write a book, and I'm like, oh dear. It's been a struggle to get beyond 5,000 words. So, I don't know that. NEIL: Right. What's the book he would have you write, do you think? CASSIE: I think he's thinking about a novel or something narrative, because it goes along with my personality as a child growing up and making up stories and being very much in my own head and in my own world. But it's funny because I didn't go into fiction writing. I thought maybe in college that I would be a poet, and then I kind of ... I'm very scatterbrained, so I just didn't do it. I ended up just doing other things, not for any thought through reason. NEIL: But I feel like you're already, if I may, writing poetry, For me, Mildly Yours, I understand that at least partly as poetic. I don't know, I guess- CASSIE: Yeah, it is. It definitely is. And I don't think that poetry has ever left the work that I do. I got in trouble a lot because the pieces that I wrote were too lyrical, and I've done things- NEIL: In trouble with who? CASSIE: Well, not in trouble in trouble, but just, editors would be like, what is this? Or, even professors in college, I would write a term paper and they'd be like, what the hell are you talking about? NEIL: I love the idea of getting in trouble for poetry. CASSIE: Yeah. That's my orientation towards poetry, that it is a kind of trouble. NEIL: Yeah. CASSIE: In a good way. NEIL: I would love to move on to some cards. Shall we? CASSIE: Ooh, yes. NEIL: Okay. First card, in the song, Proud To Be An American, the lyric, "Where at least I know I'm free," the at least. CASSIE: Hmm. NEIL: To me, that contains so much of the depressed side effects of individualism or an acknowledgement of our unhappiness by saying, "At least I know I'm free." CASSIE: Yeah. It really gets to the core of everything that's happening now around like mask wearing and all of that kind of [crosstalk 00:00:32] where it's like, there's genocide, yet I'm free. And also, it makes you wonder who the speaker of that sentence is, or you can certainly imagine who it is. Yeah. At least I... NEIL: Exactly. At least I... That should be like an instead of E Pluribus Unum. It should be, at least I... Oh my God. But I also wonder what is the, there's something on the other side of at least. It's like, so dah, dah, dah, dah, but at least. CASSIE: Right. NEIL: There's a but there. CASSIE: Yeah. I think they're getting at something very real there, which is like they need to say, well, at least I'm free comes from a very dark place. NEIL: Right. Exactly. Yeah. CASSIE: And it means that what you've done is you've already presumed the kind of defeat- NEIL: Exactly. CASSIE: And you have to overcome it. Yeah. NEIL: Exactly. Oh my God. That's so true. CASSIE: Weirdly baked into exceptionalism is a victim narrative, which is kind of funny in a dark way. But yeah. NEIL: That's so true. That is so true. CASSIE: I'm having a lot of thoughts about this. I really feel this about that whole freedom of speech letter that was in Harper's. NEIL: The Harper's thing. Oh my God. Can you describe for those who don't know it like just in, very quickly what that Harper's letter is, although I'd like to think that the SHE'S A TALKER audience is well acquainted with this kerfuffle. This highbrow kerfuffle. [crosstalk 00:02:17]. CASSIE: [crosstalk 00:02:17] I'm sure deep in this highbrow kerfuffle. A writer, I believe for New York Times magazine named Thomas Chatterton Williams, he wrote an open letter about cancel culture let's say, what he believes to be cancel culture. And a bunch of writers signed it who are amongst a certain set of people, controversial or not liked very much. They would disagree with this obviously. And it really represents, I think this idea that there are dwindling institutions and they represent something to people who have very different ideologies. And some of those people feel like we should all get to be in these institutions as long as the head honchos approve of us and other people who say, "No, I would like to remake these institutions to be tolerant and to be rigorous." CASSIE: And so that's the argument, but it's been framed very differently by the former group as a question of free speech. NEIL: [crosstalk 00:00:03:30]. CASSIE: It's such a silly thing, but it does come from a place of self-victimization, but it's really strange to me where I'm like, wow, these people really feel like they've lost something in all of their like, I don't know, jobs at major publications where they're writing all of their ideas. They really feel maligned, that is very American. NEIL: As you're talking, it reminds me of one time I was filming something and there were a group of us and it was, I think it was raining and we held a cab. This is when one did that, and got in the cab. But it turns out there had been someone who was waiting for the cab that we didn't see and who was like, understandably made a fuss when we started getting into the cab. So I was like, "Oh, sorry, take the cab." And they said, no, they weren't going to take it. And then when we drove away, he gave us the finger. So it's like, that is it. It's like you could... I mean, it's not the same maybe. I don't know. We could deeply deconstruct it. CASSIE: I see the resonances there where it's like, yeah, someone has already decided that unless it happens in their way or the way that they already imagined, then there's no path forward. NEIL: Right. Yeah. CASSIE: And I think when the response to people saying, we live in a world that's undressed in these ways, in which opportunities are hoarded, in which there's a culture of this and it's toxic. And people's response is, "Well, this isn't who I am, and that's not the truth." And it just, it forecloses any meaningful engagement. I don't know. I get that it's frustrating to be criticized by people who you don't really know or who have followings that you don't understand. But anyway, I have nothing else insightful to say about this. NEIL: Next card, more than happy, a term with genuine spiritual potential embedded within the customer service language of late capitalism. More than happy, I'd be more than happy to help you. CASSIE: Yes. NEIL: I remember early in therapy, a million years ago, I mentioned something about being happy and my therapist is like, "That's not what it's about." But I deeply on a deep spiritual level, whatever that means, think this whole happiness thing is such a ruse because so many of the, it feels important things to accomplish as a participant in the world don't have to do with happiness, yet it's lodged itself within that, I do love the language of late capitalism in the service industry. CASSIE: Yeah. I agree. There is actually some beauty in that statement, but it's probably not in its intended meaning. The way that certainly late capitalism positions this language is very telling. And I think that sometimes what happens as a result is that we want to reject all of it outright because that's the context in which we know it, which is fair. But I do feel like there's some power in interpreting it differently and saying, actually, this is how I think about it. NEIL: That's wonderful. Talk about a kind of odd form of reclamation. You're reclaiming something that was never yours. It's not like reclaiming queer. CASSIE: Right. No one called me happy, but... NEIL: So true of me. I bet people have called you happy. CASSIE: I don't know if that's the first thing that comes out of people's mouth. NEIL: Right. CASSIE: She's happy. NEIL: God. CASSIE: It reminds me of when people are like, thank you in advance. NEIL: That's so hostile. That's so hostile. CASSIE: But it's a very hostile statement, but it also in a way speaks to something true, which is that we in polite society have to conduct ourselves in such a way as if we are already grateful for the promise of goodness to come. NEIL: We've really changed the way I think about thanks in advance. CASSIE: Oh yes. NEIL: I guess the question is then, okay, thanks in advance, but what happens if the person you're thanking in advance doesn't do the thing or whatever that you're thanking them in advance for. Does the thanks still hold? CASSIE: Yeah. I think that's where I think sometimes we talk about, ooh, the ultimate zen, like your ability to be, oh, this word is so loaded, but be grateful even when you do not get the outcome you hoped for. I actually think that maybe the best version of gratefulness is how do I hold space for myself to be okay even when things don't turn out how I wanted them to turn out? To not to be okay right then, but to eventually be okay. NEIL: Right. Yeah. It's dispositional or it's a chosen relationship to something. Is that right? CASSIE: Yeah. A chosen relationship and not everyone has to make that choice. I think that's the argument, right? That maybe we're forcing everyone to try to have that disposition and not everyone's going to have it and that's okay. NEIL: Yeah, exactly. Oh, my God. All right. Next card. I don't like when someone pantomimes putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger. I notice it's usually done by someone experiencing or describing something as annoying, that it's actually a privilege to experience. I have a relative who will be unnamed, who often will do that about a kind of domestic issue that they're dealing with, that actually they're secretly happy to be dealing with. CASSIE: I feel like it may be, I could be wrong, I'm making this up. But it could have originated as a slapstick gesture that was very purposefully an exaggeration. And that's why it was funny, because obviously you wouldn't shoot yourself in the head for this reason. NEIL: Right. CASSIE: Maybe you would, but the common thinking would be that you wouldn't, and now maybe the affect has changed. NEIL: Yes. Yes. It used to be ironic, I guess would it be? It used to be the mismatch between the thing and the gesture was what made it funny. And now, what makes it not funny is the mismatch between the thing and the gesture. CASSIE: Yeah. Yes. It's gotten too on the nose, which I think is so true for a lot of gestures, lot of affect has become ... Even the affect of I don't have to wear a mask and people in the grocery store yelling. I think in a way it comes from that, because it's kind of like, well, you better kill me first. NEIL: Right. Exactly. CASSIE: You know, before I ... But the thing that they're so angry about, it doesn't really matter? And they're kind of deriving glee out of all of this. NEIL: Absolutely. It is a way to have, that whole mass thing, is such a way to have outsized impact. CASSIE: It's a built narrative. It's an imagined narrative. And I think, yeah, like the shooting yourself in the head pantomime has weirdly gotten subsumed into people's own little stories, rather than like a way of entertaining other people. NEIL: Yeah. It speaks of a type of feeling of being put upon, maybe. Is that part of it? CASSIE: Yeah. Right, right. Or, if someone's nagging you and you pantomime shooting yourself in the head, or whatever. NEIL: It still has a little bit of the trace of that original irony, you know what I mean? But it really, it's flipped, or the balance has flipped, so that we really should be identifying with you for how frustrated you are because you have to whatever, be on a conference call about whatever, that you're lucky to have a job about or something. CASSIE: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know, I think that's been a big conversation across different issues that have come up in the last few years on the internet and elsewhere. Which is to say who gets to complain and to what degree? And obviously there's no straight answer, but I think there has been more criticism about whose grievances get projected the loudest, or historically have been. And how they've been positioned and taken seriously, whereas other people's haven't. A lot of the things I write about are ultimately about that, and how for some reason, the people who have maybe had dominance in those areas, somehow all of a sudden feel like, oh, I'm the victim in this, and my grievances are not being heard, and I'm oppressed. And it's really alarming. It's just like, what? NEIL: Right. CASSIE: Why do you think this. NEIL: Right. Right, and actually it does, I would think, provide a conduit through which you could feel empathy. You could actually, I think, step back from that feeling and think like, okay, I am genuinely feeling not heard. That's my subjective experience. Okay. That's unassailable. Then, maybe you might want to look at why this feels like you're not being heard. But then you could indeed then think like, well, what does not feeling heard feel like? Who has been heard? It seems like that could be a gateway drug to a type of useful transformation, I think. CASSIE: You would hope. And I think for some people it is. But, unfortunately, for many people it really isn't. I think it's also because whether it's the way that we grew up and we were taught about feelings, a lot of people, you learn that when you feel bad, then it's good to blame someone. NEIL: Yes. Yeah. CASSIE: It's not good to reflect and look around. And maybe in a way, look to your own behavior in the past. Yeah, there's just not a great template for most people, for how to deal with those feelings. NEIL: This doesn't apply here around in the political context about who's heard, who's not heard, but then there is the kind of existential scenario of there's no one to blame. And that's a tough one for me. I have a card that I've talked about in the past which is, whenever I stub my toe, I look for someone to blame. I guess, because if there's no one to blame, then it's like, I don't know. That's a much scarier world to live in, which is actually the world. CASSIE: Yeah. Yeah, and I think I have probably the stubbed toe problem all the time. I'm embarrassed, or I'm hurt, and I'm just like, this is somebody's fault. NEIL: Exactly. Exactly. Next card. Thinking about all the bad theater that's going to be made about Corona. CASSIE: I'm glad I'm not a theater reviewer, but I'm sure there'll be many a TV show and movie made. NEIL: But maybe not as egregious as how it will manifest itself in theater. CASSIE: Yeah. Theater does have a way of taking things a certain place that they never needed to be taken. NEIL: [inaudible 00:23:26]. CASSIE: Yeah. Well, the opportunism that will erupt if it hasn't already. I think to be optimistic or to be kind of silver lining about it, I think there has been some good reflection that's taken artistic form. And people, who are led by their curiosity rather than their need to make things, who've made things. And that those have been good. But yeah, there's certainly going to be people who are like, all right, I got to make something out of nothing in the time of COVID. Here's my show. NEIL: Right. CASSIE: And I wish those people the best. I really do. NEIL: Yes. Thanks. And thanks in advance. I say COVID, but also there are the uprisings around racial justice, which I don't know in a certain way, maybe are not as available to the people. But I am not thinking about the bad art or theater that could arise from that. CASSIE: Yeah. NEIL: I somehow don't imagine it. CASSIE: Yeah. I see what you're saying actually, which is to say that the people who I think would have the courage to make theater about this, for the most part, at least that I'm aware of, even if I didn't love it, would probably actually do something that wasn't egregious. But, maybe I'm naive. NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. CASSIE: That did happen with Black Lives Matter. I felt like there were films that were made that I just thought were just completely ridiculous, that were made in the years following. NEIL: Is there an example? I can't think of, and maybe this is just me not going to movies a lot, but I can't think of any movies that addressed or obliquely engaged with Black Lives Matter. CASSIE: I wrote a piece about Queen & Slim earlier this year, it was very disparaging of the film. NEIL: Oh, uh-huh (affirmative). I didn't read it. CASSIE: And some people were very mad at me for going in on the film in that way, even though I think quite a few people agreed that it wasn't good. My feeling was that the film ... I'm not going to make any claims about the intentions. From what I've read in the interviews, and I think it came probably from a very earnest place, I don't really know what's in these people's hearts and minds. But the effect of the film to me felt like a kind of a stylization of Black Lives Matter that was ultimately shallow, that was hollow. And, that there's a major risk run there when there's an economy being made of these issues. It's hard if you're like, okay, if people are only going to hire black filmmakers and writers to write about these issues, and it's much harder to get hired to write about anything else, even if that's where your work is, then, okay, how do you criticize this kind of work when it misses the mark? And for me, I was just like, well, I'm just going to criticize it like anything else. Because I'm black, I guess this work is made for me, but to other people. So, I'm going to be honest about how I feel about it. But yeah, It's funny because I do think there's some very careful treading that's done around certain films, and it's not merely because of the subject. It's also because of who might be making it and how they're positioned in the industry. Do some of these critics writing want to have careers in the arts outside of criticism? And if they're too mean about this thing, will that compromise their ability to get certain opportunities? I think all of that stuff is at play. Maybe that's why it seems like, oh, I haven't seen anything or heard of anything like this. It's because people either won't write about it, or they'll just write something very lukewarm that doesn't really say anything one way or another. NEIL: Right. Yeah. Props to you for, I was going to say, for that courageousness. Although I feel like that's another word like grateful. Courageous and generous. CASSIE: Well, I laugh because I don't think it's courageous. I think people who know me would say that the reason I don't have fear is because I don't value what I would get out of not saying anything. So to me, there's not really a dilemma. I wasn't like, ooh, should I publish this? Will people even mad at me? I was like, okay, well. I'm not ambitious in that way. I'm sure there are other ways in which I'm ambitious, but it's not in that particular way. NEIL: I love it. What is a bad X you'd take over a good Y? CASSIE: Oh. Okay. This is a good question. I would take a bad Whitney Houston song over a good Taylor Swift song. Is that too easy? NEIL: It's pretty easy I'm going to say. But that's okay. CASSIE: I'm trying to think deep. NEIL: Yeah. CASSIE: But, I guess my point is that I would take a bad song from a nostalgic tradition, over a good song from something that I feel like, yeah, is kind of ubiquitous in a way. I love- NEIL: And contemporary. CASSIE: And contemporary. I love bad stuff that comes from what feels to me like a very, I don't know, something that's kind of disappeared because everything is so crafted now. Everything is so branded. So even when stuff is good, I'm kind of like, okay. I do have to, and I do listen to new music all the time because of the work I do, but I don't listen to it with the same frequency and allegiance that I listen to stuff maybe made from 2005 and before that. NEIL: Okay. I love that highly specific demarcation point. CASSIE: I don't know. I might have to amend it in the post. NEIL: Okay. The question is, what are you looking forward to when all this is over, but I'm not really sure what the all this is anymore. CASSIE: Well, on a very simple level, I can't wait to see my family. My parents, I really miss, and my sisters. And I look forward to, hopefully, I guess more instances in our society of people being proactive to take care of each other, rather than waiting until when things go wrong. But I don't know if that's actually something that will happen. NEIL: Right. CASSIE: It's a hope. NEIL: Why would it happen? Why would it happen? CASSIE: Well, because I think that the vulnerability of this time, for not everyone, but for a lot of people has meant that they've had to become more engaged. Whether it's with their own family members and friends or wider communities, that they've had to be more attentive and more aware of things going on around them that maybe don't necessarily directly affect them. But I also think that people really struggle to do this and fail to do this in many ways. So I hope that there's learning there, and change that happens as a result. But also it's very possible that that really won't happen. So, we'll see. NEIL: On that note, Cassie, thank you so much for being on SHE'S A TALKER. CASSIE: Thank you, Neil. This was a real pleasure, and a very welcome break from my day.  

E

Aug 2020

34 min 36 sec

Neil discusses the pleasure of medical touch. Designer/entertainer Isaac Mizrahi consoles us that at least Stephen Sondheim isn't the best bridge player. ABOUT THE GUEST Isaac Mizrahi has worked extensively in the entertainment industry as an actor, host, writer, designer, and producer for over 30 years. He is the subject and co-creator of Unzipped, a documentary following the making of his Fall 1994 collection which received an award at the Sundance Film Festival. He hosted his own television talk show The Isaac Mizrahi Show for seven years, has written two books, and has made countless appearances in movies and on television. Mizrahi has directed productions of A Little Night Music and The Magic Flute for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and has also performed cabaret at Café Carlyle, Joe’s Pub, West Bank Café, and City Winery locations across the country. He currently serves as a judge on Project Runway: All-Stars and his memoir, I.M., was published in February 2019. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund, Western Bridge, and the David Shaw and Beth Kobliner Family Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: Isaac Mizrahi, thank you so much for being on She's A Talker. I really appreciate it. ISAAC: So happy to do it. NEIL: I'm curious, today, May 15th, what is something that you find yourself thinking about? ISAAC: May 15th. I think about, of course, I think what everybody else is thinking about at the moment. Like, what the hell is going on? Really! What the hell is going on? It's so scary. Like, I was looking at Instagram, I follow this one dancer, this one beautiful dancer called David Hallberg. I love him, he's an old friend of mine. Anyway, so I was following him and I was looking at pictures of him dancing on stage in a costume with other dancers thinking like, “Excuse me? Will we ever get to go to a theater again?” I know that's really what I'm thinking. A lot about theater and how much I love theater, opera, ballet. So that's what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about David Hallberg in tights. NEIL: That's inspiring. ISAAC: I know. Never will I ever see David Hallberg in tights again. NEIL: May it be soon. May it be soon. ISAAC: I know, may it be soon! Exactly. NEIL: So that's what you're thinking about on May 15th. Do you have kind of like a recurring thought that seems to return to you? ISAAC: You know, I gotta say the recurring thing that I think about, especially in May, is my dog who died on May 12th, 2016, right? Since May 12th, I've been thinking about my first dog called Harry. My screen saver on my phone is still Harry and Dean, who we got, I don't know, six or seven years later. We got a second dog called Dean. And Dean is still with us. And he's aging now. I'd say he's like 14 or 15, and we have a younger dog named kitty. (dogs barking) Oh, there they are on cue! That's funny. All right, Dean, relax. He's a beagle mix so he’s very talkative. NEIL: I love it! Well, it's perfect for the podcast called She's A Talker. ISAAC: I know! She's A Talker! She's A Talker! And it's so funny because kitty, the bitch, is not a talker at all. She rarely opens her mouth. I was going to say that I was thinking about my screensaver and then I was thinking about, Jesus, when he goes, right, I don't know when that's going to happen, five years from now or seven years from now. When he goes, what would my screensaver be? To me, that screensaver is the truth of my life. It's those two dogs together in this house, in Bridgehampton. I have to say, like, I don't have a big fabulous mansion in Bridgehampton. I have a shack that I love! That's my home! And I've been here since the middle of March thinking, “Do I care if I ever see my apartment again?” Which is fabulous, the third-best apartment in the whole city or something, you know? And I keep thinking like, “Do I need to see that place again?” No, I would rather just be here now. But I think a lot about the dog situation! Like, when Dean goes does that mean that my screensaver has to change? Right? Because the truth of my life, the truest moment of my life is being here with Dean and Harry, even though he's still not here. Isn't that weird? His ashes are here. Harry’s ashes are on my shelf, in the den. I know it's a little morbid. Did we expect for She's A Talker to get so morbid today? NEIL: Oh, I'm fully prepared to go there, and also that doesn't feel morbid at all! That feels comforting. And it's interesting, you know, the show is based on these index cards I've been writing down over the years and one of the cards, I can't remember it exactly, is something about the different durations of our pets lives and our own lives. It creates a kind of musical counterpoint in that, you know, my partner is 12 years younger than I am, my husband, and my cat is five years and together we're all operating on these different lifespans. It feels somehow musical to me. ISAAC: Right. You know, I often think, especially, like, I've been writing more and more— I know this sounds insane to you probably. (dog barking) It sounds insane to Dean, but I've been writing a novel. I finished at the Carlyle February 8th or something like that. Then I had like four days off and I felt like, “Okay, what am I going to do?” I feel I’m in postpartum depression, I have to start something. So I started writing this novel that I've been taking notes about and thinking about for 30 years or something. And the more I think about writing, the more I think about what you're saying, which is if you stories going on, if you have simultaneous stories going on, you know the characters affect each other in this way. So the timeline you're talking about, I often think about that. And especially now. Like, you know, my husband and I are not cohabitating through this. My husband is in the city. He preferred to shelter in the city. I couldn't face it. I couldn't do it. NEIL: Yeah. ISAAC: Anytime I talked to him on the phone, I think to myself this thought that you're saying. This timeline thing, this emotional timeline of what's going on in his life. Because he has this whole other 90% of something else that's going on. You know what I mean? Like we think that's going along in parallel lines, but it isn't, and yet it works. My husband and I, we have separate bedrooms and I feel like we need that for a lot of different reasons. And we're comfortable. Like, I always kind of spoke about the fact that I was an insomniac and that's what kind of prescribed the separate bedroom thing. But it's not so much about that as much as, like, really sort of standing for the fact that we have separate lives, you know? I mean that. That's a really, really important part of our partnering. NEIL: Next card is— I'm going to mention this person's name and maybe bleep them out. It's really within the context of adoring their work, but— How the third story in ****’s latest collection is a little bit disappointing, but that feels like a relief from the relentless virtuosity. Do you ever have that feeling about like where something is so masterful, where it falters a little bit it's almost like— ISAAC: And you go like “phew,” yes. Thank goodness they're human. I have, but I can't think of any real examples of it. I will tell you I'm sort of friends with Steve Sondheim, right? Literally, he has never written anything bad. Like you can't find anything bad. But I played Bridge with him a long time ago. We used to play bridge and he wasn't the best bridge player. And that made me feel a little bit better. NEIL: Another card says: The technical differences between a performer being naked versus wearing a bodysuit; How that probably gives rise to a lot of fetishes. ISAAC: What a hilarious question on so many levels. That is a hilarious thing to ask. Dance belts, thongs, sports bras... Talk amongst yourselves, right? That's basically what you're doing. I think that people go to see dance shows not merely because it's an incredible art form or it's beautiful, but also because they're horny and it's like a sexy thing. NEIL: Of course, yeah. ISAAC: It's a really sexy thing to watch people dance. You see like body parts jiggling, you see butts, you see titties, you see, like, baskets on men. The weights of these things. I do. Of course, you can scream, you can laugh at me, but I swear, like, a large percent of what I have been doing all these years is that. You know, when I see a woman with beautiful legs and a tutu, I go like, “what?” You know, your legs just can't look any better than if you're wearing a tutu and pointe shoes. It just doesn't get better. Sometimes I design short short short tunics for boys so that when they fly up you get to see the flesh color dance. I mean, like, I just do because I'm a pervert and also because it’s beautiful! NEIL: Oh absolutely. ISAAC: It’s beautiful. But, by the way, you know, there've been times where I go like, “Oh, wouldn't it be great if this was naked?” You know? And, you know, it wouldn’t because then it's not about anything but the bodies, you know what I mean? Like, yes it’s all about the body, but it's not just about-— it's not only about a body. I rarely like naked dancing. There was one show I saw when I was a kid that I loved that was, oh, what's her name? It was Garden of Earthly Delights. That wonderful choreographer I can't remember. But they were all naked and I loved it. It was a great show. Cause it was set in the Garden of Earthly Delights! But yeah, I don't love nudity on stage. I never think it really has a place except to shock people, you know? NEIL: Mhm. But your talking makes me realize that something about— in a way it's about abstraction. You know, the bodysuit creates almost an abstraction of the body. Is that it? So you're not getting, like, balls and cock and ass and tits or et cetera, but you are— ISAAC: Yeah, maybe so! To me, the figurative is stronger than the literal. I don't know. I always feel like it's kind of a let down when you see someone without their clothes. NEIL: Absolutely. ISAAC: And I don't think it's an abstraction of a body. I think it's a kind of leveling of the body, and it's the best way to see the body. Sometimes I think the only great costume is a leotard. And the more I work as a costume designer, which I don't really do that much, I work with Mark Morris. Still, it's really interesting to me because we're really, really close friends. We're best friends. So it's really interesting for me to do that. I always love rehearsal clothes better than any costume you could possibly come up with anymore. It makes me focus better. Does that make sense? NEIL: Did you see that recent Cunningham documentary? ISAAC: Yes, I did. NEIL: The balance so many of those costumes struck between— You know, they were often bodysuits, but adorned and decorated. ISAAC: I was actually gonna bring up Merce because, you know, usually it was some kind of a bodysuit. I'm a huge Merce Cunningham fan. I loved that stuff so much growing up. I was there so often and, by the way, not liking it and not understanding it a lot too. It never stopped me from going. I kind of went so as not to understand everything. I didn't want this feeling of understanding when I went to see Merce. I wanted to be immersed in something. Almost like being immersed in your own organs or something. It's like the insides of your own body that you're looking at. NEIL: For me, Merce— I have such a similar relationship to the whole cognitive experience of watching Merce and not getting it. I almost feel like it's about a type of productive spacing out. Like, the ways in which I don't connect or the way it throws me back into my mind by virtue of not getting it is a productive space. Is that part of what you're saying, perhaps? ISAAC: Absolutely! Yes, 100%. One of the things I don't think a lot of choreographers answer is the question: Why the hell are we here? You know what I mean? Why are we here? Right. A lot of choreographers don't do that. Some of the best. And it bugs me. I can't work with them unless they can answer that question. And with Merce, the question doesn't even arise. You are there because you are there. To me, it transcended everything. I mean, that music, that idea about what art is, I mean, to me, it's what it is. And you know, for a long time, my favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey because of the attraction and because of the wonderful coming together of this kind of futuristic look at something and this ancient look at something. Monoliths and space people and ape-men, et cetera. I thought it was this incredible thing. And then I saw it again and you know what? It didn't really age that well. I have to say it didn't stay with me. And if you look at Merce it not only ages well, it's just the most beautiful damn thing. It's as beautiful as anything you will ever look at. NEIL: I so agree. ISAAC: Graham doesn't age that well, does it? It's like a little drama. It looks great out of costume. If you ever get a look at Graham in rehearsal out of the costumes, it looks so beautiful. It looks so beautiful. NEIL: That makes sense because it adds to the melodrama, the costumes. ISAAC: Merce was just doing it all without costuming. You know, you look at some of the pivots, and some of the flexing, and some of the arched back, and that kind of deep, deep plié, and the relevé, everything on the relevé never touched. It's Martha Graham only without costumes and on steroids and an abstract— no subject matter, no story, nothing. You know? NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. Product placements: the kind of psychic work you have to do to get past them. How do you connect to that, if at all? Like when you're watching a TV show or a movie and you see— “Okay, there's that Coke.” ISAAC: Yeah, exactly. Right. You know, I think they're doing a really good job because I notice it less. You know? I notice it less. You know when I notice it? Is on, like, Ellen or something. Like talk shows? NEIL: Interesting. Uh-huh. ISAAC: I notice it a lot. You know, it's like, “Oh, who made that deal to use that spatula on the cooking segment?” You know what I mean? That's when I think about it. In the movie, I don't exactly think about it unless there's a giant product name. I don't know why, but it doesn't bother me. And I feel like they're doing a good job or something. They're doing a good job. NEIL: Well you know they're measuring it. God knows. ISAAC: I know. Or else I'm getting callous and I don't care or something. I don't judge a show by its ability to place a product without notice. But at a talk show, it's like, well, of course it's about— that's all it's about. Why else are you watching the talk show right now? It's to plug someone's new movie and someone's new spatula. Right? That's the only reason to have a talk show. NEIL: Do you have a favorite spatula? ISAAC: I do actually. My favorite spatula is an OXO Good Grips spatula. NEIL: Absolutely know what you're talking about. ISAAC: I love it. NEIL: I know you're into astrology and see, for me, I feel like, as a hardcore four planets in Virgo, that the spatula is the Virgo tool. ISAAC: Yes it is. You know I have a Virgo ascendant. Yes, NEIL: Yes. you're a Libra. Right? If I remember correctly? ISAAC: Yes, a Libra with a Virgo ascendant. NEIL: As a Libra, does your choice in kitchen tools connect at all to your— ISAAC: A few things. A few things that I adore. I have the best ice cream maker in the fucking world, it’s huge! And it makes basically a cup of ice cream, but it does— It's so great. When you turn it on the whole house vibrates and you know this ice cream is being churned. And I loved it so much I got another one for the city. So now I have two of these babies and I feel so rich. I feel like I’m a rich person because I could afford two ice cream makers, you know, like, of such quality. And then the other thing I have, which is so special and I love it: if you go on my Instagram page— speaking of product placement, Isaac Mizrahi! Hello? Hello!— So the thing is that I did this cooking segment. I made this really good pasta with— NEIL: With pork! I saw it! ISAAC: Yeah, exactly. And I have this wonderful sausage smasher. It smashes the sausage really effectively NEIL: Sausage smasher sounds like a euphemism somehow. ISAAC: Doesn't it? It sounds like something you would— like a terrible thing you call someone. NEIL: Okay. Another card is: I always feel the gesture of holding something away from my eyes to read it because I'm not wearing reading glasses somehow looks cool. Like I do it in front of students, but of course, it looks just the opposite, but I still haven't let go of it. ISAAC: No, you mustn't do that. You mustn’t. That ages you so much. You know what else ages you? If you wear glasses and, at some point, you look over your glasses to see something. NEIL: Oh, don’t do it. Don't do it. ISAAC: I remember, I'm not gonna mention any names, but I worked for an older designer at a time and he used to look over his glasses and I was like, “You're so old.” I came close to saying it to his face once. Like, you gotta stop doing that because it's just so aging, you know? Don't do it! Do not do it. NEIL: I'm thinking of your life in cabaret, this other world that you occupy. So how I wrote it down on the card is: The connection between camp and paying the check while performers are still singing at Joe's pub. And I know it's the cafe Carlisle as well. I remember seeing Justin Vivian Bond breaking my heart with a song, but, at the same time, the server is coming or I'm doing that tip. And somehow navigating that mental space between being moved by something on stage, but also having to negotiate this transaction feels like the essence of camp. ISAAC: You know, I honestly, and especially after that exhibit, shall we call it, last year at the Met called Camp, I don't know what the hell camp is. I always thought I knew what camp was and I always kind of understood that people associated a certain amount of camp with me because I embrace it. I do love camp but I don't know what it means anymore. You know? NEIL: Yeah. ISAAC: And so all I can say to you is I would never associate the word camp with the confluence of those two things happening at once. Like, you know, on stage singing a heartbreaking song with the fries coming and paying a bill. That's not, to me, campy. To me, that's ironic. And it doesn't detract because that's the understanding that you have as a performer in a nightclub. That’s the understanding that you have. The irony kind of adds to it. It makes it better in a certain way because all artists are there to be appreciated. Right? So if this person came and is sitting there and the agreement is that he can order food and he can pay his bills while you're doing what you're doing, then I say, “Bring it, bring it, bring it on.” I mean that. I never— I don't flinch when that happens because I think, you know, I'll tell you this one thing: I used to kind of be friends with Azzedine Alaïa a little bit, a little bit. Like, we had dinner three times. I said to him, “Oh, you know, this person was wearing the dress and she was wearing it with this bra—” and he was like, “Darling, I don't care if she's wearing it with a flower pot on her head, she bought the dress, bless her.” You know? And I was like, well, thank you Azzedine. You know, I thought that was a great piece of advice. Like as I age, I get less and less precious about certain things and more and more precious about other things that I didn't. One of them is not people paying attention to me on stage because if they already paid, they can do— I count the sleepers sometimes. I’m not kidding you, it’s like, “Oh she’s sleeping, he's sleeping…” And I'm counting people who are asleep. If you play a big room, you're going to have some sleepers. You know? And I go, “Hurray!” Because darling, some of the best sleep I ever got was at ballet or the opera or the theater. And I love the show, by the way. I come out thinking “That's the best show I ever saw in my life.” A) Because it was great. And B) because I got like a 10-minute nap and it was my favorite thing. NEIL: Yeah. And sleeping is a form of interactivity too. It's like an edit. ISAAC: Exactly. This is true. It's like a way of making it your own, shall we say? NEIL: Yes, yeah. ISAAC: Hooray! I'm glad we got that straight because I mean that. NEIL: I love that idea of the things that you become more precious about and less precious about. Does anything immediately come to mind as something else you've gotten less precious about or more precious about with age? ISAAC: I've got less precious about meet and greets and autograph signing. I’m much less precious about that. And I’ve gotten more precious about, like, what happens to me before a show, because I feel like I have to be in a certain space to do a show. NEIL: Mhm. ISAAC: I'm more precious now. Like I beg people to get me this or not offer me with that. You know, make sure that something is set up properly so that I can make my entrance because I feel like doing that thing that I do at the Carlyle or whatever I'm playing, you have to show up exactly right. Because if you don't show up exactly right they'll eat you alive. You have to really believe that you're not nervous. And in order to do that, you know, there's a lot of preparation. But now afterward, I can meet people, I can do meet and greets, I can sign autographs, I can do all that. In the fashion business, I hated doing meet and greets. I hated— I couldn't do trunk shows. God. I mean, like, really? I have to now sell the shit? Like I designed the shit, I showed the shit, I taught the shit, and now I have to sell the shit. I don't know why, but I feel like this is just on more of a personal level. Like, I guess I just like theater better. I like the theater better than I like fashion. It’s just better— Sorry. I'm old enough. I can judge. It's probably sour grapes. NEIL: Well, that's for you to decide. It doesn't sound like that. That sounds more like what artists do, which is that they have an evolving relationship to the forms that they engage with. Two last questions. What's a bad— I mean, it relates to this “what's precious, what's not anymore.” Fill in the blank for an X and Y: What's a bad X you would take over a good Y? ISAAC: I would take a bad episode of Mary Tyler Moore over, hm, oh, I shouldn't say this, over, a really, really good fashion show. NEIL: Cheers. Cheers. ISAAC: I mean it. I shouldn't say that, but I did. I said it. You got it. But could I tell you something apropos of Mary Tyler Moore? NEIL: Please. Anything. ISAAC: I have been inspired by Mary Tyler Moore before in my life and everyone knows that. So people think that that's all I think about and I live for or whatever, but, I mean, I watched the show when I was a kid a lot, whenever it was on. And then here and there, because it really wasn't one of those shows they reran to ad nauseum, you know? Anyway, I've been here since the middle of March. I swear to you, one of the first things I started doing was watching that show every single night. I watched like two or three episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore show starting from season one. By the way, it’s seven seasons of literally like 24 shows or 26 shows. So it's like 175 shows. NEIL: Wow. ISAAC: It is the most brilliant, heartbreaking, beautiful shit in the world. The writing is so unbelievable. The grasp on, like, the quality of comedy, but it's not really— I mean, comedy, yes, but it's so melancholy and it's so— it's like Peanuts, but adult Peanuts. You know, like, Charlie Brown or whatever. They're all kind of hapless and just, they're all bordering on depressed, and they're all so fucked up, and, like, so three dimensional, and they deliver you three jokes on every page. I mean, it is unbelievable. That's been getting me through. I watch whatever I'm supposed to watch on Netflix or whatever. You know, I get through all that, and then I put on Mary Tyler Moore right before I'm going to go to bed and I just watch the two or three episodes and I eat ice cream while I'm doing that. NEIL: Heaven. ISAAC: It’s heaven. Ice cream and the Mary Tyler Moore show, darling. I'm serious. NEIL: Finally: What's something you're looking forward to when this is over? ISAAC: Here's what I'm really looking forward to: David Hallberg or any male dancer in tights. Like, seeing that on stage. That's what I'm looking for. NEIL: I love it. May you have it soon. On that note, Isaac Mizrahi, thank you so much for being on She's A Talker.  

E

Jul 2020

33 min 19 sec

Neil talks about his childhood wish to stop the waves. DJ and academic Mike Dimpfl talks about his research on "toilet feelings." ABOUT THE GUEST Mike Dimpfl is a teacher, academic, costume builder, and DJ. His academic work explores the connection between hygiene, bureaucracy, and institutional racism, particularly in the southern US. Mike’s costumes often focus on the comic and confusing relationship human beings have to their garbage and to the possibility of the divine. When music is his focus, he is especially committed to reckless abandon on the dancefloor. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund, Western Bridge, and the David Shaw and Beth Kobliner Family Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: Mike Dimpfl, welcome to SHE’S A TALKER MIKE: I’m so delighted to be here. NEIL: It’s impossible to imagine you’re as delighted as I am to have you here. Now, can I ask where this recording is finding you? MIKE: Yeah, this recording is finding me, sitting at my dining room table in Durham, North Carolina. It’s a lovely gray, 64 degree day. NEIL: Do you like a gray day? MIKE: I do right now because I have a bit of sort of structural gardening work to complete. And when the summer comes here it becomes so insanely hot that it’s just completely impossible to be outside. We’ve had a really long, cool spring, so the bugs aren’t here yet. NEIL: What is structural gardening work? MIKE: It’s a critique of the, sort of political economy of earlier forms of gardening. We’re remaking our yard and we’ve been doing all of the actual construction work. So not planting plants, but building walls and building fences and moving dirt around and things that. So all the things that are sort of a pain in the ass and give my sort of inner type A control freak a lot of pleasure, but don’t actually produce anything you would say is recognizably a garden. It’s a lot of getting your hands cut by all of the pieces of broken glass that are in the soil around your house. NEIL: Oh, how come there’s broken glass inside the soil around your house? MIKE: It’s just an almost a hundred year old house, and I think that over time things break and people throw bottles into the former dump behind the former garage that’s no longer there, and you find them and I’ve probably taken out an entire garbage can, an actual garbage can of broken glass out of the yard. NEIL: Wow, one shard at a time? MIKE: One shard at a time, yes. I’m going to start an Etsy store with all of the other things I found, like yard cured fork and yard cured wrench, they have a nice patina. NEIL: Oh, I bet, people would pay a pretty penny to give you their new wrench to make it look that. MIKE: To bury, totally, totally. NEIL: It’s like the kimchi of wrenches. MIKE: Exactly, exactly. NEIL: What drove you to leave New York? MIKE: Oh God, I had a terrible day job, crushing, horribly boring development work that I was doing. And I don’t know if you knew, I’d had a bunch of surgeries on my ears. I had a genetic hearing loss condition and they actually messed it up in my right ear, so I’m super deaf in my right ear now. And it meant that I couldn’t DJ as much. And so I kind of lost the love of New York, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll go back to grad school.” And I did, and of course grad school is a little bit returning to the fourth grade playground. But you realize that your bully is secretly closeted and you’d just know that. And then I did my PhD down here at Chapel Hill and was lucky enough to get a job at Duke, and I teach in the writing program there. And I have been kind of unlearning grad school since then, but enjoying life. NEIL: What is unlearning grad school consist of? MIKE: I mean, I’d be curious about what your own experiences of this actually is because you teach in another kind of weird, precious environment. The performance of mastery, I think is one of the most insane and weird things that we encounter. There’s some tension between mastery and a willingness to just be open to what is, I feel they push each other away. And I feel like a willingness to be open to what is, requires a particular kind of thinking and willingness to take things apart in a careful way. Whereas the production of mastery is, do I know these terms? Can I Lord over this seminar space? Can I make some comment that seems complex? And there’s so much value placed on that style of interaction. NEIL: That question of mastery makes for such a great segue to the first card, the connection between teaching art and 19th century medical practices. You tell someone like, “We will bleed you for 30 minutes and then you must go home and apply the poultice.” MIKE: Yeah like, “Wait for the moon to wax, and put these three stones on your back steps.” NEIL: Exactly, but instead it’s, watch this other artist read this text. MIKE: Yeah, I feel like mastery and practice are at odds with each other. NEIL: Yes, yeah. MIKE: Practice is what I’m into, practice, just keep practicing, right? You just have to keep doing. NEIL: Yes, yeah, and if you’re holding onto idea of mastery, you will make one piece of work, maybe. Because making art is about getting to the place of most resolved failure, where the failure becomes clear, and then that is what carries you over into the next piece. Also this idea of professional development, to use that term where, where so many students have the idea of, “Okay, well, if I do this, this, this, and this, I will have an art career versus if you do this, this and this, you will make art, I guess.” MIKE: Well, I mean mastery, it relies on it in some ways, like the way that we’re so addicted to exceptionalism. It’s a weird narrative that despite the fact that all, effectively statistically, all artists are failed artists, right? NEIL: Right, exactly. Exactly, exactly. MIKE: They’re like, “No, it’s going to be me. I’m going to be the next Jeff Koons, but I hate Jeff Koons.” That whole… NEIL: Totally, that is the Vegas thing that keeps graduate programs in business. This card is writing midterm evaluations for art school is like doing a horoscope. MIKE: Oh my God, I love that for a number of reasons, just because I imagined you doing it. Just sitting cross legged with your taro out and the incense going, just watching videos of student work on your phone or something. You’ve got a very rough hewn robe on, you’re like- NEIL: You nailed it. MIKE: … your wicker sandals, whatever it is that gets you in that sort of coastal medieval witchcraft mood. Yeah, it’s funny, as a grader, I tell my students that I’m a harsh critic, but an easy grader. We have to be able to look at our own work with critical kind of generosity and be willing to be wrong. But to be a generous writer is a whole thing that takes your whole life to do. It’s easy to be critical, right? It’s easy to be snarky and sarcastic or funny or quick, right? You can be creative and original, but also quick in a way that I feel is not always helpful, right? Being generous is about taking care, but also I was just thinking about it and if only we could be actually honest. If only you could just be super honest with your students about what they’re doing. MIKE: I mean, would that change what you said to yours? Because I feel like I am honest to a certain extent, but I’m also not, and I don’t mean this in a mean way, but I just want to be like, “This is just a terrible waste of your time, this thing that you’ve written. The way that you’re going here, isn’t going to get anywhere that’s going to be fun for you, interesting for other people, allow you to do the work that you’re going to do.” And I never quite do that. NEIL: That’s where the horoscope comes in though, about I’m honest but there’s always kind of a anomic, is that the word? You add this intentional ambiguity. MIKE: It’s both honest and a little bit of a sidestep- NEIL: Exactly, yeah, yeah. MIKE: You’re like, “There’s something that’s not right here. It’s in this thematic zone of things that aren’t right, consider that zone for yourself.” NEIL: You said something about mortality as it relates to grades and we’re all going to die. MIKE: No, my thing was like… I think the thing that I always want and increasingly want, I always want students to think of themselves in their lives… Think of themselves as living their lives, not as having goals about what it should be. I was at Chapel Hill and now I’m at Duke, they’re both iterations of very fancy campusy bubble experiences. The way that we produce the isolation of education always struck me as a little bit problematic. I used to teach about labor at Duke and I’d be on the first day, my activity was like, “On one side of this card, tell me a job that you want based on your experience here. And then on the other side, tell me a job that you would love to have if money were no object or job security were no object?” And it’s like stockbroker, magician. The world of the jobs they want is the world we all want to live in. It’s like, runs a dog farm, is a chef, is a magician. And the really problematic ones are the ones that are stockbroker, stockbroker. MIKE: I think in my most compassionate sense, I want to be like, for kids who are really freaking out, but really good students just be like, “This is great, it wasn’t awesome. There’s a lot more in the world that you should be thinking about besides this class. Go call your mom, go be with your family, go do something that’s about your life that’s worth living because you’re getting lost in the illusion of mastery.” NEIL: Professor Dimpfl, what’s my grade? MIKE: Yeah, literally at the end of all that, I’ll give them this whole… I will put on my NEIL: shaman cloak, I will go for a walk around Duke’s campus and I’m trying to share some… I’m always trying to get all my aphorisms in check and at the end they’re like, “But do I still have an A minus?” NEIL: Okay, those people who you think are going to eventually feel embarrassed for themselves, but never do. MIKE: I feel like they’re from a more perfected future. People who are never embarrassed, I feel like they just are doing it better, right? Their inability to feel shame is in some ways a rejection of our worst selves, right? Shame is a wasted emotion, it’s not even they’re proud, it’s post embarrassment. Not being able to feel embarrassment is not about not being ashamed, it’s just being beyond embarrassment. If we could only live in that world, think about how forgiving you would be about being wrong, if being embarrassed wasn’t a part of being wrong. NEIL: So where does Donald Trump fit in that? Sorry to do that but… MIKE: Donald Trump is from the post embarrassed future, at his best self. There’s some childhood version of Donald Trump that would be able to exist in the post embarrassed future. And in a tragic way, he was just corrupted in the most horrible way by his life and turned into this horrible… He is his own portrait of Dorian Gray, there was some switch that happened. He walked through the mirror, in the mansion early on and that was it. It’s actually Ronald Trump that we wanted to be living with and Donald was the one that we got. But the ethos there, I think isn’t wrong. The content is horrible and hideous, but the idea that you would live in a world where your mistakes, aren’t the thing that define you is a world beyond embarrassment. NEIL: This episode is going to be called post embarrassment, I think. MIKE: I hope for all of us it is, I want that… Because shame is such a heavy, historical emotion. I don’t know if you read, I always want to call it The Velvet Rope, but that’s the Janet Jackson album, The Velvet Rage. NEIL: No, I never did. MIKE: The Velvet Rage is some queen wrote a book about how, it’s problematic in a number of ways, but the overarching theme is that gaze of a certain era learn shame before they have a word for it. And it just festers inside of them and creates all this anger and frustration and all these problems later on in life, the closet and all that stuff. And I think just in general, we govern ourselves so much through shame. Instagram culture is shaming. Facebook culture is all about shame. Mastery is about shame. Our actual inability to deal with the future, and the inevitability of death is about being ashamed that we’re not going to be living a life that’s rich enough to justify our death. I think that there’s a lot tied up in that experience. MIKE: And to be looking at someone who’s beyond embarrassment. I mean, I think about the people that I was like, “Gosh, I hope they feel embarrassed about that.” And now in retrospect, I just admire them all. I’m just like, “God, you just don’t care that everybody hates that joke. You just don’t care.” And your joie de vivre is unassailable and it’s a like a Teflon joie de vivre, what a joy. NEIL: Okay, next card. When someone mentions shit while you’re eating. MIKE: Oh my God… Okay, first of all, it just reads as when you mention shit, because I am this person. I still get toilet news from people that I’ve encountered across the globe, all the time. NEIL: Could you share for the audience, your professional relationship to shit? MIKE: My professional relationship to shit, I am not only a person who shits, like all of your audience, but I wrote a master’s thesis, I would like to say that it’s about toilet feelings. I interviewed a bunch of people who had been forced by the city of Syracuse to install composting toilets in their lake side cabins, as a means of protecting what was an unfiltered watershed. So they couldn’t install septic systems. They had this kind of high functioning, but archaic system where they all had outhouses, and instead of shitting just into a hole, they would shit into buckets. And then every week the city would come around on a shit boat and collect all of their buckets of shit and take them away from them. MIKE: A job that I think about a lot, just when your job is to, in the hot summer sun, drive around on a beautiful, pristine lake with a boat full of buckets full of shit. That boat is post embarrassment, that boat is living a post embarrassment life. We have nothing on that boat. MIKE: Anyway, so I wrote this master’s thesis and I interviewed all these households and it was a lot of older folks, people who have had these cabins for a long time and a lot of retired folks. And I’ll tell you what, if it’s summer and you’re going to visit an old retired couple and you actually want to talk to them about their shitting, they’re there for that. They are really there for that. In some ways, the knowledge of their own death to get back to it, the fact that they’re like, “It’s coming.” They’re like, “There’s no reason to hide.” They’re all trying to, for better or for worse, are trying to deal with these strange toilets that don’t flush and encountering them with their bodies that sometimes don’t work with them. MIKE: So this one couple, the wife was always on antibiotics and you can’t use a composting toilet when you’re on antibiotics because it kills the bacteria in the shit that actually digests the toilet, so it just becomes a kind of cesspool, kind of anaerobic nonsense. And so they had two toilets, one, one of my favorite, the macerating toilet, which is a toilet that has a food processor on the back that you turn it on and it makes this kind of horrible grinding noise, and it turns your poop into kind of a poo shake. And the other was this incinerating toilet, and it has a little jet engine in it and you poop and then this jet engine thing turns on and just burns your shit to ash, it’s like an outer space thing. I mean, obviously I had to use all of them, so it’s this crazy noise of like, “…” It’s like being in an airplane. MIKE: And so to be honest, I did it for two reasons. One was how we structure our relationship to the nature in our households is a real problem, right? We have a lot of weird ideas about what is inside and outside. I think that’s the kernel of truth behind it, if I were to be my post embarrassed self. But I think the other is that I just was so aware of the absurdity of grad school at a certain point that I was like, “I’m just going to write my stupid master’s thesis about people shitting.” So that I get to go to conferences and give presentations, which are like, “Here are things that people said about their own shit.” On panels of academics who were like, “What is the materiality of the biological other?” MIKE: All this theory that actually not only makes no sense, but it’s profoundly unethical and has no politics. And is the bread and butter of graduate school theory. All of these things where they’re like, “What is the boundary of the human? And we cannot tell.” And what do you say? It makes no sense. NEIL: I was just reading Jacques Derrida on the animal, he’s talking about the violence done on the animal. And someone asked him, “Are you a vegetarian?” And he was like, “I’m a vegetarian in my soul.” It’s like, “Fuck you.” I’m sure the suffering pig is so happy that you’re a vegetarian in your soul. MIKE: So happy to hear that, like in a real zen like moment. NEIL: Yeah. MIKE: But the crazy thing about that shit thing is I was at dinner the other weekend with Jackson’s sister’s family and she’s a plastic surgeon. And I just thought about, I’m mentioning shit at the table and maybe people are uncomfortable with that or whatever. And she was like, “Yeah, this…” One of her former clients was run over by a backhoe or something. But she talked about reconstructing one of her breasts and then did this gesture of like, “And then you just kind of stitched up her chest.” And kind of did this putting out a vest of your chest skin kind of gesture. And I had a bite of food in my mouth and I was like… It turned to like ash. MIKE: On the one hand, it was perhaps the appearance of mime at the dinner table that I was like, “Goddammit, mimes.” I wanted it to seal myself up in my own mime box to not have to hear it. But then I was sort of like, “Wow, props to mime, it’s a powerful medium. Actually, I get it now, you can fake make the wall all you want.” MIKE: But when you hear someone mentioning shit, are you that person? Or are you someone- NEIL: I’m not mentioning shit at the table, no. MIKE: You’re not NEIL: I think about it all the time, but I know I don’t talk about it at the table. And Jeff, for instance, my husband, Jeff will casually mentioned shit at the table and I’ve never told him in our 12 years of being together… MIKE: Don’t do that. NEIL: Yeah, because at that moment, something happens in my mouth. Yeah, where it’s just like, it’s wrong, but yeah. MIKE: You got to be post embarrassed about it. You got to just be like, “Yep, I’m just chewing future shit right now.” NEIL: Right, future shit, future shit. I love… Oh, God. Makers spaces and the fetishization of making. MIKE: I don’t even know what’s that… I just want them to just be like, “Call it a real thing.” Where I understand what’s going on there. Makers spaces, it’s like we work. I find it to be such a twee like… The maker space is just Ren Fair trying to be normal. It’s like Ren Fair without the foam swords. I’m like, “What’s the point of going to Ren Fair if you can’t have a foam sword?” It’s like Ren Fair without the carbs, I guess is what I would say. NEIL: I think it’s Ren Fair with 3D printers. MIKE: It’s Ren Fair with 3D printers. Where is the raw craft in that? I feel like 3D printing is the cheating of making. NEIL: But the flip side of it, first of all, this is going to come back to shit, I just realized. But the flip side of it is the fetishization of making. Why don’t you just make and not tell us about it? MIKE: I think that there’s something there, the fetishization of making, because we live in embarrassed culture, so we know that we don’t make anything, right? NEIL: Right. MIKE: In the system we live in, we don’t make anything, right? You don’t make shit, you maybe make your lunch and that’s the end of it. NEIL: You exactly make shit. That is what you make. MIKE: You only make shit, and even that you’re like, “Let’s not talk about it.” The fetishization to me is just all back to the leg, what is missing? I mean, I’ll wear a cutoff overall that’s handmade, for sure. But I don’t need to post it on it in my Etsy account or the hand carved spoons, even though I really love the hand-carved spoons. It was a local spoon maker that I just found that’s in the triangle or whatever, and they make these gorgeous spoons and the fetishization of spoon making is that it’s very hard. People are like, “Oh, it’s a very…” I don’t know if you’ve heard that, but people are like, “If you carve wooden spoons…” It’s some achievement of woodwork to make a spoon. And I always think in my head, spoons have been around for a pretty long time, we’ve known how to scoop a thing for awhile. NEIL: Well, just the idea that you fetishize it by virtue of its difficulty, that is a… MIKE: Totally, totally. It’s like endurance performance art, right? Which I love, I’ll tell you this, I have been doing a performance art project with my friend Ginger for a couple of years now. It’s called, Leaving Impossible Things Unattended, it’s a waste project. And we work with plastic… We’ve made this half mile long braid of plastic bag that we roll in unroll in awkward ways. But we went to Miami to the art fair this year, and the piece that we did, it’s physically super, super hard. But watching people say stuff about it there, it’s like the fetishization of how painful it is, becomes the mark of its value. NEIL: Oh my God, yeah. MIKE: What I want to be is like, “No, encounter your fetishization of that as the mark of the thing you’re supposed to be thinking about here.” Your fetishization of that is more important to me as a thing that you’re engaging with right now, then anything that we’re doing. What is it about you that you need to see someone bleeding from the cut glass that they’re crawling over to be like, “That’s real.” NEIL: The thing I wanted to add, to just put a button on the whole question of maker spaces and what are we making, is when I was a kid, my parents would ask me, “Do you need to make?” MIKE: Oh yeah… Yeah, totally, to take a shit. NEIL: Right, do you need to make? MIKE: Yeah, no, I feel like do you need to make is a North Eastern cultural description for taking a shit that is so like… I want to just know the colonial etymology of that, is it the puritanical thing or like… Also, I find, do you need to make to be similar to people who say that they make instead of take pictures, I make pictures, I make photos. NEIL: Oh, that’s interesting. MIKE: I’ve heard photographers say I make photos, instead of saying I take pictures. NEIL: Oh, right, right, I take photos, yeah. I get that.   MIKE: …around shitting in the exact same… it’s like, do you need to make a shit or do you need to take a shit? I mean, why don’t we say, I need to leave a shit because that’s really what’s happening. NEIL: Okay, let’s end with one last question, which is, what keeps you going? MIKE: I think the thing that mostly keeps me going is a pretty secure notion that it’s not supposed to be bliss, it’s just supposed to be work. So if you’re ready to work in whatever way, then life is just going to keep unfolding for you moving forward, right? There is a future if you think that life is a struggle. Because that’s a beautiful thing, even though it’s incredibly difficult. And I think that, even though I have a deep, deep concern for the future and I certainly worry about it a great deal, I don’t feel hopeless. I don’t feel like a cynic or a nihilist I guess. I don’t have that energy in me whatsoever because it’s not supposed to be easy. NEIL: Mike… MIKE: Neil… NEIL: This is amazing, thank you so much for being on She’s a Talker. MIKE: And it’s my absolute pleasure.

Jul 2020

34 min 16 sec

Neil talks about summer as its own lifespan. His guest, rapper Cakes Da Killa, discusses how to tell a friend their music sucks. ABOUT THE GUEST Cakes Da Killa is a rapper and the talent behind five critically-acclaimed mixtapes. Cakes has an international following that's brought him all around the world. From Europe to Australia, Cakes has been redefining what it means to be a respected lyricist in hip hop. He has been featured in various printed publications globally and in television specials such as VH1’s LHH: Out in Hip Hop and VICE’s Gaycation. His debut album, Hedonism, dropped October 21, 2016. Cakes' most recent single, Don Dada can be streamed on Bandcamp. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund, Western Bridge, and the David Shaw and Beth Kobliner Family Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION Lourdes_02_SAT_CAKES_03_DG NEIL: Cakes. Thanks so much for being on She's A Talker. I love your work, I love you, and I'm so grateful you're on this. CAKES: Thank you so much for having me. NEIL: Where am I talking remotely to you from? CAKES: Where? Where am I? Where are you? I don't know where you are. NEIL: I thought I had a psychic on the phone. CAKES: She's clairvoyant but not a psychic. NEIL: Okay. Where is she? CAKES: I am in Brooklyn. I'm in Bushwick in my apartment. NEIL: Okay. And I am on the Lower East Side in my art studio. Can I ask for those who are not lucky enough to know your work, and let's say you encounter someone and you need to succinctly describe what it is you do. What do you say? CAKES: Cakes Da Killa is a writer who basically uses music as a medium to express different ideas that come from the Black gay experience. Mainly I produce a lot of club music, upbeat music. My music is rooted in escapism and just having fun and not taking yourself too seriously, but there's still a sense of skill in my music that a lot of people relate to nineties hip hop. So I'm kind of a mash-up of like, a DMX and a delight. If DMX and Lady Miss Kier had a baby. NEIL: Oh, what a beautiful baby that would be, but writing takes primacy in that I'm hearing. CAKES: Right. Because writing was the seed that started it. Initially, I wanted to be a writer as most homosexuals do being a little cherub, watching Sex in the City and fantasizing about a studio apartment in the Lower East Side, you know? Gallivanting in my Manolos and things like that. Then I started drinking. So that kind of floored and I stumbled into, into making music and rapping as a joke. And then the checks started coming in and 10 years later, I'm here doing this interview, so. NEIL: Can I ask you, we're talking on June 5th, broadly, what you're coming into this call thinking about? CAKES: Well, I actually just dropped a single for my new project today, so, I'm actually hitting the ground running. I'm like, let's do this. I just did an interview earlier, I made some salmon, so I'm feeling completely regenerated and I'm ready to go. NEIL: Can you tell me both about the salmon and the single? CAKES: Right. Well, they're both juicy. They both were cooked on stove, stove-top, little bit of olive oil, a lot of love, good seasonings. And you can't get into this salmon because it's gone, but the single could be listened to on Bandcamp, and it's called Don Dada. NEIL: Ah, after the- CAKES: That's like a high ranking gangster, which is basically what I am. NEIL: I haven't heard that expression before. CAKES: Yes. I think it's an Italian expression. It's from the mob, I'm assuming. NEIL: And can I ask, like the timeframe that you were working on it? CAKES: Well, I started recording the EP called Motherland during the first weeks of quarantine, because I was writing a bunch of material and I had just put my sophomore album on hold because of the quarantine. And I was like, Oh, I want to do something quick for the fans and I was also like, we have to hurry up and record this before everyone is no longer on the planet. NEIL: Talk about a deadline. CAKES: Yeah. So it was a very, very, very firm deadline. So I expedited it and yeah. NEIL: So it really it's a work that marks this period of time right now. CAKES: Yeah. The work is definitely talking about a lot of the anxiety that I was dealing with and how I took that anxiety and made fun and enjoyment out of it because I'm definitely known as someone that's like a nightlife fixture in New York and around the world running around gallivanting and running amuck. So to then put that, you know, wild orchid into a basement is not really good for me. So this is basically the effects of that, but that kind of was all before. This pressure cooker we're in now. So, so that kinda, it kinda was a little bit before that, but you know, for me being a Black male living in America, this police brutality and the treatment of Black people in this country and around the world, isn't anything new. And for me, I've always used my work as escapism or as a way to uplift, encourage, and just give people something else to think about. I mean, obviously there are important things in the world that we do have to face, and we do have to like put time and energy into those things, but we can't do that for 24 hours a day. Like sometimes we need downtime to just let our hair down, have a cocktail and, you know, bring it back to the love and the energy because you need both. So for me, with the project, I was a little apprehensive whether or not I wanted to continue with the rollout. And then I realized: Why am I letting these things that happened in the world and things that have been happening to Black people affect my Black voice? It just, to me, it felt counterproductive to not put out positivity in the universe, especially for my community. NEIL: I love it. And is there any part of you, if we're returning to the COVID thing, you know, so you're a wild orchid in a basement, has some part of you found that the wild orchid maybe likes the basement? CAKES: No with the wild orchid found out in the basement, she needed to get a job because her entire European tour got canceled. NEIL: Oh fuck. CAKES: The wild orchid decided she was essential because bills are still due. If anybody was wondering. NEIL: I know in the performance art world, there's all kinds of, I don't know what the word is, that there's consensus developing around how to compensate folks that you had a contract with, who you're not presenting. Does anything comparable live in, in the world in which you perform? CAKES: I don't think court jesters get stimulus packages, no. It's very much sink or swim for a girl like me NEIL: Right. Let's go to the cards. First card is watching people starting to dance, talking about that moment when they go from not dancing to dancing. CAKES: I don't know, I people-watch, so. Do you people-watch? NEIL: Oh my God. It's all my work. CAKES: Oh, you do love to be. Yeah. You do love to be- right, right. I, to be honest, I love to people watch, but I know for me, my transition from standby to motion is not cute at all. It's not pretty, not attractive. NEIL: Is it a pure kind of like kinesthetic thing? Or is it a psychological thing, which it is for me? CAKES: It's an "I don't care" kind of thing. And I dance all the time. Like, you know, I'm constantly in motion, cause music is constantly in my head, I'm constantly talking to myself, singing to myself, rapping to myself. So I think that the weirdness about it is how free it is. NEIL: Aha. Like the fluidity between it. CAKES: Yeah. Like the fluidity between it. And I always, like, I never understand those people that are like, "Oh, I don't dance." And it's like, well, what do you do with your body then? You're immobile? It just doesn't make any sense to me. NEIL: Interesting. Yeah. For a while, I didn't like to run, to go running, and the way I used to really experience it was that moment of going from not running to running. It's like, "Okay, now I am-" I even tried to do a video project about it, like, watching people take their approaches to starting to run. CAKES: I could only run on a treadmill with, like, a bento box in front of me. Like I can't- NEIL: Just out of reach? CAKES: Just out of reach. It's like, just, just right there. I can't run in the park or like run around the block. I don't know. It just doesn't, it doesn't seem satisfying. Like, my running has to be forced. It's either you run or you're going to fall off this machine. NEIL: Right, exactly. CAKES: I think maybe we're just all, we're all just desensitized from all those years of being like: don't run, walk. Maybe that's what it's about. We just hear that person in our head being like, "Ooh, don't run." NEIL: Right. Right! That could really be it! CAKES: Did you see how we just made that make sense? NEIL: I love it. It's like checkmark! Major checkmark. Next card: I feel infantilized by shorts. CAKES: You wanna know what? I think it has to do with the length of the short. I think the higher the short, like, if it's like a hot pant, that doesn't make me feel infantile. That makes me feel like- NEIL: Yes! CAKES: It makes me- it brings a different type of, like, thing to it. But what I will say is shorts, I completely agree. You know, those right above the knee shorts? You know what I really hate too? The combo of a short and a sneaker and a high sock. Oh my God. I can't. NEIL: I know! CAKES: It's very camp counselor. It's very that. NEIL: Started camp counselor and now it's like normcore, whatever, post-normcore, but it's still not working. I could never pull it off. CAKES: I would much rather wear a long shirt than a short and a tee shirt. That's just me. NEIL: Wait, so you're wearing a long shirt... CAKES: With like a sliver of like a denim, like a denim coochie cutter, like a denim short. Something really- I consider myself more of like a damsel in distress denim. Always. NEIL: That makes such perfect sense though. Also about the length, it's kinda paradoxical, because you would think the longer the short, the more it becomes like regular pants so you would feel less kid-like. But actually, maybe it's that the longer the short, the more it starts to approach pants that are too small on you or sometimes the infantile thing. CAKES: Right. It's true! This visual of these- We should just have shorts that we could just, we could just grow. Like, we should be able to do that at this point. NEIL: Next card: the macho-ness of certain artists saying they like tough feedback. I'm not sure how it lives in the music world, but I know in the visual art world, there's this, I noticed this thing about, "Yeah! You know, bring it on!" A type of macho-ness. CAKES: Right. I don't really think that that exists in music. I think it did when music had a standard and when there was a certain level of respectable accolade. Nowadays, the reason why music is so shitty is because there is no bar. There is no standard and there is no self-editing or critiques. You know what I'm saying? So I think we need to bring a little bit more of that harsh criticism back to music to bring the level up a little bit. NEIL: What form would that criticism- how would it be, you know, distributed? Or where would it live? CAKES: First it starts at the home and between your personal circles. Start telling your friends that their music sucks. We could really start at the ground level. If we start there, then everything will trickle up and everything will be better. So tell your friends their music sucks. NEIL: Do you have an approach? Let's say I'm your friend. You love my work generally, but you hate a particular song I just came out with. CAKES: Right. This is, this is definitely like happy hour. This is definitely girlfriend talk. My delivery, the way I would go about it, is it's very like: "What inspired this song?" Like, "What were you thinking? Were you trying something different?" And so you fish at it to kind of get a sense of where they're coming from and if they're not giving you the layup, then you just go forward and be like, "I don't think it's your strongest piece of work." I think that's fair. NEIL: I think starting with a question is brilliant. You ask them the question and they may say, "Well, I'm trying to express X, Y, or Z." And then you can come back and say, "It's not doing the thing that you've just now said you wanted it to do." CAKES: Or the answer, the answer could make you look at it differently. NEIL: Aha! Right. CAKES: And also the truth of the matter is, artists have their favorite things and things that they know are not that good. So you might fish for something and the person may be like, "Yeah, you know what? This is actually not the best that I've done." So you might just get the truth. NEIL: I want to ask a Corona related question. The card just has: Dreams of blow jobs, dreams of masks. Which comes from a personal space for me, which is, you know, I'm ancient and so I came up while, you know, the AIDS crisis was- CAKES: Right. NEIL: Nineties, et cetera. And I remember at the time I would have these dreams of like, I'm in the middle of giving someone a blow job and then I realized, "Oh shit, I've just done this non-safe sex thing." And I noticed lately a recurring dream I'm having is I'm outside and I'm outside without a mask. CAKES: I'm screaming! Equating that same level of exposure, but it's so true. It's so true. NEIL: How are you living with it? CAKES: I- Let me get over this moment first. Hold on. Okay. So. As far as wearing a mask, I don't like doing things that are not necessary or is not doing what people tell me it's supposed to do. So first it was like, "Don't wear a mask" and now it's like "Wear a mask." So at this point I just wear it because I don't have a car and I have to get on public transportation. But your point about the blowjob is just sending me. Let's go to the next card please, because the reoccurring dream... I'm screaming. NEIL: The next card is: Don't make fun of what rappers call themselves without thinking about corporate names like Exxon and Xerox. CAKES: Okay. Tangent, but still on topic... NEIL: I love tangents. CAKES: Right. I named myself Cakes Da Killa because I have a big butt and I'm effeminate and I wanted something that was sweet and campy, right, but I still wanted to have a little edge. So I put Da Killa. Obviously, I had no idea that I would become a touring artist and it would be my main source of income. It was a joke. You get what I'm saying? Now I can't fucking change my name because of all the years of me painting the town red from fucking Bushwick to Berlin. So, I go back and forth with that. Rappers do name themselves some pretty wild things, but you have to do it because you have to go draw attention to yourself. But speaking, me personally, I didn't think I would get attention at all. Like, I wasn't trying to do that. You know what I'm saying? NEIL: Uh huh. CAKES: So the thing about my name is I wanted to change it maybe like two years ago. And I was having really deep conversations with my council of tastemakers and they wouldn't let me do it. Like they would not let me do it. And it was like, I already had the new name picked out. I had the name chain made and it was supposed to be this reinvention, you know, kinda like Prince, you know what I'm saying? And they completely talked me out of it. So I think I go in and out with it. So that was the tangent. Maybe that artist might show herself though in the future. Who knows? Yeah, I don't know. Rappers have funky names, but, definitely, these companies too. They have funky names too. NEIL: Yes to redistribution of wealth. But what about redistribution of shame? CAKES: That's a heavy one. Obviously, yes to redistribution of wealth. Shame... Where was it going? Where's it going? NEIL: I offer this kind of with mixed feelings only in that I think shame is not productive and yet maybe it is productive to the extent that it can push one in a direction. It just seems like a little dose of shame distributed appropriately could be transformative in the culture. I think. CAKES: I feel like understanding and compassion does that more. Because to me, I feel like we're in this generation where shame and guilt are being trickled down and redistributed in these funny ways. Like even today, you know, with Bandcamp who was doing this free promotion, where all the artists who upload their songs, Bandcamp doesn't take a commission. So now it's like, we're in this, it feels like it's Black History Month. All these websites are making all these playlists and all these countdowns of Black artists you should support. Black artists! And I'm like, support these artists because they're Black, but also support them because they're making good music and don't make this a thing where- I was just talking about this online. Like, is it really genuine? If your actions are fueled from guilt does that- you know what I'm saying? NEIL: Yeah. CAKES: If you do it out of guilt or out of shame, it doesn't change the curse of where the thing started from. It just repeats itself, which is what we see time and time again. Where, if you actually fully face it and understand it, then it's no longer a thing. NEIL: Yeah. And also shame, I guess, asks something. Or guilt certainly asks something of the person who you feel guilt in relationship to, I suppose. CAKES: I feel like a lot of people shouldn't feel shame because a lot of people aren't really- they're not really aware of what's going on anyway, or what's being enforced. They haven't been educated about it. They don't see it, they hear about it. So it's like, how could you be ashamed about something that you're just born into like, no, it's not about shame. It's not about guilt. It's about educating yourself. And it's about being honest. And it's about looking in the mirror and being real. You know what I'm saying? NEIL: Yeah. CAKES: I think the majority of it is: I'm going to do this because I'm not like this, or because I'm different. You know what I'm saying? But that's fine. You may feel different or you may act different, but that doesn't take away from the reality of the playing field not being leveled. It's kind of like, in a way, having your cake and eating it too, where it's like you're still benefiting from these things, you know? So it's, it's deeper than, you know, showing up to the Black cookout. You know what I'm saying? It's deeper. NEIL: Well on that note, I want to ask you just these closing questions. Fill in the blank for X and Y. What's a bad X you'd take over a good Y. CAKES: In this age right now, I would take a bad bottle of wine over a good bong. At this age, at this age. NEIL: At your incredibly young age, but I love it. CAKES: At my ripe age. Final answer. NEIL: Yeah. Yes. Okay. Another question is: What keeps you going? CAKES: Myself. Myself is what keeps me going. Definitely. NEIL: How does that work? CAKES: If you think about it, you're going to die and you don't know when you're going to die. How could you live your life, you know, through someone else's filter? It makes no sense. So that's why I was able to come out in the third grade. That's why I was able to start recording music as an openly gay artist before, you know, this was even heard of, why I was able to tour and do what I want to do because this is my life. And I took control of my life very, very young. And I don't see me taking my hands off the wheel anytime soon. If you haven't experienced, like I have, where your mother has you when she's a teenager and you remember going to work with her as a child and witnessing the sacrifices she had to make to keep you taken care of, you just have a different sort of ethic. So it's the reality that no one is ever going to give you anything in life. Nothing is free and you have to work. You know? So it's just that NEIL: Last question. What are you looking forward to when this is all over, "this" being COVID, although you name the "this" at this point. CAKES: Definitely. I want people to have a different type of lust for life. You know, obviously I want people to be healthy and I want this to reform the world and how we look at things. But selfishly, I really want people to have a better appreciation for nightlife. I think people kind of, now that me and my peers are getting older, people are kind of over-read and they don't really appreciate it because of the drinking and the drugging or whatever. But nightlife employs a lot of people in a lot of cities around the world. And I think it does add a certain spice that is essential to life. So I feel like it should be respected from the bartenders to the security, to the DJs, to the promoters. And I really hope after this people are really mindful of that. NEIL: I love it. That's a beautiful place to end it. Cakes, thank you so much for being on She's A Talker. CAKES: Thank you so much. NEIL: Really appreciate it.

E

Jul 2020

30 min 12 sec

Neil talks about air conditioning and sense memory. His guest, literary scholar Sharon Marcus, imagines a daredevil visit to a perfume shop. ABOUT THE GUEST Sharon Marcus is editor in chief of Public Books and the Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the American Council of Learned Societies, she is the author of Apartment Stories (University of California Press, 1999), Between Women (Princeton University Press, 2007), and The Drama of Celebrity (Princeton University Press, 2019). ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund, Western Bridge, and the David Shaw and Beth Kobliner Family Fund Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai Almor & Jesse Kimotho Social Media: Lourdes Rohan Digital Strategy: Ziv Steinberg Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Larry Krone, Tod Lippy, Sue Simon, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL: Okay. So, Sharon, thank you for being on She’s A Talker at this fucking crazy time. SHARON: Thank you for having me, Neil. NEIL: So, Sharon, if you need to succinctly tell a stranger what it is that you do, what do you say? SHARON: I try to avoid volunteering what I do because I’m a professor of literature, and when people hear that 97% of them say, “Are you going to correct my grammar?” NEIL: Oh my God. SHARON: 2% of them say, “Can you recommend something that I should read?” Or, I once sat next to someone in a plane who launched into a, “What would you say the greatest book ever written was? What would you say the five greatest novels ever written were?” After I, like, just looked at him, and I said, “You seem really quite obsessed with lists and rankings. Why do you think that is?” To his credit, he laughed good-naturedly and said, “It’s true. It’s true. I am.” And then 1% get this like deer in the headlights look and say things like “I wasn’t very good at school.” NEIL: What do you say back to that? SHARON: Well, in this particular case, I was on a date and I said, “Yeah, well, you don’t have to be good at school. I do. I’m the one, who’s a professor.” First and last date, as you can probably guess. NEIL: Yes. Can I ask you, what are you thinking about today, March 21st? SHARON: Okay. So I’m just going to be a total fucking pain in the ass and say that the question, “What are you thinking about today?” doesn’t actually resonate with me with how I think or how I get through a day. Like, I don’t wake up and go, “What am I going to think about today?” Or even find myself thinking, “I’m thinking about blah, blah, blah.” Thoughts come in, they go out, I see things, I observe things, but it feels a little more organized maybe than my brain actually is. NEIL: Oo, I love it. So how could that question be reframed to more? SHARON: For me? NEIL: Yeah. SHARON: “What did you do today?” “What did you do today?” NEIL: Nah, nevermind. SHARON: Exactly! And I can tell you it hasn’t been very interesting, so. NEIL: Right, which is different from how it normally is for you, but maybe we’ll get to some of that. Alright. Let’s go to the cards, shall we? SHARON: I’m ready! I’m doing some of the moves I learned in my hip hop class to warm up. NEIL: Great, that’s perfect. First card is: How hugging is meant to express intimacy, but it actually articulates the separation between our bodies. SHARON: So apt! Well, it would be really nice to hug someone right now. So, my first response is it doesn’t sound like it’s really about separation. Hugging would be so nice, but I think, you know, that speaks to something very profound, which is you can only connect by acknowledging your separateness from someone. If you think you’re merged with someone, if you think you’re the same person, if you don’t take them in as a separate different person, you can’t really meet them and bond with them and touch them, even. And that does seem related to what’s going on right now, where we have so much difference in how people are responding to the situation. People who are now being really reckless about their ability to be close to other people physically I think are doing so out of a lack of sense of the existence of other people as separate from them. NEIL: Mhm. SHARON: They’re being very self-absorbed. They think they’re the only ones that matter. And so, you know, I think we’ve all seen the huggers who also are hugging to assert a certain kind of power. Not even just like a power to touch you in a way that might not be fully consensual, but a power to have their interest in feeling intimate with you and feeling connected be dominant. You know, there’s like that etiquette of: Do you go in for the hug, but then wait enough that the person can pull back without it being a big deal? Do you actually say, “Can I hug you?” Or, you know, how do you handle that? And that’s all about recognizing the separateness. So I think implicit in that card is the sense that our separateness is sort of sad and that the hug is not aware of the sadness of our alienation from each other. But I would turn that around and say if we can just remember we’re connected, but we’re separate, this society thing can work. NEIL: So what you’re saying in part is that there is something paradoxical: That those people who go ahead and hug right now, in a way, don’t recognize a type of connection. Is that right? SHARON: They’re just seeing other people as extensions of themselves. But that said, I think I would also say that it’s okay that we’re separate from each other and the hug doesn’t overcome that. We’re hugging because we’re separate from each other and so we want to feel closer. I don’t think that the total merger that maybe is implied by the perfect hug is really that desirable or really that merged. What I’m saying is, to really connect with other people and bond with them you have to respect their separateness from you and your separateness from them. NEIL: Beautiful. Next card: The ambiguity of the word helpless. “I feel helpless” is usually said in reference to, “I can’t help someone.” SHARON: Right. NEIL: And I feel helpless can also mean “No one’s helping me.” SHARON: “And I need help.” NEIL: Mhm. SHARON: “I need help so desperately because I can’t help myself.” I’m just trying to think it, how, if those are really different. I mean, I hate the word helpless because nobody’s really helpless. Everyone can always do something to help someone else. And when someone says, “I feel helpless in this situation,” I think they’re often saying that instead of saying “What can I do to help you?” NEIL: Right. Right. Very true. SHARON: One of the things that’s been interesting and challenging for me about this situation — And I think everybody has their own particular circumstances that you can’t help but bring to a pandemic and quarantine — is that my wife of 20 years died a year and a month ago of cancer. And she was basically dying of cancer for a year and a half before that happened. And she noticed that the people who really wanted to help her would either say, “What can I do to help you?” Or, even more powerfully, would say, “What can I do to help you? I was thinking I could…” and then they would say some very specific things. They wouldn’t insist on doing those specific things, but they would follow up a general offer of help with ideas that they had come up with that they weren’t imposing on her, but it was a demonstration of good faith. And it was also definitely the case that there were people who not only demonstrated their helplessness by being pretty much missing in action but people who would go the extra mile and articulate, “I feel helpless,” “I don’t know what to do,” “I wish there was something I can do for you.” It’s really annoying. I think in this current situation, it’s probably pretty similar. I think people are saying, “Oh, I feel helpless, I don’t know what I can do to help other people.” You know, it’s like a very quick Google search away. It is challenging to figure out how to help other people when you can’t leave the house and when the biggest thing you can do to help people is not leave the house. Because we’re used to thinking of health as taking very concrete action and being very direct and present and, also, we like our help to be acknowledged and, offering help at a distance, it’s harder to get acknowledgment for that. But there’s plenty of things we can all do to help right now, the Internet’s full of them: food banks that we can donate to, artists groups that are being set up to help support people who are being very quickly and harshly put out of work. So, you know, it seems like a disingenuous word to me, “helpless.” NEIL: Mhm. SHARON: Whether applied to the help when gives others or the fact that one needs help oneself. Because nobody’s — if you’re talking, you’re not that helpless in terms of your ability to take care of yourself. If you’re breathing and you’re talking, you could probably, instead of saying, “I feel helpless,” again, just make a more specific request. Like, “I could really use help with X.” But then again, I’m not a very empathetic person towards people who would use the phrase “I feel helpless.” So I feel, I should just say that if you’re feeling helpless, stay away from me, go find somebody else, which I think most helpless people figured out a long time ago. NEIL: But you are a very empathetic person, just not around that issue. SHARON: Yeah. The people in my circle who might apply that word to themselves, they don’t usually do it in my presence. NEIL: Next card: Remembering when headphones first dared to go inside the ear. SHARON: I just love headphones. I think I recognize the value of the ones that fit in your ear because then you can wear a hat if it’s cold out, but they really, really hurt my ear. So I have yet to go that route. I like the big kind that sit over your ear and kind of pillow your ear, which also serve the secondary function of sunblock so that the sun can’t get on your ears, which are actually really susceptible to skin cancers, because they’re so exposed and they stick out and the skin of your ear is quite thin. So, public service announcement: when you put on sunblock, make sure to cover your ears. NEIL: You know, I knew that! You know what I didn’t know, is to cover your neck! And I’m horrified to learn that all these years I’ve been a dedicated sunscreen-wearer every single day, but I haven’t been putting it on my neck. And I am getting a little bit of a, you know, kind of waddle or something. I don’t know what the word is. SHARON: It’s never too late to start. NEIL: Right. That’s true. What book was I reading where the answer was “the best time to do it is yesterday?” SHARON: Mm, there is a message for our times. NEIL: Oh, it was in this book, The Overstory, which I’m obsessed with. Have you read it? By Richard Powers? SHARON: Not yet. Are you enjoying it? NEIL: I finished it. I loved it. It’s not imperfect, unlike all that other perfect art out there, but, one of the characters says “The best time to plant a tree is always 20 years ago. But planting it today is better than planting it tomorrow” or something like that. And that’s a kind of a recurring — that returns in the book. SHARON: It’s true for some things. For other things it’s good to wait and sleep on it and maybe don’t do it, you know? Like that text you were going to send or that purchase you were going to make. NEIL: Next card: Perfect Sleeper seems like a counterproductive name for a mattress. Stressfully setting the bar too high. Like what about the, just like, Great Sleeper? I think Perfect Sleeper stresses me out. SHARON: As far as I’m concerned, if I’m asleep at all, that’s perfect. I don’t know what “perfect” sleep would be. It’s like a pleonasm, a redundancy. Sleeping is perfect. If I can fall asleep and stay asleep for more than 10 minutes, perfection. NEIL: Next card: Cathedrals as places that are both inside and outside. My love of them connects to my childhood wish never to leave my home; to be able to drive my house. So when I was a kid, I was always drawing a version of my house, the house that I grew up in, in Hicksville, New York originally, and I would put a turret on it that had a steering wheel so I could drive the house. And it was so comforting. I loved it. And when I go into a cathedral, I kind of get that feeling, how, without a doubt, it’s an indoor space, but there is some quality of the outdoor to it. SHARON: Because they’re so vast and soaring? NEIL: Yes. SHARON: Kind of like an Airstream? NEIL: Yeah. Yeah, I did love — Jeff’s parents for a while had an RV. And I loved riding around in that. SHARON: Hm, I do feel comforted and secure inside pretty much any dwelling that is mine, even if it’s a very small apartment. But I also remember, that also reminds me of the show Romper Room when I was a kid. Do you remember Romper Room? NEIL: Oh, yes. Miss Something. Miss Pat? Or Miss… SHARON: Miss Something. I don’t know. I really liked her. I feel like I can almost picture her and she would do a thing where she would have kids put boxes around them and pretend they were driving. So there is something I guess, about that rectangular — being contained within a rectangle that is house and car. NEIL: See, for me it was less, at the time, about a pleasure of driving. The predominant thing was not wanting to leave the house. SHARON: Mhm. NEIL: But the idea of being able to move through space while staying inside. SHARON: Without ever leaving your house. NEIL: Yeah. SHARON: So it wasn’t so much about making your car into a home. It was about being able to make your home into a vehicle so you’d never have to leave. NEIL: Exactly. SHARON: Interesting. Interesting. Well, we’re all going to get to have some version of that in the coming weeks and months, because we’re leaving our homes less than we ever have. I think it’s, I mean, this is certainly more true for people in a city. I mean, I think that people who are living in less populated, less densely populated, places are still getting in their cars and, for example, going to pick up food in a parking lot, rather than going inside the store to pick up the food. But, you know, most people who live in New York don’t have cars. And what we’re having to learn how to do is be inside, but learn to project ourselves out imaginatively. Or, by talking to people who are located somewhere else I — One thing that’s been really striking to me, it was just not exactly the same thing as driving your house, but it may be something like flying your computer. So, I stopped going out significantly on March 7th and a few days later, something kicked in where distance really stopped mattering and, in some ways, time did too. That will change because we’re all going to have to get more on schedules to stay sane, I think. But right now it feels reasonable and healthy to just accept that we’ve been very disrupted and it’s going to take us a little while to get into a routine. And so I thought, well, “Let me take advantage of this and see if I can speak to my friends who are, you know, in some cases, in such different parts of the world that I could only figure out what time it is, where they are if I look it up. I have to look it up every single time. Like, I can never remember if Australia is a day before, a day later, like, what’s going on? So, you know, all of a sudden I really do feel like my computer is functioning for me the way a plane ride used to. So maybe, maybe I have figured out a way to drive my house metaphorically, virtually. NEIL: Next card: The primal feeling of eating soup; of this liquid from the outside becoming part of the inside. SHARON: So interesting that you bring up soup because I keep going back and forth on whether I should get a blender, which is the primary way I make soup. I feel like if you want a soup, it should just be liquid you bring up in the spoon. It can be, you know, thick, it can have texture, but if it’s going to be chunky just go ahead and make a stew. So I really need a blender if I’m going to make soup. That’s my “of the moment” response. But you’re actually asking a more — Actually a lot of your questions have been about inside and outside and, you know, are we connected? Are we separate? And I guess the soup one is one as well, but I don’t know if it’s any different from any other food. I mean, I think about that. I think about how we take a lot. Like, we take food in, we incorporate it into our bodies. Even the stuff that we excrete, like, I don’t know about you, but I feel like my excretions are part of my body even though I let them go. Just like I feel like my fingernails are part of my body, even though I trim them. And yeah. To me, food really feels just like it’s inside us. It doesn’t feel separate. Read the card again. Read that card again, Neil. NEIL: The primal feeling of eating soup; of this liquid from the outside becoming part of the inside. I guess maybe that comes, also, I think I had read, you know, maybe the fact that we all kind of originated as cells in this kind of primordial soup. I don’t know what it is. Or that there’s something soupy about, I don’t know, something about this. Something from the outside that matches a little bit. Something about what it’s like inside. I don’t know what it is. SHARON: I think it’s that the ideal temperature of soup is very close to our body temperature. I think you don’t want your soup to be quite as hot as maybe some other hot foods. And so it does feel like it’s sort of copacetic with us. NEIL: I had another thought just as you were talking: I think it’s also that soup is this — like, coffee is a single note and I’m sure that there are tons of compounds in it. SHARON: Tell that to the people writing tasting notes on coffee. “Oranges, shoe leather, tobacco, bergamot, bubble gum.” But okay. I’ll go with you on that. I only smell one thing when I smell coffee. So, you know, I’m with you. NEIL: Yes. And I hear them, but with soup, at least it’s — Okay. What is coffee made of? It’s made of coffee. Let’s put it that way. SHARON: Yes. NEIL: Okay. So what is soup made of? It’s made of carrots. It’s made of ingredients that have come together in this thing. Maybe it’s that I’m saying we’re like soup. We’re like soup in a package. SHARON: Yes. Yeah. We are. We’re just this bag of organs and bones and muscle and blood, and it’s all supposed to be working together until it isn’t. And then you’re drowning in your own bodily fluids internally because your immune system overreacted to a virus. NEIL: Next card: Is there a fetish/porn structured around the dutiful sex couples that are having difficulty conceiving have? SHARON: There’s a fetish for everything. There’s gotta be a fetish for conception sex. Sure. I don’t know whose it would be, but when you’ve been alive, as long as I have, I mean, I think you just have to accept that there’s a fetish for everything. NEIL: You just named it conception sex, but there’s a hitch which is it’s, like, infertile conception sex. In other words, these are people who are having sex, it’s not happening, and you have to be kind of really assiduous. Is that the word? SHARON: Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. My point is more global, which is: is there any sexual situation that is not susceptible to being fetishized? But, you know, in general, people fetishize pleasures they don’t feel comfortable with. So the real question is, is anyone getting pleasure out of… Also, I don’t think it would be the people who actually had that sex who would fetishize it. It would be people imagining it who probably had never gone through it who would fetishize it. On another note, I can’t believe we’ve gone this far and not talked about my cat. NEIL: I have a segue, a card segue if you want. SHARON: Okay, yes, yes. NEIL: Okay: Changing the kitty litter makes me think about the possibility of redemption. SHARON: I don’t know about redemptive, but a fresh start. I guess that’s what some people’s idea of redemption is, “My sins will be redeemed and I will have a blank slate and be able to start again.” I’m not Christian so I don’t really think that way. NEIL: That’s what it brings out for me. Especially scooping. It’s just like, okay. But cleaning the whole thing, it just feels, like, “Okay, this is possible. This is possible.” SHARON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And conversely, there’s always a tug of like, “Is it time to scoop? I should probably go scoop. I don’t really wanna scoop. I guess I better go scoop.” And then when you finally do it, there’s also the satisfaction of doing something that you’ve been procrastinating about. NEIL: Right. I don’t procrastinate on the scooping. It’s part of my, like basically morning and evening ritual. And it’s a little bit, uh, truly like a treasure hunt for me because we use, I use this recycled newspaper kitty litter that is kind of brown, and it’s shit-colored basically. So I always feel like a radiologist trying to like find the pattern of her shit in it. And, I don’t know. It also reminds me of like those Zen gardens, those Zen sand — SHARON: Absolutely! Right. Where you’re raking and then making little hillocks that are supposed to represent Mount Fuji. Absolutely. Yes. Does your cat ever, when you give her food that she doesn’t like, do the scooping gesture that you normally use to move their litter box around? They do it on the floor as though to say, literally this food is shit. NEIL: No. I think part of it is we’ve never given Beverly any food that she doesn’t like. SHARON: You know, for me, her eating habits are a little bit of a mystery to me, but I’ll never really know what goes through her mind. That’s one of the things about living with a cat. I think it’s one of the reasons we enjoy living with pets, especially cats because dogs are easier to project onto and at least imagine we know what they’re thinking. Cats I think we’ve bred to be a bit opaque. NEIL: Exactly. I think that that’s true. That’s what people don’t get. It’s like their inscrutability is a feature, not a bug. SHARON: Well, Darwin, when he is trying to explain evolution at the beginning of On the Origin of Species, uses the example of domesticated animals and also how people graft plants onto each other to say, “We know we can change species.” We do it all the time, and that’s why he calls it natural selection because, for him, pets are an example of artificial selection. We have artificially selected inscrutability, a certain standoffishness. You know, all of these traits in cats. NEIL: What’s a bad X you would take over a good Y? SHARON: I’d take a bad sweet over a good salty. NEIL: What are you really looking forward to? What are you most looking forward to after this is over? SHARON: I am really looking forward to going to a perfume store where all people do is walk around, picking things up with their hands, bringing them up to their faces and noses, and inhaling deeply, and trying a bunch of perfumes. It’s going to feel like, for me, the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest in terms of risk-taking, but when I’m ready to do that I’m really looking forward to it. NEIL: Sharon, I love you so much. I cannot believe fate has brought us together and here we are living through — I feel like we spent a lot of 9/11 time together. SHARON: We did. NEIL: You came and slept over and here we are with this one. SHARON: Yep. So nice to get to live through all this. So great. I feel so lucky. But, we are lucky because we’re here and we’re alive and we’re talking. And so, you know, I’m just going to soldier on. NEIL: Yea. Thank you, Sharon, so much for being on She’s A Talker. SHARON: Yes. Thank you for having me. JEFF HILLER: She’s A Talker with Neil Goldberg. She’s A Talker with fabulous guests. She’s A Talker, it’s better than it sounds, yeah!

E

Jul 2020

33 min 59 sec

BONUS EPISODE In this bonus live episode, artist Michael Smith talks about how to get creative with bad teaching evaluations. Season 3 coming soon! ABOUT THE GUEST Michael Smith’s recent solo exhibitions and performances include Museo Jumex, Mexico City; Yale Union, Portland, Oregon; Tate Modern, London; and Greene Naftali, New York; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. His work is in the collections of the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin; Inhotim Institute, Brumadinho; LWL Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster; Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich; Mumok, Vienna; Museion, Bolzano; Paley Center for Media, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION NEIL GOLDBERG: Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg, and this is She's A Talker. We recently finished our second season, and we'll be launching Season Three very soon. In the meantime, we thought as a bonus we'd share a live episode that was recorded with artist Mike Smith way back in the good old days of February, 2020. The event happened at the New York headquarters of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Skowhegan's primary program is an intensive summer residency up in Maine for sixty-five emerging visual artists from all over the world. And in 2015, I had the good fortune of being faculty there, and it was actually there that I took the first steps for what would become this podcast. I was inspired by all the experimentation happening, and I decided to play around with this collection of thoughts I'd jotted down on index cards for the past twenty years as the basis for some sort of performance work. So here we are. My guest, Mike Smith, was also faculty at Skowhegan a couple of years before me and has been a favorite artist of mine for years. He's recently shown work at the Tate Modern in London, and his work is also in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Walker Center, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, and many other places. Here it goes. NEIL: Hi everybody. Thank you so much for coming. So, the premise of the podcast is I typically start with some recent cards, uh, before I bring on a guest. And I thought, uh, this is a recent one: seeing an unflushed toilet at an art school. Now, um, I teach at Yale and, uh, I try to like use the bathroom as far away from where I teach as possible. And I also like to try and mix it up a little bit. So, you know, every now and then I'll go into the basement. Other times I'll go to the second floor. Uh, keep them guessing. And there was a while, very recently at Yale, where every time I walked into a bathroom stall, there was an unflushed toilet full of shit. And I started to think like, okay, is this like a student's like art project? Um, but then beyond that, I really was cognizant of the impact it had on the crits I did later in the day, which is like, I found myself sort of evaluating everything I was seeing in relationship to the impact that seeing a unflushed toilet unexpectedly will have on you. Because think about it, that moment where you're kind of like, you open the stall door and there is the unflushed toilet. That is, I think, what we're all going for as artists. Um. Anyhow.  With all that in mind, I am so happy to have, as my guest, Michael Smith, who I have been a fan of for a very long time. I have actually had the experience, Michael, of going to your shows, and I will say that its impact on me was not unlike that of an unflushed toilet encountered by surprise. So, please welcome Michael Smith. NEIL: Hi, Michael, how are you?  MICHAEL SMITH: I'm okay. I guess I, I don't know if I should be flattered or - what I'm following in terms of the conversation or - NEIL: when in doubt, be flattered.  MICHAEL: Yeah. I have so much to say. I don't know if we'll be able to get to another card.  NEIL: I know, right? Well, what's your elevator pitch for yourself when you? When you encounter someone who doesn't know what it is you do, how do you succinctly describe what it is? MICHAEL: Well, it's usually layered. I usually, I mean, if it's a total stranger, I'll say I'm an artist. And then they say, "Oh, are you a painter?" And I say, no. And then sometimes I'll just cut to the chase and say I'm a performance artist. And then it doesn't go any further.  NEIL: Do you feel like that's accurate though? I mean, that doesn't feel to me like it encompasses the breadth of what you uh, do. MICHAEL: Well, when I first started performing or thinking about performing, I would tell people I was a comic. Because it was, I dunno, it was a little more interesting at parties or whatever. And also performance artist wasn't really part of the vocabulary then. Usually I'd say I'm a comic, and then they'd look at me and they said, "You haven't said anything funny." So, it was like, well, I didn't say I was funny, you know? So.  NEIL: Um, are your parents alive?  MICHAEL: No.  NEIL: When, when they were alive, what would they say that you did?  MICHAEL: My mother probably would say, Michael is Michael. And Michael -  NEIL: That is a full-time job, isn't it?  MICHAEL: Michael had such a sweet voice when he was a child. And my father said, I don't know what the hell he does, you know, he didn't know what it, yeah.  NEIL: Right. I didn't know you were Jewish until quite recently. You're like one of those stealth Jews, you know, Smith. Okay.  MICHAEL: I asked my father once what it was before Smith, and he, he said, Sutton.  NEIL: Sutton? That's like a wall that's been painted multiple times, like, okay, and what was it before Sutton? That's where it gets into like Schmulowitz or whatever. MICHAEL: That got too deep.  NEIL: Yeah, exactly.  MICHAEL: It was, yeah. It's opaque.   NEIL: And what's something on you - today, what's something you've found yourself thinking about? MICHAEL: Well, you know that card you first - NEIL: Oh yeah.  MICHAEL: That card you first brought up. I actually, I've been in my studio for, since '99. And I actually cleaned the toilet in the public bathroom for the, the building because it was just getting a little gross, so I thought I'd clean it.  NEIL: You just took that on yourself?  MICHAEL: I took it on.  NEIL: Wow.  MICHAEL: Yeah. I should also say that when I first came to New York, I was a professional cleaner.  NEIL: Really?  MICHAEL: Yeah. I was very good.  NEIL: I bet.  MICHAEL: Mike the Wipe. I was originally I, I was, I originally was going to be a house - well, I was going to, I advertised in the New York Times, "Mr. Smith will cook and clean." And no one wanted me to cook, you know, just wanted me to clean. NEIL: So many follow-up questions, Mike. Um, shall we move on to the cards? You don't have a choice at this point. We're all in. Uh, this card says: There are no friendly reminders. You know, like, I feel like, is there anything more passive aggressive than someone's like, just a friendly reminder.  MICHAEL: That's like, if they, if they preface what they're going to say with that, yeah. That would be horrible.  NEIL: But they do all the time.  MICHAEL: Really?  NEIL: Yeah. Or in an email - friendly reminder. How many, I mean, haven't you? I've probably gotten a friendly reminder in the last week.  MICHAEL: I guess FYI is not a friendly reminder, huh?  NEIL: No, FYI can be pretty passive aggressive too, but I use it a lot  MICHAEL: BTW?  NEIL: That's fine. Yeah. I dunno.  MICHAEL: So, I have a feeling I probably do it, but I'm not aware of it.  NEIL: Of a friendly reminder?  MICHAEL: Yeah.  NEIL: Hmm. So you're not bothered by it? MICHAEL: Probably, yeah.  NEIL: Probably not bothered by it?  MICHAEL: Probably bothered by it. Yeah, I am. I get bothered by people easily. And I had something really good to say, but I've, I've already forgotten it.  NEIL: I'm excited for the rest of this conversation, Mike. This is, um.  MICHAEL: I'm still thinking about that dirty toilet.  NEIL: We could go back to that anytime you want. NEIL: Uh, this card says: Things that are lost but you know will turn up. Talk to me.  MICHAEL: Well, I, I was with a friend the other day, and, um, I, I said, Oh, I don't, I don't recognize that person. I said, I'm not good with faces. And then she mentioned the name and I said, no, I'm, I don't recognize the name. I'm not good with names. And she said. Mike, what else is there besides faces and names? So anyways, I just wait until it comes, you know, it just till, the name comes, I just wait and wait. And in the morning, I figure, after looking at all those places for the keys or whatever, I'll eventually find it. And then I'll look in the unlikely places and I find it. NEIL: What are the unlikely places in your life for keys?  MICHAEL: You know where I've been to keeping them lately? On my front door. So I go outside and they're always there now, so yeah. That's where I seem to keep them.  NEIL: That is really, why don't we all just keep them there?  MICHAEL: Right. I trust my neighbors, evidently.   NEIL: We just very recently got a knock on the door from our neighbor Arlene. A shout out to Arlene if you're listening, and I know you're not, but, um, bless Arlene who very aggressively knocked on our door. She kind of is like policing the hall in a very loving way, but authoritative. And I left the keys in the door. And um, you could tell Arlene lived for this moment. The keys, they're in the door! You know, it's like, and uh, and then of course I have to like reciprocate with like, um, thank you so much. Oh God. Wow. How did we do that? Thank you, Arlene.  MICHAEL: I have - the person that polices our place, uh, has a Trump hat.  NEIL: Oh no. I don't know if I could deal with that.  MICHAEL: He is taking over the recycling, which is great, but he's got it under lock and key, literally under lock and key. So you go downstairs to get rid of your bottles and stuff. And it takes a lot longer. So then everybody just leaves it down there.  NEIL: Every now and then, forgive me, is there like a, an immigrant child in there as well?  MICHAEL: Oh, there's not an immigrant child, but there is something I think it, I realized it bothers him, that people pick through the garbage and it's mostly like, you know...  NEIL: The people who shouldn't be here. From the shithole countries. MICHAEL: Yeah. So I thought about that later and then I just didn't want to think about it anymore cause I was getting all upset.  NEIL: Um, have you had a political conversation with him or?  MICHAEL: I don't go there. Yeah, he's on, he's a little unstable and he asked, one time he asked me if I wanted to take something outside.  NEIL: Oh, he asked you if you want to, I thought, take something outside like garbage. MICHAEL: Right.  NEIL: But no, he wanted to take a discussion outside.  MICHAEL: Yeah.  NEIL: Wow. I'm gay enough that I have never had that conversation, you know? Uh, or if it is, it's like, it's nasty and it's happened a long time ago and it wasn't a fight. Um, wow. Okay. I'm glad that worked out okay. Uh, this card says: Read my - MICHAEL: Can I be, can I, I had a hard time reading that, kind of, reading them.  NEIL: Yeah. Well.  MICHAEL: Your penmanship is like...  NEIL: Well, I always say if my, if my handwriting were a font, it would be called Suicide Note, so I'm...  MICHAEL: Not judging. I just said I had a hard time, you know, deciphering it at times.  NEIL: Yeah. Read my course evaluations at my funeral. That's what that says.  MICHAEL: Oh, well, I was thinking that when, when I do pass, I would like to get ahead of the thing and have people send out a, uh, an announcement saying, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, you know, come to my show, I'll be like, you know -  NEIL: I'll be here for eternity. MICHAEL: Um, class evaluations. Yeah. I love my class evaluations and I save them and I, I find them very funny. One, I actually made a poster and it was, uh, it was, "I'm not sure if I agree with the way Professor Smith teaches this class. He called my work crap and he called us idiots. This is a waste of my time and money." I was very happy with that.  NEIL: And you made that into a poster?  MICHAEL: I made it into a poster.  NEIL: Do you, do you have any other ones that come to mind? I bet you get great course evaluations.  MICHAEL: Some are good. But like I, I forget them, you know, um, I get them, I still get them handwritten. You're supposed to, a lot of people just go online, but I always, I always hand them out and, and I, I have to leave the room and I always say to them, before, "My livelihood and my future is dependent on how you judge me. And I'm so sorry, I meant to bring the donuts. We'll get to that." NEIL: Huh? See, I try to be real coy about it. Like, you know, they make me do this and, you know, try and like keep it open to, um, other than positive feedback. But obviously it's a desperate wish for approval. MICHAEL: Yeah. I, I always tell them I care deeply for them too, when I'm, yeah. You know, I care deeply for all of you.  NEIL: See, you can,  MICHAEL: One thing - I, one of my students who I happen to, like, he-  NEIL: Happen to like. Whatever.  MICHAEL: He came up to me and he said, you know, Mike, even when we're watching videos in the dark, we always know what you're thinking. We can always read you.  NEIL: Wow. That's a scary thought.  MICHAEL: It is. Cause I'm, I have no filter with, you know, I, I just, it, it comes out, I just sort of convey it with my face.  NEIL: See, I find you, because there is a kind of like genial neutrality, you know, like the, the idea of like quote unquote resting bitch face. You have kind of like resting, mm, bemused face. Um, I find it actually kind of opaque. I wish I knew what you were thinking.  MICHAEL: You know what? A lot of times nothing. I get the feeling I'm not answering the, I'm not answering these cards very, uh.  NEIL: Do you need me to take care of you a little bit right now in terms of - I think you're doing a phenomenal job. You know, this is a fucked up, um, project, by the way, because everyone, like I, I once was doing an iteration of it and this kind of high powered curator said to me, did I do okay, or did I do it right? And I wanted to say like, you did, there's no way of not doing this right, but let's talk about why you've never put me in a show. But that's a different story. The faces of spectators at art world performances. The dutifulness and absence of pleasure. We've all seen this like documentation of a performance at an art event and you see like the spectators, like-  MICHAEL: I often say to my, uh, um, to myself and sometimes my students, where's the joy? Looking for the joy. You're talking about pleasure. I'm looking for the - all the time, I'm wondering about that.  NEIL: Where's the joy? Yeah. I'm stealing the hell out of that for any teaching I do. And also, that would be my teaching evaluation for like 95% of the art I see. I mean, it can be art about, um, Auschwitz and you can still appropriately ask the question, where's the joy? Don't you think? Provocative question.  MICHAEL: Um. NEIL: What was the question?  MICHAEL: No, no, no. I thought I'd get some room tone. You know, we start with the toilet and then we put, where's the joy with Auschwitz. You know, this is- NEIL: This is like a balanced meal or something. I'll take the toilet, joy, and Auschwitz. Well, we'll have to talk about what constitutes dessert within that.  NEIL: Uh, okay. Let's try this: The brutality of a memorial service having a duration. MICHAEL: All right. Are you, a duration, like a time limit or like, um, it doesn't end?  NEIL: You answer it however you want.  MICHAEL: Well, I, I, I think brevity can be good, you know, um, and I don't think I need to go to a durational memorial. I may have misunderstood the question or, not the question, the card. I have been in position where I've, I've helped organize them in a, you know, like emceed them. So you get a little nervous, you know, so you want to keep it like, it becomes like a fucking variety show. NEIL: Exactly. That is so true. Memorial services are a variety show.  MICHAEL: I don't know if that's appropriate. You know?  NEIL: What should it be instead?  MICHAEL: Well, it can, I guess it, it should be kind of free-flowing and with me at the helm, it's not going to be free-flowing. NEIL: Because you keep it, you keep it moving? MICHAEL: I try to, yeah.  NEIL: That's a lot of responsibility. I've never, I, I've done, I, I seem to be the person who you will call to do the slide show for your loved one's memorial. I've done a number of them.  MICHAEL: That's a lot of work.  NEIL: It is. And you can't complain about it. Uh, you know.  MICHAEL: And also you have to be in touch with people to get that material.  NEIL: That I - that I have subcontracted and, you know, but even so, it's a lot of work. And you do not want to fuck that one up. Um. But see, for me, I love the idea of durational, like for those of our listeners who don't know, there's a terminology within the art world of durational art, and to me that is like the height of decadence. Like we have such a surplus of time, you know, that we're going to make art from that surplus or something. You know what I mean?  MICHAEL: I have a, getting back to my students, I have a, um, a three-hand rule.  NEIL: Oh, let's hear it.  MICHAEL: Um, well, if some of the, when I'm covering some work like early seventies, you know, and you kind of get the idea after like five minutes and it goes on. If, if one person, three people raised their hand, we'd go onto the next video.  NEIL: I am learning so much today.  MICHAEL: But I don't think you can do that in memorial service. I don't think that'll, I don't think that'll work, no. NEIL: Oh, that's funny.  MICHAEL: How surprised would they be if you, you mentioned that in the beginning of the memorial? NEIL: Yeah, listen, not to create pressure, but it's kind of like the Apollo where you get the hook. MICHAEL: How am I doing, how am I doing? Yeah. Right.  NEIL: Okay. A bad X you would take over a good Y. So, for me, perpetually, my example is I would take a bad episode of RuPaul's Drag Race over a good Godard movie. So, what's a bad X you would take over a good Y?  MICHAEL: Well, I'm of the school that something bad can have lots of charm. There's something redeeming about it. Where there's something is overly so good, like a certain kind of Broadway kind of, um...  NEIL: Careful.  MICHAEL: Yeah. Well, you understand a certain kind of large delivery or something. A certain styling, a certain song-styling. Um, oh, I'm going to lose the whole audience on this reference. NEIL: Go for it. You have me.  MICHAEL: Okay. The, the, the Bobby Short commercial singing Charlie. I would, I will always cringe at that one. And then I would much rather take a bad public access, uh, commercial than that.  NEIL: There's a fragrance that's here to stay and they call it Charlie. NEIL: Um, so Mike, uh, what is it that keeps you going? MICHAEL: Uh. Hm. I don't know what's keeping me going right now. Um, that's a big one. Um, I, you know, when I was lot younger and doing my work, I, you know, and reinventing the wheel, you know, reinventing the wheel and stuff, I was very excited. But I don't, I wonder what, what keeps me going? No one knows. No one knows. Looking for the joy.  NEIL: On that note, thank you to all of you for being here. Thank you, Mike, for coming to this live taping. Thank you to everyone at Skowhegan. Sarah, Katie, Kris, Carrie, Paige, everyone else. Um, now, this series is made possible with generous support - thank you Jesus - for Still Point Fund. Oh, Siri, something set Siri off. That's, that's my husband, Jeff. Um, oh, sorry. I know, you know, it's interesting. One of the cards I have is every time I stub my toe, I look for someone to blame. And it's often Jeff. And, um, so. Uh, the calls are coming from inside the house. The house being my subjectivity. Let's do that again cause this is important. This series is made possible with generous support from Still Point Fund. Devon Guinn is our producer. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, and Rachel Wang. Our card-flip beats come from Josh Graver. And my husband, Jeff, sings the theme song you're about to hear. And he's going to perform it live. He's a professional. JEFF HILLER: She's a talker with Neil Goldberg. She's A Talker at Skowhegan. She's A Talker, it's better than it sounds. NEIL: Thank you, everybody. Thanks everyone for listening to this bonus episode. Keep your eyes open for She's A Talker, Season Three, coming soon. And in the meantime, be well.

E

May 2020

25 min 8 sec

Writer and performer Annie Lanzillotto talks about how, actually, old people are the future. ABOUT THE GUEST Born and raised in the Westchester Square neighborhood of the Bronx of Barese heritage, Annie Lanzillotto is renowned memoirist, poet, and performance artist. She’s the author of L IS FOR LION: AN ITALIAN BRONX BUTCH FREEDOM MEMOIR (SUNY Press), the books of poetry SCHISTSONG (Bordighera Press) and Hard Candy/Pitch Roll Yaw (Guernica Editions). She has received fellowships and performance commissions from New York Foundation For The Arts, Dancing In The Streets, Dixon Place, Franklin Furnace, The Rockefeller Foundation for shows including CONFESSIONS OF A BRONX TOMBOY: My Throwing Arm, This Useless Expertise, How to Wake Up a Marine in a Foxhole, and a’Schapett. More info at annielanzillotto.com.  ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION Coming soon...

E

Mar 2020

24 min 50 sec

In this episode, Neil talks to the one person he’s not isolating from: his husband, actor and comedian Jeff Hiller, from TV’s 30 Rock, Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, solo shows at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre, and many, many others. The podcast has always been about the everyday, and right now our everyday is coronavirus.  ABOUT THE GUEST Jeff Hiller is an actor and comedian has appeared in guest roles on television in “30Rock”, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend“, “Broad City”, “Difficult People”, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, “The McCarthy’s”, “Community”, and a lot of shows that no one remembers. Jeff was a regular on Ali Wentworth’s series Nightcap,  and played Maggie’s new work friend on the third season of “Playing House“. At the movies, Jeff played a snooty waiter to Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne in “Adam”, a pissed off waiter in the Netflix comedy, Set It Up and got fancy as the head waiter opposite Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert in “Greta”. Jeff also played the Naked Ghost opposite Ricky Gervais in “Ghost Town”. As a stage actor, Jeff originated the role of John Quincy Adams in  Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson on Broadway. Off-Broadway, they  took over Bright Colors, Bold Patterns from creator Drew Droege and have performed as part of Shakespeare in the Park in Midsummer Nights Dream and Love’s Labours Lost. Recently they have been presenting solo storytelling shows their solo storytelling show, “Grief Bacon”. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock, Sharon Marcus TRANSCRIPTION Coming soon...

E

Mar 2020

38 min 45 sec

Film critic Melissa Anderson talks about the correlation between smoldering internal rage and a lighthearted use of exclamation marks. ABOUT THE GUEST Melissa Anderson is the film editor of 4Columns and a regular contributor to Artforum and Bookforum. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, Rachel Wang Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock, Jonathan Taylor TRANSCRIPTION NEIL GOLDBERG.: Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg, and this is SHE'S A TALKER, coming to you today from the Lower East Side. Today's guest is film critic Melissa Anderson, but first I'm going to find someone here on the street to talk to.  We're doing a podcast, and we just need people to know... Oh, okay. Sorry to bother you. Would you have a minute for a podcast, just to read this card into a microphone?  REMY: Why not? NEIL: Thank you. I love the "why not?" REMY: What podcast? NEIL: It's called SHE'S A TALKER. It's built off a collection of thousands of these index cards doing interviews with people. Uh, but now we're playing around with having people on the street read them. Would you mind?  REMY: Okay. When people sing out loud to themselves with headphones, wanting to be heard.  NEIL: It's often a cutesy thing. You know, someone's on the subway. They got their headphones in. They're singing. They're pretending like they don't know they can be heard, but they can be heard. Do you know what I'm talking about there?  REMY: I have absolutely done that. It was another version of me years ago, if that helps.  NEIL: Tell me about that version of you.  REMY: A version that was, really wanted to be heard, man. I mean, everyone really wants to be heard, but especially like I had just moved to New York. Like when you find those little secret ways where you don't even admit to yourself that you are reaching out. It's, it's a little bit of a lifeline.  NEIL: Can I ask what your name is?  REMY: Remy.  NEIL: Remy. Would you do one more card or no? This, okay, great. Hang on. I'm going to find another one.  REMY: I feel a type of violence when someone marks a file as final.  NEIL: Do you know that experience? Like do you ever work with electronic files and like?  REMY: Yes. Completely. Yeah.  NEIL: Are you someone who is, uh, who marks things as final?  REMY: I try not to because then you end up with another final and final two and final seven, and yeah, it is a lot. Um, so I try and keep it organized, but never final. Nothing's final. NEIL: I'm so happy to have as my guest, film critic Melissa Anderson. Melissa is the Film Editor for the unique art criticism site 4Columns, and frequently contributes to Book Forum and Art Forum, and before that was the Senior Film Critic for The Village Voice of blessed memory. Non-professionally, Melissa has a longstanding practice of emailing me abuses she encounters of the word 'journey', which she describes as the COVID-19 of nouns. We spoke just after the new year at a recording studio at The New School near Union Square in New York City.   NEIL: Melissa Anderson.  MELISSA ANDERSON: Yes. Neil Goldberg. NEIL: Welcome to SHE'S A TALKER. I'm so happy to have you here. This is your first podcast.  MELISSA: Yeah.  NEIL: Wow. How does it feel?  MELISSA: I feel that I'm in the best of hands. I'm with a creative conversationalist of the highest order. And I'm, I'm ready to talk.  NEIL: Um, what is the elevator pitch for what you do?  MELISSA: Oh, it's very simple. I'm, I'm a film critic. I'm the world's preeminent lesbian film critic. There's my elevator pitch. Elevator to the stars.  NEIL: I love the lack of ambiguity about that.  MELISSA: I mean, of course. I'm a film critic. That would be my elevator pitch. I don't, I don't want to get too grandiose so early on in our conversation. NEIL: Well, hopefully there'll be time later. You know, I'm, I'm thinking of criticism as its own literary form. So I would say, Melissa Anderson is truly a critic of film whose criticism rises and surpasses the attributes that we apply to the other literary arts. Or it rises to the level of literature. Would you agree with that? Is that an intention?  MELISSA: You are putting a woman in a very precarious position. I mean, if I agree with you, "Oh yes. All those wonderful things you said, oh of course, I am the best." But I also don't want to go into some display of false modesty.  I will just say that, yes, I practice the dark art of film criticism. I've done it for several years now. I always feel that my writing could be so much better. That's always the goal: to not just coast, to really play with language, have some ideas, say outrageous things. Yes. And, and not just rely on plot synopsis, because that is, is really the, the dullest form of cultural criticism, especially film criticism. I think it's inevitable. You have to give the reader just some sense of what happens in terms of, you know, action or just the, the, the barest plot synopsis. And from there you can branch out and talk about the really interesting things, like Brad Pitt's face or what French actress I may have a very big crush on. You know?  NEIL: Do you get a lot of followup? Like what kind of followup does one get? MELISSA: Yes. I do get the follow up question quite a lot, which is what kinds of films do you write about? In fact, this came up just the other day. I was meeting somebody for the first time, and I said, you know, I really try to cover anything. And then the person I was talking to said, Oh, would you review the new Star Wars movie? And that's when I realized, actually, I do not cover the waterfront because I have not seen a Star Wars movie since 1983. And I almost never write about anything in the Marvel Comics Universe or DC Comics, simply because, I mean, I have, I, I have made a very concerted effort to see these films to keep up. But, and I'm not exaggerating, I found them so depleting. I remember watching Guardians of the Galaxy. And while I was watching it, I thought, this is like watching a toaster being assembled. It, it just, it simply seemed like nothing but a product where Tab A goes with Tab B, or this part slots into this part, and I thought this, this cinema is just simply not for me.  NEIL: Yes. Well, you use the word depleted, which is interesting, which I think of depleted as being like, something is taken from you. So what is taken?  MELISSA: Uh, well in those instances, my love of going to the movies. I mean it still really seems like an adventure to me. Anytime I go to a screening room, you know, anytime I'm, I'm, I'm there to review something, I'm there with my, with my uni-ball pen and my MUJI line notebook and I enter the screening room really as an act of good faith. And so these movies I'm describing, like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Thor, or whatever, those I saw as a civilian because I also think it's very important that as a film critic you, you see more than the movies that you are assigned to write about. And so I went to see these superhero movies, comic book movies, intellectual property movies on my own, you know, just to keep up. And with these films, that sense of adventurousness - that ended. Then it just, it felt like a chore just to remain in my seat until the film's completion.  NEIL: Out of family obligation, I will be seeing a lot of the franchise movies or whatever they're called. I just saw Star Wars over the holidays. And, uh, it, it does feel a little bit like a tour. But you know, my approach to the movies and this sounds so snobby, but, uh, I really do feel like sleeping during a movie is a form of interactivity. You know what I mean?  MELISSA: Andy Warhol certainly thought that, and have your fact checking department vet this, but the great Amos Vogel, who was a crucial person in New York City film culture, one of the founders of the New York Film Festival, I believe, he also said that sleeping during a film is an absolutely legitimate response to, to what you're seeing on screen.  NEIL: Absolutely. You know, you're doing a little re-edit, you know, by, by sleeping and - MELISSA: De tournage, you're detourning the moving image.  NEIL: Exactly. What is, what is a recurring thought you have? What's a thought you keep returning to?  MELISSA: Can I turn the oven off? No. Well, that is sadly... Uh. Well. It's a recurring concern, and I mentioned it earlier, which is, how am I going to make my writing better? Just yesterday, in fact, I looked at something that I wrote last year that when I completed it and filed it and went through the editing process, I thought, Oh, this piece is all right. Yesterday, while revisiting this year-old piece, I thought, how was I not run out of town? This is a colossal embarrassment.  Yeah. I don't know if, how you approach your previous works. Do you revisit older stuff that you have done or do you just, do you operate under the assumption that no, never, never look back? Just keep moving ahead.  NEIL: Revisit it to, to revise it or just to look at it?  MELISSA: Just to look at it.  NEIL: It's something, it's - one of the things I truly dislike the most is, as part of the whole artist shtick, one has to do artist talks and show past work, and I, I don't like doing it at all, primarily because it just feels so dead. Like, and I do feel like a work for me is not finished until the point that I have stopped really having feeling for it. You know what I mean? One becomes detached to it, and maybe there's a value to becoming detached from it in that, um, it allows one more flexibility, fewer feelings of darlings that are being killed and stuff. But I'd love never to look at it. For sure. But you, it sounds like you do kind of consciously revisit your past work. MELISSA: Well, sometimes, you know, invariably, I will be writing about an actor, a performer who I may have written about in another film five years ago, and I'm curious to see what I wrote then, just so that I don't repeat myself. I'm revisiting stuff just to make sure I'm not saying the same thing over again, or I'm curious to gauge my different responses if indeed there is a difference.  NEIL: Let's go to the cards, shall we?  MELISSA: I'd love to.  NEIL: Excellent. Okay, so the first card is the correlation between smoldering internal rage, and the lighthearted use of exclamation marks. MELISSA: I, when I see an abuse of exclamation marks, particularly in email correspondence, I feel nothing but a red-hot smoldering rage. Not even smoldering, just full-on Mount Vesuvius-level Krakatoa explosion. I have been told this is generational, that those younger than this elderess, and that is now billions of people, prefer the exclamation mark. And the period, which I think is a very fine mark of punctuation, is considered by millennials and younger to be somewhat passive-aggressive.  NEIL: Oh, that's interesting. I feel like exclamation marks aren't necessarily passive-aggressive, but they're meant to.  MELISSA: No, no, no. The period is passive-aggressive. NEIL: Right. No, I get that. But I feel like there's a similar kind of belying or something happening with the exclamation mark, but it's about rage. Like, um. Well, I guess passive-aggressive typically means, uh, that you have aggressive feelings that you're masking. I think of it as a more diffuse, the, the exclamation mark, as more - it's not trying to communicate anger at someone, but a free-floating anger that is perfumed by way of the exclamation mark. MELISSA: Right. Because the exclamation mark perfumes it with a cheerfulness or an excitement. It just exhausts me.  NEIL: Oh, absolutely. It asks so much of you. You always have to ask, what does it mean?  MELISSA: Yes.  NEIL: And when was the last time you used one?  MELISSA: Just yesterday, in fact, wishing someone a happy 2020.  NEIL: Oh yeah. You got to do that. A period there is, is slightly hostile. MELISSA: That seems very dour and grim.  NEIL: Next card: that bring-down moment, after you've watched a transcendent performance, when you first go to look at your phone. And perhaps this applies to movies.  MELISSA: Well, after I've seen something really terrific, whether it be a live performance or a motion picture - to maintain that feeling, I will defer looking at the phone for quite some time. I just like to replay it in my mind.  NEIL: Yeah. How do you feel right after a show if you're with someone and they're, like, wanting to analyze it?  MELISSA: This drives me crazy. Of the many billions of things that I appreciate about my fantastic lady, one of them is that, in the many years that we've been together, in the many thousands of movies that we've seen together, we will leave the theater, and neither one of us feels this compulsion to say, so what did you think? What did you think? Which really sends me into murderous rage. And, uh, there was a time when I was going to film festivals fairly regularly. And for seven years I went to Le Festival de Cannes, where, talk about depleting. Press screenings at the Cannes Film Festival begin at eight-thirty in the morning. NEIL: Wow.  MELISSA: So one is rushing to see, you know, the latest Lars von Trier or whatever. You come stumbling out into the bright Mediterranean sun, and you are just surrounded by all of these film critics who are just assaulting, assaulting you with a quote. What did you think? What did you think? And I. This really, so many times, really put me over the edge. You just need time to simply let the images or the live performance, whatever you've just seen, let it wash over you. Sink in. So I find the question an assault.  NEIL: Next card, Melissa. Looking in my apartment's compost container is sort of like gossip. I find I enjoy looking in the compost.  MELISSA: You know, I also enjoy it somewhat, and I will also say that I feel that now one-fourth to one-third of my waking hours are spent taking the compost down to the compost bins. Yeah, it is, it is something of a time investment. But when I look at it, forgive me, I must say it - I'm overcome with a sense of virtue because my lady and I, we like to do a lot of cooking at home, and I make, uh, at least one, sometimes two cups, very strong French-pressed coffee. So all of my coffee grounds around there. And so, yes, in fact, before leaving the house, I took the compost out, and I thought, Oh look. Greens and coffee grounds and brown eggs. We're doing great.  NEIL: This is your own compost you're talking about.  MELISSA: My co- the compost of the soul.  NEIL: I hear that. It is deeply virtuous. I feel very embraced by compost. Like I like that compost, within its parameters will accept everything, and you don't have to tell food scraps how to become compost. I know that there's some work involved. It just feels embracing. It takes. Compost takes.  MELISSA: You know, one feels really in tune with the spirit of the first Earth Day in 1970. NEIL: That feeling when the plane lands and they dramatically reverse the engines to slow it down.  MELISSA: Well, if it, particularly if I'm coming back to New York, I'm, I'm spirally thinking, will I be able to make it to the air train in time? Will I be able to make it to the LIRR to pull into the Atlantic Terminal, which is a convenient 10-minute walk from my house. One would hope that the slow brain would kick in. The slow brain being, Oh, how great. One has landed safely, although now that I mentioned that, should one be feeling grateful that one has landed, or should one be filled with what my Shero Greta Thunberg has us thinking about, which is Flygskam, or shame of flying. Yeah. So I think the next time I fly, and I'm not sure when that will be, yeah. I, when the plane lands, maybe I'll just be feeling filled with shame.  NEIL: Yeah. I feel a variation on that because when it goes in reverse, you feel how much force is required to, to stop the plane, you know, which suggests how much, how much energy is going into propelling the plane forward, and you're burning fuel to send it in reverse. So it is a moment of - MELISSA: And killing Mother Earth. You think, how big is my carbon footprint?  NEIL: Oh God.  MELISSA: Sorry, Greta.  NEIL: Yeah. I just watched Greta's um, speech, finally, um, over, yeah, over the vacation, because, I don't know how I hadn't seen it before, but - MELISSA: I still haven't seen it.  NEIL: It's prophetic. A lot of it is like, You, meaning people of - I'm 56, like my generation. "How dare you" is the refrain, which, I think, I would have reworked that. Um. MELISSA: You're going to copy edit Greta.  NEIL: Yes, exactly.  MELISSA: Take a red pen to Greta.  NEIL: But a lot of it... I can imagine 20 years, something down the line, I do feel like there's going to be a generational justified wrath, um, hitting us, hitting people of my age, you know. And she speaks that.  MELISSA: I find her incredibly inspiring. I mean, yes, in all seriousness, I really am. I'm not someone who flies a tremendous amount. I'd say I'd average two to three flights a year. But this whole concept of the Flygskam, it has really made me think, thanks to this 16-year-old prophetess that, yeah, this is really, um, a great harm that I am perpetuating by flying so I can have a vacation in Paris or go visit friends in Los Angeles. So I have tremendous respect for this fiery, oracular, young person.  NEIL: Melissa, when you put your arm around a friend or hold their hand, but then the discomfort of when to disconnect emerges.  MELISSA: Um, I think of myself as a pretty physically-affectionate person with friends. I'm really not a hand-holder.  NEIL: Uh huh.  MELISSA: Even with my lover, and we've had some discussions about this. Because she, when we first began our love journey so many years ago, she would often like to take my hand out in public. And I thought, this kind of bugs me. But, and I, you know, I wanted to check in with myself. Why? Is it internalized homophobia? And then I realized, I, I, I landed upon what bothered me about it. There was something about my hand being held. It made me feel infantilized. Her arm around my shoulder, or even better, her arm around my waist - that I was into. Cause that felt more like a PG-13 type of public display of affection. NEIL: Right.  MELISSA: And also with the hand-holding, you know, I try to be very conscientious about taking up public space. And when you're walking around a couple holding hands, it's an impasse.  NEIL: It is like a blockade.  MELISSA: If there's a way that one could have a public display of affection while walking single file, that is, that's the challenge of 2020. Lovers, lovers of New York City. Think of how this can be done. The piggy-back ride. Will that be the way to show somebody you're really sweet on them in 2020?  NEIL: You do see the occasional piggy-back ride, but it doesn't make me feel good.  MELISSA: Not so sexy, right? You know, we're surrounded by an army of lovers. NEIL: That's true. Taking up space. Um, you know, I feel the same thing about holding hands in public. It's not about the physical infantilizing thing, but it is a type of intern - I don't know if it's internalized homophobia. It's like, yikes. Are we gonna get a bottle thrown at us?  MELISSA: Hmm.  NEIL: I'm sure there's internalized homophobia in there too. MELISSA: But again, I don't, it's, it's not that, it's just... Okay, well actually now I'm thinking about this more. I'm fact-checking myself, holding hands in the movies is okay. Because you're - one's parents, or certainly my parents, wouldn't hold my hand during the movie.  NEIL: True.  MELISSA: But holding, holding one's hand in public. That is something your parents did to you as a child.  NEIL: We've nailed it. You've nailed it. That's it. Yeah. MELISSA: I'd like to thank all of the years of psychotherapy I've had on the couch of, well, should I name my psychotherapist?  NEIL: If you want to give a shout-out.  MELISSA: Well, she's a... She knows who she is. NEIL: Yes, exactly. That. Let's hope. Let's hope one's therapist knows who they are. I've never name-checked my, my therapist either. Um, and yet all my years in therapy, I never came to the conclusion about the hand-holding. NEIL: What's a bad ex you'd take over a good Y? MELISSA: Me, who considers herself to be really one a gift of the gab - I'm stumped. I would take, I would take a bad movie that's not in the Marvel Comics Universe or a Star Wars movie - I would take a bad movie any day over a good television show.  There's no romance to watching television.  NEIL: Is it context?  MELISSA: There's no sense of adventure in staying home and watching television. When you commit to seeing a movie, you have to leave the house. And it seems that, increasingly, even in New York City, this great, dynamic, incredible place, the messages we keep receiving are: stay at home, stay at home, cocoon. You never have to leave the house. Everything will come to you. You'll have your content delivered to you. You'll have your food delivered to you. Stay home, stay home.  No, leave the house, people. It's very exciting to go to the movies, even if it's a stinker. There's so much that could happen, so much that's beyond your control. It's terrifying, but it's exciting. Leave the house. Leave it. Leave your house.  NEIL: On that note, Melissa Anderson, thank you for being on - that didn't sound genuine. I have to do it again.  MELISSA: Yeah. Talk about passive-aggressive. Speaking nothing but periods.  NEIL: On that note, Melissa, thank you so much for being on SHE'S A TALKER.  MELISSA: It was a great honor, Neil Goldberg. I thank you.  NEIL: Bye. That was my conversation with Melissa Anderson. Thank you for listening.  Before we get to the credits, there's a listener response I'd love to share with you. In my conversation with Jon Wan, in response to learning that they studied jazz saxophone in high school, I said, "I'm going to make a controversial generalization: I don't think jazz is gay." Jon and I then talked about the way jazz offered a model of cool and casualness that didn't feel available to us as awkward, closeted high-schoolers. Steven Winter emailed saying, "Jazz is self-expression within yourself being rendered into outer sensation. There are so many ways to cut the cake of the music called jazz, but three key essentials are: one, freedom; two, swing; and three, improvisation. Can these elements not also be used to describe the fundamental pillars of LGBTQ survival in the 20th century up till now? Jazz is about describing and finding yourself as an individual. That's why you can hear a dozen jazz versions of the same tune, and each will hit you in a different way. Can the same thing be said of the gay movement? Yes, it can." Thank you, Steven.  If you have something you'd like to share about a card or anything else you've heard on the podcast, email us or send us a voice memo at shesatalker@gmail.com or message us on Instagram at shesatalker. And also, as always, we'd love it if you'd rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or share this episode with a friend. This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devon Guinn produced this episode. Andrew Litton mixed it. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handle social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, and Jesse Kimotho. Our card-flip beats come from Josh Graver, and my husband, Jeff Hiller, sings the theme song you are about to hear. Thanks to all of them, and to my guest, Melissa Anderson, and to you for listening.  JEFF HILLER: She's a talker with Neil Goldberg. She's a talker with fabulous guests. She's a talker, it's better than it sounds, yeah!

E

Mar 2020

27 min 34 sec

Poet Nick Flynn talks about the ways in which he won't die. ABOUT THE GUEST Nick Flynn has worked as a ship’s captain, an electrician, and a caseworker for homeless adults. Some of the venues his poems, essays, and nonfiction have appeared in include the New Yorker, the Nation, the Paris Review, the New York Times Book Review, and NPR’s This American Life. His writing has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, PEN, and the Fine Arts Work Center, among other organizations. His film credits include artistic collaborator and “field poet” on Darwin’s Nightmare (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 2006), as well as executive producer and artistic collaborator on Being Flynn, the film version of his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. His most recent collection of poetry, I Will Destroy You, appeared from Graywolf Press in 2019. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Lili Taylor, and his daughter, Maeve. http://www.nickflynn.org/ ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION NICK FLYNN: I was driving my daughter to soccer. And she had a bike and I had a bike and we'd ride, even though it was a little cold.  NEIL GOLDBERG: Yeah.  NICK: But a guy went by on a bike and he had like a boombox, one of those boombox that plays, he's playing like a podcast, like really loud, and it was so odd. We both just laughed. It was like, what is that? You're just blasting a podcast going down the street, blasting.  NEIL: This is fresh air.  Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg and this is SHE'S A TALKER. I'm a visual artist and this podcast is my thinly veiled excuse to get some of my favorite New York writers, artists, performers, and beyond into the studio to chat. For prompts, I use a collection of thousands of index cards on which I've been writing thoughts and observations for the past two decades, kind of like one of those party games, but hopefully not as cheesy.  These days, the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone. Here are some recent ones: I really love how Beverly pronounces 'Meow'. It's never appropriate to share scrap paper from home with students. I'm never sure what a simmer is. I'm so happy to have as my guest, poet Nick Flynn. I have been a hardcore fan of Nick's writing since his first book, Some Ether, came out in 2000 and was blown away by his memoirs, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and The Ticking is the Bomb. In the fall, he released a new book of poetry, I Will Destroy You, and in the next few months he has two more books coming out: Stay, and This is the Night Our House Will Catch on Fire. I met Nick briefly in, I think, the late eighties in Provincetown, and we reconnected recently via our mutual friend, Jacques Servin, who is on an earlier episode. Nick and I spoke in January at a recording studio at The New School near Union Square in New York City. NEIL: Are you comfortable?  NICK: Like on a scale of one to ten?  NEIL: Like, you know those smiley faces, like if you're in the hospital. NICK: How much pain I have? Uh, I hadn't even thought about it till you just said that. Now I'm wondering if I am, so.  NEIL: I feel like I'm, I'm totally not, I'm not feeling any pain at the moment.  NICK: No, I'm not feeling any pain. No, I'm feeling no pain.  NEIL: That's different from, feeling no pain is different from not feeling any pain. NICK: That means if you're kind of fucked up, I think.  NEIL: Exactly.  NICK: You're feeling no pain.  NEIL: Um, I'm so happy to have you, Nick Flynn, on the show, SHE'S A TALKER.  NICK: I'm happy to be here, Neil Goldberg -  NEIL: I, you know -   NICK: on the show SHE'S A TALKER. Is the 'She' the cat? NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: That's, that's who the 'she' is.  NEIL: It is, yeah. I, you know -  NICK: I guess I got that. Yeah.  NEIL: Well, you know, in 1993 when everyone was dying... Everyone is still dying, but just differently.  NICK: I remember that. Yeah.  NEIL: Yeah. Uh, you know, I did a video project where I interviewed, it turned out to be, like about 80 gay men all over New York City in all five boroughs who had female cats, combing their cats and saying "She's a Talker." NICK: They were combing the cats?  NEIL: Combing the cat. It was just almost like, it was like a stealthy way to like, not stealthy, but it was a way to document a lot of gay men who felt like really imperiled, and it was my first video project. And, I don't know, when I decided to name this, that came up for me. But subsequently I get a lot of like, what does the word 'she' mean at this point? NICK: Right, right, right. Yeah.  NEIL: Maybe I should rebrand it. What should I call it?  NICK: Uh, you should stick with it, I think. Hmm.  NEIL: Uh, when, when you're looking for like a short hand, like you encounter someone on the proverbial elevator and are looking for like a pithy way to describe who it is you are and what it is you do, what do you, what do you reach for? NICK: I say I'm a poet.  NEIL: Period.  NICK: Period. Yeah. Yeah. Cause that usually gets a pretty dead-eyed stare like the one you just gave me. Like that's it? That's it.  NEIL: When someone is confronted with poet, silence, do you ever feel like helping someone out?  NICK: Well, it depends on like, often, that'll pretty much be the conversation-ender.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: So it does nothing to help cause they're gone right at that point.  NEIL: If your folks were around, how might they describe who it is you've become? NICK: Wow, that's a, that's an interesting one. Would they, would they still be, are they like idealized, my, like my parents on their best day or on their worst day?  NEIL: Oh, I wouldn't mind hearing both if you don't mind. Like the...  NICK: Ah, like, you know, there's the idealized version of your parents. Then there's the, not the reality, but the, you know, but recognizing at a certain point that they had some rough days, you know. In my mind, it's hard to deny they had some rough days. So, um, it's a little, it's a little harder to pretend. Yeah. Uh, my father, he knew that I'd published books and he was sort of, you know, strangely proud of that. Uh, but proud just in the way he knew I'd be a good writer because he was such a great writer, so I got it all from him. So he took all credit for any of it. So I imagined he would still take credit for any accomplishments I've had or that he perceives I've had. I've, I'm trying to think if he had like on a good day, that's sort of like a not so good day. Yeah. On a good day, he did have a couple moments where he was able to just recognize the struggle it had been, uh, between the two of us, uh, to actually acknowledge that. And I think that would be like, he'd say like, yeah, this was, this must have been hard, you know? So I think that would be. That'd be a good day for him.  My mother's a little more enigmatic, like it's actually, when I think about it, like, cause I mean, she died before he did. I was younger. I didn't know her as well, probably. So, although I grew up with her, but, um, I sort of studied my father more, and my mother's more of a, uh, a construct of the imagination in some ways. Although, I mean, we spent so much time together too. It's strange to say that actually, I don't know if that's true.  You know, I, there's always the question like, what would my mother be like now? So I'm, I look at women that are my mother's age, that would be my mother's age now. Like I don't know how, how she would be. So either way, I think she's, since she, from her backhouse sort of WASP-y Irish background, she probably wouldn't say directly anything. I'd have to decipher what she said.   NEIL: So it would be cryptic in terms of her estimation of you, or?  NICK: I mean, she, I think she'd say, "Oh, I'm, I'm proud of you." But the deeper levels of that I think would be harder to get to.  NEIL: Yeah. I see you came in, you were, you had a bike helmet, which I connect to. Um, on your bike ride over, did you have any thoughts?  NICK: Wow. Thoughts as I was coming here - the sort of meta thing is I was listening on my headphones to SHE'S A TALKER. And you're talking to someone about riding a bike over the bridge.  NEIL: Right, yeah.  NICK: So like, yeah. I mean, at the moment I was riding over the bridge. I was listening to you talk to someone else about riding over the bridge and then thinking that I would soon be here talking to you, and I brought my helmet it, I didn't - usually I lock it on my bike  but maybe I brought it in so you would ask me about it. It's possible, but I think I just brought it in cause it was cold, it was so cold outside. I wanted a warm helmet when I went back out. So.  NEIL: Aha, you didn't want to put on a cold helmet. I never thought about that. NICK: What I thought about on the bridge was that it was way colder than I thought it was. It was the wind, it was like howling and I had a hat in my bag and I kept thinking, I'll just stop and put my hat on under my helmet and I didn't stop. I kept thinking, I'll warm up at some point, but I just kept getting colder and colder the further I went. I just never stopped, I just kept going.  NEIL: Well, let's, um, go to some cards that I curated for you.  NICK: You curate these for this conversation?  NEIL: Yes. Yeah.   (Card flip)  So the first card is: the specific, tentative, hyper-attentive way one tastes something to see if it's gone bad. NICK: Um, what I usually do is I'll, I'll, I'll cook it and then give it to my brother. NEIL: Mikey likes it?  NICK: Yeah. And then if he can get through it then it probably hasn't gone so far bad. Cause he's pretty sensitive actually. I mean, while I'm presenting, it sounds like he'd just eat anything. No. He's quite sensitive. So he's like sort of the. He's, he, he, he's a Canary. Ah ha. Yeah. So I'll just fix it up and give it to him and then, cause he'll, usually, he's quite happy if I make him something, give him some food, then if it's no good, then, then I throw it away. Yeah. If he eats it, I'll eat it.  NEIL: He's your taster. Um, where, where does your brother live?  NICK: He lives upstate, New York.  NEIL: Oh, okay. Yeah, but he's your older brother, right, if I'm remembering? NICK: But why did you say, "but." Because he lives upstate?  NEIL: No, because of the scenario of like, your brother, the implication. He's an implied younger brother in the story.  NICK: Gotcha. Yeah. Yeah. He's an implied younger brother in life too.  (Card Flip)  NEIL: Next card. When a toddler falls, that space before they start to cry. NICK: Well. My daughter was, uh, three. And for us, like three was really like, spectacular meltdowns and just like, you know, tantrums and just like wildness, just like absolutely wild, like wild animal, just screaming and frustrated and like, you know, furious. And one day she, uh, she was in a tantrum, she fell and she hit her cheek on the corner of a staircase and it split open and like bled. It sort of woke her up. Like it was right at the end of her being three, she was going to turn four. It was a Sunday night. And my wife and I were like, Oh, what do we do? Like, I'm like, I guess, do we take her to her doctor or do we like, you know, just like, like leave her with a scar for the rest of her life? And so I butterfly-stitched it, you know, like made a little butterfly thing, to hold it together to squish the skin together, you know? And, uh. That's what we did. We sort of looked up t see like how big and deep it had to be to go to a doctor and stuff and to need a stitch, and it was sort of right on the edge. So I butterfly-stitched it, and then. Yeah so now she just has this pretty little scar on her face and she's perfect.  NEIL: Wow. And does she know the story of the scar?  NICK: Oh yeah. I would say it's a part of her myth, part of her origin myth. The wildest, the wildness poured out of her cheek. Yeah. Yeah.  NEIL: Uh, can, can you share -  NICK: Did that answer your question? NEIL: Yes and no. That's always the, um, I think it's beautiful. I have the idea, I'm not a parent, but when I see a kid having a tantrum - NICK: I wasn't either before that.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: It comes on kind of suddenly.  NEIL: But how did you deal with tantrums?  NICK: I, I've been sort of attentive and amused by the whole process. Like I feel like we're really lucky. She's a really good kid and just a really interesting kid and like, so I just sort of like see it, like, I admire the tantrums in a certain way. Like, I think everyone should be like, just screaming, running down the streets, you know, most of the time. Like this sucks. Um, so there was something very, uh, wild about it. Like just to see like, wow, like you can just do this. You can just go and like, you can go to a store and just pull a whole rack down. If you don't get your Popsicle, you don't fucking. She, she used to fire me like every day as a father. She said, if you do not give me that Popsicle, you will not be able to kiss me. You will not be able to hug me. You will not be my father.  NEIL: What did you say to that?  NICK: I'm like, Oh, that's really hard. I'd be sad not to be your father. She was like, you will not be able to, you will have to go to Texas and never come back.  NEIL: Crafty.  NICK: Yeah, she was good. Yeah, but I, you know, I was onto her though. Yeah. I'd be her father like in half an hour later. NEIL: Did you ever say -   NICK: She'd rehire me like half hour later. Yeah.  NEIL: Was there a re-intake process?  NICK: No. No. We just pretended it didn't happen. Yeah, it was all moving forward. It was all the continuous present.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: You just kept this present moment. This present moment had no connection to the other moments whatsoever. NEIL: Did you ever join your daughter in a tantrum?  NICK: Did I ever join her in a tantrum? Oh, wow. Yeah, I did. Yeah. I remember one night, like early on when she was like six months old and that. The beautiful hallucination of early parenthood where you just, you just don't sleep. You just like, you're just awake for like months. Like just not sleeping. And you just fall asleep in the middle of things. Just like, you know, you can just barely do anything. Everything's filthy and like, you know, you just wash all the clothes and immediately they're filthy again, the food is just taken and thrown to the floor. I think the dogs eat it. You just give up in a certain way. There's one night I was up with her at like three in the morning and she was just screaming. And I was just like, I think I filmed her screaming with my phone. I'm just like, okay, just scream. Just scream. I'm going to make a movie of you screaming. I was like, I don't know what to do. So I just made a little movie of her. NEIL: Wow. But you didn't, but, but it didn't call on you the feeling of like, now I am going to lose it myself and cry?  NICK: Um, well, I think I viewed, it's like, you know, I'm from like a sort of WASP-y Irish background, and so we don't really show that stuff. And I'm sort of always like that, but it don't, I don't, I try. I think no one can see it, but I think everyone actually sees it.  NEIL: So always you're, you're crying always. NICK: Melting down, yeah.  (Card Flips)  NEIL: Okay. Kids with artist parents. Because both you and your wife are artists. Like to me, the idea of like, two artists come together and they have a kid, well that's going to be a super kid. And then that kid maybe, will - NICK: Be with another artist, yeah. NEIL: It's almost like an artistic eugenics kind of vision or something.  NICK: Um, yeah. I always think it for our daughter, like Lord help her. Really. I don't think like, Oh, you've been, you've won the lottery. Like, like, this is the card, this is the hand you've been dealt. Good luck with it. You know, we're both like, yeah, we're both a little. I, I don't know, I don't know if neurotic is the right word, but like, you know. You know, we're, we're sensitive. We're like, you know, in some ways not made for this world, we're, we're awkward where other people are comfortable, we're, uh, you know, we found our place to, to survive, which is really lucky, you know? And also, you know, in a culture, like I'm a poet too, I'm not, like, it's not that like, this is like some hugely respected artistic position in our culture at the moment. You know, like, that's why I say that I, I say it perversely if someone asks me, with the elevator pitches, like if they ask me what I do, I say I'm a poet. And just because it's perverse, it's like it's so perverse, you know? You know when, if you go to a doctor's office, I write it on a form. I write 'poet', just, you might as well ride hobo or something. Right? That's not right. I'm a wizard. So it's not like, it doesn't feel like that she's suddenly being dealt like this, like, like a superhuman. Like, what are you talking about?  NEIL: Right. NICK:  It's just unfortunate. Like, you know. Artists get attracted to artists because we can vaguely understand each other, maybe. You know, we're not like, you know, I've tried to be with civilians before and it's like, not easy, you know? I really, I feel less understood, you know? I barely feel like I fit in now. To this world. So you know, you find someone who you feel like, yeah, you also don't feel like you fit in. So that's a kind of connection.  NEIL: How does your, how does your daughter describe what, what you both do? Does she unabashedly say -  NICK: Well, it's a little easier for Lily, for my wife. I mean, cause she's like, you know, people actually will sometimes recognize her on the streets and stuff, so she's a little prouder.  NEIL: But him, the hobo.  NICK: And my dad's a poet.  (Card Flip)  NEIL: Okay. Next card: the fetishization of storytelling.  NICK: Yeah. Right now there's a, there's a whole storytelling thing going on, right? Yeah. There's a whole sense of revival and stuff, and I don't exactly get it. I mean, I, I admire it, like I've gone to The Moth, I've participated in a couple of storytelling things. It's a, it's a strange form for me. It's a strange art form for me, and I admire it when it's done really well. I admire it. The ones I've gone to, that I've been part of, they were, kind of felt a little closer to stand-up, which is another art form too. But I'm like, the line is a little blurry and a little like strange and, and it makes sense that stand-up would be part of it. Cause they are sort of like, like jokes in a way. They're sort of packaged. I mean it's a packaged form. It's like improv is more interesting to me. Like where you don't know where it's going to go. But where, if you know where, I mean, like I say, people that do it well, it's really beautiful.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: It's just not what I do. It's like memoir is not storytelling. Uh, it's another form. And storytelling is like one part of it. You sort of tell the story, but then you sort of have to turn over the story and say like, why am I telling this story? Like what am I trying to present in telling this story, ignores all these other realities that are happening or all these other things I don't want you to know. People will come up and say like, you know, how's it feel to like, have that people know so much about you now? Like, well, you only know what I want you to know. You're gonna get some glimpse from a book.  NEIL: Right. Yeah.  NICK: From storytelling, I don't know even what glimpse you get, you get a glimpse of how they tell a story I guess. I want to know about other people. I want to know like what their, the interior life is of other people, what the landscape is. Which is why I like read... Or, why I, why I do anything. Like go see art. Or just to sort of like have that, so you're not so, so you recognize it's not all, all ego, you know? It's not all, like everything isn't sort of springing forth from within me. You know?  NEIL: Right. I'm not interested in other people's stories generally.  NICK: Yeah.  NEIL: Specifically too. I'm not interested in other people's stories, but I'm interested in hearing people think, which is what this podcast is about. So like the way their thought processes reveal themselves. That interests me. I don't know, but I'm, I'm, I'm not interested in the content. NICK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I understand. Yeah. I teach creative writing and often it's like, I'm much more interested in like, the stuff around the content. It's not about the content, like it's more about the stuff around like how you're like, like, you know, how this one thing transformed something else or how you chose to make this weird sentence, or how like these things that have sort of moments of excitement. The story itself can be rather deadening.  NEIL: Right.  NICK: Yeah. Because, I think because it's somewhat packaged too, it is a lot of times, yeah.  NEIL: But I also, the thing I really resist is this, like: "We're about stories." You know, like the, this fetishization of storytelling has creeped into like how, how stories are talked about. It's like, we bring you stories da da da, stories. It's like, it feels infantilizing too.  NICK: Well, you know, I was just talking about this with one of my, some of my students, uh. You know, the, what's the most famous Joan Didion line? "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."  NEIL: Right, right.  NICK: And, yet, The White Album goes on. That's the first line of The White Album. That'll probably be on her tombstone. Uh, you know, they make bookmarks of it in bookstores, and yet if you actually read The White Album, that essay, she totally just doesn't believe it and contradicts it and says like, why? Like this makes no sense at all. And like that this is, I thought I could do this. Like I was, I was desperately trying to create a story that would protect me from something and it, none of it worked. And it just dissolves, the whole thing just all is like, so to take that one line out of context and say, this is actually a truism is so strange. It doesn't make any sense at all. And there's a  thing, my therapist came up with this thing of the, I don't know if he came up with it, but we talk about my, one of my disorders, uh, one of my many disorders is a narrative affect disorder where I'll create like stories like, but you know, it's not stories like you're talking about, it's creating books and creating like versions of what happened, um, in order to contain it and to be able to hold onto it in a way that seems safe, so I don't have to feel the actual emotional intensity of it.  NEIL: Right.  NICK: Um, and I think it's, it is a type of illness. I think storytelling is a type of illness, uh, that keeps you from actually feeling.  (Card Flips)   NEIL: Next card: often when I leave the apartment, I think, is this how I'd like it to be found if I die today? NICK: I think that one's more about you than me. I think. Um.  NEIL: You don't think that when you leave?  NICK: Well, I don't think I'm ever going to die. I'm pretty sure. NEIL: Do you really believe that?  NICK: Yeah. Like I, yeah, no. I have a thing where like, I'm, I'm, there's, well, I just know the ways I'm not going to die.  NEIL: Okay. Let's hear it.  NICK: I'm not going to die in an airplane crash. I'm not going to die by getting eaten by a shark. Might die by getting hit by a car on a bicycle. I mean I might, so I have to be careful.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: But I can swim for miles in the ocean filled with sharks. I'm fine. Yesterday I was on a plane coming from Houston and, uh, it was just like, like being on a ship in the middle of a, of a nor'easter. Like it was just wild, you know, like it really, like it was almost spinning. Yeah. I was fine. I'm like, Oh, this is cool cause I'm not gonna die in a plane. Like, you know, so I just have these sorts of things. They might be, you know, just delusional. You know, I mean, how could I possibly know? But I'm almost positive I'm not going to get eaten by a shark. NEIL: Uh huh.  NICK: Which really, which really helps in Provincetown. Cause there's a lot of sharks there now and a lot of people don't swim in the water. And I'm like, ask yourself, are you going to get eaten by a shark? Do you really think that's the way you're gonna die? And most people would say no. I mean, wouldn't you say no? Like no. If you know, on a rational day, like that'd be really, and if you did, that'd be so cool. Like how many people, how many poets get eaten by a shark? That'd be so excellent, right? Like it's a win-win. I have a poet, there's a poet, Craig Arnold, a really great poet that died a couple of years ago. He was writing a whole series of poems on volcanoes. Traveling the world, like got a grant to travel the world and look at volcanoes. He's just gone. He just vanished one day. He vanished. We think he fell into a volcano and died. Like, that's like an amazing story. Like it's terrible, terrible, awful. But I mean, there are a lot worse ways to die than falling into a volcano.  NEIL: Oh my God. How would you feel about being bitten by a shark and surviving it?  NICK: That's cool. That woman, that, that surfer that only has one arm, she's cool.  NEIL: You'd be okay with that?  NICK: If I could surf like her.  (Card Flips)  NEIL: Um.  NICK: I really killed this bottle of Perrier.  NEIL: Oh, awesome. I love it. Um, good job. Uh: the ambiguity of "It's downhill from here."  NICK: Oh. The whole idea of like, you know. There's a few things. Yeah. The opposite is all uphill from here, right. It's all, so downhill sounds pretty good, right? But it suggests like we're sliding into the grave, I think. NEIL: Yes.  NICK: Like it's all like we've reached the peak.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: That was the peak. It was really hard to get to the peak. And as soon as you get to the peak, you start going downhill. Yeah. You know? Uh, and, uh. Yeah, I often joke, yeah, I'm on the other side of the, on the other side, now, you know, that you somehow that the, the, the greatest work and the greatest, uh, notoriety so that was a while ago. Um, and.  NEIL: But also maybe the greatest struggle, no?  NICK: Was a while ago.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: Yeah. Oh, I dunno. But I, I joke about it. I just, I don't really believe that. The most recent project I'm doing just feels completely, uh, uh, fulfills me. You know, I'd have this other book coming out, this book, Stay, coming out, which I'm, I worked on a lot last year and I'm happy with that. And another book coming out after that. So there's like, you know, I don't really worry about it, but it's, it's almost a thing. It might be sort of Irish too, like just so you don't want to sort of, uh, be too full of yourself. You know, you want to like sort of be somewhat, you don't want to show how many fish you caught that day cause then you have to give half away. So you sort of downplay it. You downplay it. So the downhill side is where we sort of live. We live on the downhill side. I don't know, it's a strange metaphor.  NEIL: It's, it's ambiguous. NICK: Yeah, it's a strange metaphor.  NEIL: But I'm also thinking it's a paradox, too, and, as you talked, because take the downhill part. Um, it does get easier.  NICK: Yeah.  NEIL: I think, I mean, my life, I will say, and anything could change at any moment, has gotten so much easier, you know, now that I'm clearly on the other side. NICK: Psychic.  NEIL: Yeah.  NICK: Psychically. Yeah.  NEIL: For sure.  NICK: Yeah. Yeah.  NEIL: Um, yeah. It's also, I am sliding into the grave. Yeah. I mean, hopefully it's a long slide, but...  NICK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Mortality. The cold wind of mortality does start to, you start to feel it. At a certain point.  NEIL: In your back.  NICK: Yeah. You started, you know, it's blown in your face. Yeah. It's like, it's like you feel it, which I, you sort of thought you felt it in your 20's but you really, you could have, I mean, we know a lot of people that died in their 20's, sure. It was not like this. This is like the real thing. Yeah. This is like, yeah. There's no, like, there's no choice in the matter. So like, yeah, maybe I'll just overdose or something, you know, or, or, you know, or I'll just be reckless and didn't die. Now it's like, yeah, no matter what I do, doesn't matter what I do, I can, I can eat kale, I can eat kale the rest of my life.  NEIL: Yeah. I don't have to coax the process and it's still going to happen. NICK: Yeah.   (Card Flips)  NEIL: The existential space of the clipboard. NICK: Well, I mean, clipboard, I think when you say clipboard, I was thinking of just like first of a blank clipboard, but then I was also thinking of the thing you put clippings on, that you put other things on, combine things together.  NEIL: I'm thinking of the clipboard, the computer clipboard. Like when you cut something. That space.  NICK: Well, what do, what is it? What is that on the computer?  NEIL: The clipboard. NICK: Yeah. What is that? I'm not sure what it, what do you mean? You cut and paste stuff? Or... NEIL: Anytime you, surely you do Command X and Command C, right?  NICK: You mean like copy things and then cut things? Yeah. Yeah. Cut. Yeah.  NEIL: So when you copy something -  NICK: And Command V.  NEIL: Oh yeah.  NICK: Yeah, yeah. Can't forget Command V.  NEIL: Absolutely. When you do Command C - NICK: Yeah. That copies it.  NEIL: Into the clipboard. And then that command, do Command V - NICK: It takes it off the clipboard.  NEIL: Yeah. Well, it stays in the clipboard, but it also pastes the inside.  NICK: See I don't think, I never knew that. Yeah. I never would've thought of that.  NEIL: I'm acutely aware of the clipboard. NICK: I never thought where it went. Oh. Oh. Well, this is a tough question cause I've never really thought of this before. So, uh, existential, I mean, that's kind of heavy to suggest it has to do with life or death. Um, uh.  NEIL: You don't think about your text in that kind of liminal state between when you cut it and when you've pasted it? NICK: I figured it just, it goes away. Like it doesn't, like if I, if I cut something else, then that replaces the thing I cut before, or if I copy something else, replaces the thing. So I just assume there's not a clipboard holding all of them.  NEIL: No, it isn't. That's part of the existential condition.  NICK: Cause it just vanishes once you put something else on top, once you copy something else.  NEIL: Yeah. It's fragile.  NICK: Yeah. I make a lot of copies. I try to, I try to like, save things as much as possible and like, yeah, like I'm, and print things up. I, I prefer to write by hand first. Uh, really. Um, and then to print it and then to write by hand on the thing I've printed and then to keep going back and forth like that. I like writing by hand. There's a, there's a young poet, um, who created an app called 'Midst.' It's hard to say midst, like in, you're in the midst of something. Yeah. I don't know how to - midst. M. I. D. S. T. It's very hard to say for me.  NEIL: Yeah. Me too.  NICK: Can you say it?  NEIL: Uh, yeah. I feel like it's going to intersect with my sibilant A-S. Let's try it. Midst.  NICK: Yeah. Oh, you do feel very well.  NEIL: But a little gay, right?  NICK: I didn't, I didn't say that. I raised one eyebrow, but I did not say it.  NEIL: When straight men raise one eyebrow, it somehow doesn't look gay. Midst. Midst. What's Midst?  NICK: Well, it's a, it's a program that she did where you can, where you write a poem, I guess you write anything, but it sort of keeps track of all the cutting and pasting you do and the, the process of making it. So you ended up, you send her like a final poem, but then she can press a button and can see all the stuff you did to make it. Um, so I have to try it though, but I usually, I really usually write by hand first and she's like, no, you have to write it on the, you have to compose the whole thing on the thing. I'm like, okay, so I just haven't quite done it yet, but I'm, yeah, I'm planning on it though.  NEIL: But this is basically, this isn't a useful tool. This is a tool to create a kind of -  NICK: To create a thing. She'll publish like a magazine that shows, like you look at a poem and then you press a button and it all sort of like, maybe it goes in reverse and dissolves back to the first word or something.  NEIL: Yeah. I just am not into those kinds of things. I feel like there's a lot of that peripheral to the art world. These things that kind of like perform a process or reveal a process. I'm just not into that. You know what I'm saying? NICK: No, but that's okay. I mean, I try, I believe that you are not into it. I'm just like, process is nice. Like I love, I love, I love seeing the process. I love seeing, don't you love like, like thinking like Michelangelo's slaves, you know, on the way to the David, right?  NEIL: Oh yeah.  NICK: We get to see the slaves like coming out of the block of marble and everyone says that they were like incomplete.  NEIL: Yes.  NICK: Yeah. We just said, which is such bullshit. Like if you think about it, like what, he did twelve incomplete at the same stage, like they're half out of the block just, Oh, I'm just gonna stop them all here.  NEIL: Right?  NICK: Like, it makes no sense at all. Like you couldn't finish one of them? NEIL: Right. NICK: Like he clearly saw that it looked cool for slaves who were pulling themselves out of what they're stuck in. And that, I find it so much more interesting than David, which is complete and perfect. I think, I think that's the meta thing where it's like all about process. That's like the process right there.  NEIL: Huh.  NICK: Yeah. So I try to think about that. That was just sort of a highfalutin way to counter your anti-process.  NEIL: Doesn't feel highfalutin. I think my thing was like faux highfalutin.  (Card Flips)  What keeps you going?  NICK: Um. Uh, just wondering what's gonna happen next. Yeah. Yeah. NEIL: Poet. On that note, thank you, Nick Flynn, for being on SHE'S A TALKER. NICK: Thank you, Neil. NEIL: That was my conversation with Nick Flynn. Thank you for listening.  Before we get to the credits, there were some listener responses to cards that I'd love to share. In my conversation with artist Tony Bluestone, we talked about the card: That moment when you forget what you should be worrying about and try to reclaim it. In response to that card, Jamie Wolf wrote, "A single brussel sprout rolled under the stove, and I wasn't gonna let Shavasana get in the way of my at least remembering to retrieve it." John Kensal responded with what I think is a haiku: Please sit or flee, my wee and quiet executive function disorder. Another card Tony and I talked about was: Fog is queer weather, to which Jonathan Taylor wrote, "To me, fog is transgressive because it's like a cloud. So it's either you or it is not where it's supposed to be."  Thanks to everyone who wrote in. If you have something you'd like to share about a card on the podcast, email us or send us a voice memo at shesatalker@gmail.com or message us on Instagram at shesatalker. And also, as always, we'd love it if you'd rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or share this episode with a friend. This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devin Guinn produced this episode. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, and Rachel Wang. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver. And my husband, Jeff Hiller, sings the theme song you're about to hear. Thanks to all of them, and to my guest, Nick Flynn, and to you for listening. JEFF HILLER: She's a talker with Neil Goldberg. She's a talker with fabulous guests. She's a talker, it's better than it sounds, yeah!

E

Mar 2020

33 min 35 sec

Performer Jon Wan argues that kids are campy. ABOUT THE GUEST  Slipping in and out of drag skin Kiko Soirée, animagus Jon Wan serves an alluring feast of emotion - sensual, sincere, stupid. Kiko (@kikosoiree) is a queer comedian, host and drag queen, performing at venues like Club Cumming, Joe's Pub, The Bell House, Ars Nova, Caroline's, Union Hall, MoCA, Caveat, and UCB. They've been named by Time Out Magazine as one of the rising LGBT POC comedians to watch. Monthly, Kiko hosts 'A+, The Pan-Asian Drag and Burlesque Revue', in the Lower East Side, and seasonally, produces the original musical advice show, 'Dear Kiko'. Their Spanish is better than their Cantonese which hasn't made their mother proud but tracks for the American Born Chinese narrative. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, Rachel Wang Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION JON WAN: I just took saxophone cause my friend was also gonna play saxophone, and I just played it through middle school. Then I just continued in high school, and then after freshman year I was like, I don't actually like this instrument. And I'm definitely not a jazz person. Cause I was having saxophone lessons with this person who was a very cool cat. And I was like, I am not understanding fundamentally why I'm here. This isn't clicking with me.  NEIL GOLDBERG: I'm going to really make a controversial generalization here. I don't think jazz is gay.  JON: Oh, no, I don't think so either. You have to be like kind of loose and like -  NEIL: Exactly, a type of casualness. JON: Yeah, and like comfortable with your body and expression, and I was not - like I was learning classical piano from an oppressive Russian teacher, growing up as a Chinese American, closeted, in a primarily white town. I did not know how to express myself in a healthy way.  NEIL: Right. JON: Right. NEIL: Hello. I'm Neil Goldberg, and this is SHE'S A TALKER. I'm a visual artist, and I have a collection of thousands of index cards on which I've been jotting down thoughts and observations for about two decades. In SHE'S A TALKER, I explore the cards through conversations with guests and responses from listeners. These days, the cards often start as voice memos I record throughout the day. Here are some recent ones: When a parent says to a kid, "Look at me," I'm suspicious and think the parent is probably a narcissist. Thick Sharpies are to thin Sharpies as water bugs are to roaches. Art project: drawing all the missing arms in selfies. Today, my guest is Jon Wan. Jon, who often appears on stage as their drag persona, Kiko Soiree, describes themself as a Swiss Army knife performer whose work weaves together musical comedy, storytelling, standup, and beyond. Jon's performed at Club Cumming, Joe's Pub, the Bell House, Ars Nova, Caroline's Mocha, and has been named by Timeout Magazine as one of the rising LGBT people of color comedians to watch out for. We spoke in February at a recording studio at The New School near Union Square in New York City. I'm so happy to have with me Jon Wan.  JON: Hello.  NEIL: Hi Jon. Thank you for being on SHE'S A TALKER.  JON: I'm enchanted to be here. Simply.  NEIL: Simply. What are the alternatives, in terms of enchantment, besides simple enchantment? JON: Oh, very complex. Yeah. Like arcane magic, you know? Not for pedestrian folk.  NEIL: Yes. Complex enchantment. What is your elevator pitch for what you do? JON: I am a drag queen, performer, comedian bopping around New York City. You might know me as my drag persona, Ms. Kiko Soiree, performing and doing shows here in this beautiful garbage city and really always aspiring to one day live within walking distance of a Trader Joe's. NEIL: I see it for you. I really see it for you. You know, a Trader Joe's just opened opposite where Jeff and I live.  JON: No, which one?  NEIL: Uh, it's on Grand Street. Grand and Clinton.  JON: Oh, wow.  NEIL: It's the biggest Trader Joe's on the Eastern Seaboard, I'm told.  JON: That's crazy. So you live near not only a Trader Joe's, but a historic one. NEIL: Yes, exactly. Uh, what does your mom, when she's talking to her friends, what does she say you do?  JON: Oh, (In his mother's accent) oh, Jon um, oh, Jon lives in New York City. (back to normal voice) And then she kinda just like shoos the conversation. I think, she knows I'm a drag queen. I don't think she publicly has the language to talk about it the way she might alternatively say, "My daughter works for a pharmaceutical company." Do you know what I mean?  NEIL: Right. Do you have a sister that works...?  JON: She does. Don't worry. It's a good pharmaceutical company.  NEIL: Oh yeah. Uh, what does your dad say?  JON: My dad, uh, is actually very vocally supportive of my creative life. He usually says, "He's a performer and a comedian, and..."  NEIL: What kind of performances does he do? JON: "Oh, (In his father's accent) Jonathan does his funny stand up in New York City." And just stuff like that and yeah, I don't think they're, they're like ashamed of anything I do, but my dad came here for college. My mom came here when she was 13. They're kind of this transition generation, you know, they, they were really straddling both cultures and had to deal with the more brutish parts of assimilation. They came from traditional Chinese parents, but they're, you know, they're open-minded. They both grew up. They were like hippies. You look at old photos of them. My mom had like hair down to her waist. But, you know, you know, I'm the first drag queen of my family.  NEIL: That you know of.  JON: Hopefully not the last. NEIL: Yes. What is something you find yourself thinking about today?  JON: Um. Today, I was thinking about how everyone is a walking advertisement. I was a sucker for the AirPods, the first ones that came out. They're just, I know when I put them in my ear, I'm going to feel very sexy, and I had this thought today as I was putting them in my ear. It's like everyone is a walking advertisement.  NEIL: So when you're wearing AirPods, you're an advertisement for...  JON: Yeah, for Apple. My AirPods now suck because I lost the original case and I bought a knock off one on Amazon for like 30 bucks and they do try to pair with everyone on the train.  NEIL: Oh really?  JON: I just kind of, but you can't do it successfully. NEIL: It's like your dog humping strangers' legs or something. JON: Truly. I can see on people's phones like something comes up and says, Not your AirPods. It goes all the time and I just keep my head down and I just. I didn't want to pay another $70 for the case. NEIL: I've curated some cards just for you. Um, first card, Jon.  JON: Okay.  NEIL: All kids' names are campy.  JON: Absolutely. Cause kids are camp.  NEIL: How so?  JON: I used to teach, um, preschool in undergraduate. so I worked with three, four, and five-year-olds. And when you talk to a kid, it's very serious. It, it's of the utmost importance. And it's also insane.  NEIL: Which is the essence of camp!  JON: Which is the essence of camp. Um, but you know, when they're just playing, they're just talking very seriously about something. Or they're telling you an opinion, something they saw today, like.  (imitates kid's voice) "Like, Mr. Jon? Today, I, I saw a dog and... Dog had a really long tongue."  (back to normal voice) And they like will drop whatever they're playing with me to let me know about this thing, which neurologically like they're doing that thing where like, they have seen a new category that they don't yet understand and they're trying to integrate it into what they do, right? So I have to be there and say, "Daphne, tell me about the dog." You know, like I want to know more. Well, what color was the dog? You know what I'm saying? "It was, it was brown." I'm like, okay. All right. It was brown. I love that. So, but then it's also insane cause you're like, this is so crazy.  NEIL: To me, it makes perfect intuitive sense how that connects to camp. But could you, could you... JON: I think it connects to, I mean, camp, I mean, treats itself seriously, but knows it's also ridiculous. You know. I mean, campy drag queens like divine, completely over-the-top makeup and personality, but acting and performing with a lot of conviction.   NEIL: The difference, though, may be being, and maybe it's a technical difference, do you think kids know that they are ridiculous? JON: No. Absolutely not. Did you - NEIL: Okay. So they're inadvertently campy?  JON: Unless they were like early stars and then they're like, Oh, okay, people are enjoying what I'm doing.  NEIL: Right, right, right, right.  (flip card) I love the smell of a drag queen.  JON: Absolutely not. If you really smelled, uh, maybe the perfume that we put on at the very end, but if you smelled any of our undergarments or any of our clothing, that's, some of that, I mean, the vintage pieces maybe haven't ever been washed. Maybe just sprayed down with some alcohol and water.  To get rid of the bacteria and the smell. Um. And I'm not washing pantyhose every single week. Are you thinking of the metaphorical smell?  NEIL: I have no idea what that is. And I'm all in.  JON: Every drag queen has a different energy and that can be very intoxicating. That's like half the fun, that someone's showing you something on the other side of the looking glass. NEIL: Aha. But the literal smell for me is always about just powdery perfume. But you're saying beneath that is just... filth.  JON: I've, I guess I've, I've done it so many times. I'm no longer piqued by just the smell of powder and, and lipsticks and things like that. Just, that's kind of smells like the entrance of a, of a Macy's, you know? You know what I'm talking about, right? You walk into a Macy's and it's always like the perfume entrance, right? NEIL: Yeah, yeah. That somehow seems like a euphemism. Smells like the entrance of Macy's.  JON: God, she smelled like the entrance of a Macy's. I'm not going back there, Charlotte.  NEIL: Um, I guess I have thought about like with padding and tucking, uh...  JON: Mhm. Machinery going on. NEIL: Yeah. Which does involve compressing the body, or, or depriving the body of air circulation, which I guess could generate smells, right?  JON: Yeah. It's tight. I mean, if you're, I mean, if you're just, even if you're putting on hips, right? Let's say you're padding, some people, some queens are wearing four or five layers of tights, right? Just to make a smooth silhouette. Um, you know, and you're hot, you're moving around, your head is hot cause you're wearing a wig. My hair lines are glued down, so everything's sleek. So when I go, you know, getting out of drag is the best feeling.  NEIL: I can imagine. Do you get out of drag at the venue or at home? JON: I am an at home queen. And I'm also a get ready at home queen, too. I just ride the train down.  NEIL: Really?  JON: Yes. I mean, I'm in drag, but have like a winter coat on, and a scarf, and I have sweatpants over my dress, so I look like just like a, a gymnast going to a meet or something.  NEIL: To a Wheaties commercial.  JON: I look like a suburban mom going to Costco. NEIL: That thing of posing people in nude photos, so their genitals are hidden by a raised knee or what have you.  JON: That's very Black Mirror to me.  NEIL: Oh really?  JON: Oh, just like it's on the cusp of this is, this is very sexy, and also, what are we doing, right? What the hell are we doing? This is insane. I think of Instagram immediately. NEIL: Oh yeah, sure.  JON: People just like, a sexy photo of themselves. It's like, "You're naked." You hid, you moved your body a little bit. We're one centimeter away from seeing whatever it is, you know? But it's like, if you cover a little bit, Instagram's like, Oh, you're not nude.  NEIL: Isn't that deep?  JON: It's crazy. It's true. It's true. It's truly wild.  NEIL: I wonder if there is a fetish around obscured - like if there are people who get off on the actual obscuring.  JON: Oh, 100% yeah. 100% think that's a fetish. I mean, in the same way that just wearing a leather chest strap, that's totally nonfunctional.  NEIL: Right, exactly.  JON: Like there's not even a function to it. NEIL: Yeah.  JON: But I'm just imagining you in a different way. I mean, you know, cause you're an artist. Marina Abramovic's, um, performance where she stood naked, right? And she had a table of instruments.  NEIL: Yeah.  JON: That was, I think like the exploration of like is, is this actually like. Well, it was exploring a lot of things. Like one of the questions I had was like, is this sexual? Like, she had a feather. She had a knife. She had a gun, right?  NEIL: Uh, may have had a gun, uh, I thought she had scissors too. Or maybe I'm confusing that with Yoko Ono's "Cut" piece. Um, yeah, there were things that could do violence for sure.  JON: I think there was a gun. NEIL: Yeah, that sounds right.  JON: Um, that sounds very Marina probably.  NEIL: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.  JON: But, um, I think the reason why I thought Black Mirror at first, cause it's like we are so... We are surfing the simulacra of society.  NEIL: Oh my God.  JON: Who, Baudrillard? Is that the philosopher?  NEIL: Mhm. Society of spectacle. JON: I am really smart right now in this hour... NEIL: Oh my God. Um, it's funny you mention Marina Abramovic, cause one of the cards I have, or this is just an idea for an art project I would love to do, which is, you know, the artist is present where, you know, you would sit with and look into her eyes. But I'd like to do that with, butt warmth. You'd sit on chairs and then you would just switch. Like I could feel your butt warmth on the chair, and you could feel mine.  JON: And I'm going to, I'm going to build on this. The seats, to kind of give it some sort of like, um, sexy factor. The seats are thermo-visually dynamic. So when you sit, you can see the warmth, um, like a print? That the last person -  NEIL: The heat, the heat map.  JON: Mhm. The heat map of the last person.  NEIL: If that's what it's called. Our first collaboration.  JON: That's going to sell tickets at the MoMA. NEIL: This is a card I found tucked under my, uh, the, the sofa in my studio, and all it says is: Anus. JON: You know, synchronicity. Because we recently got a bidet. Um, which has quickly made my Top 2020 List of things to improve your life.  NEIL: Oh my God. Yeah.  JON: Um, bidet.  NEIL: Yeah.  JON: Pretty, uh very affordable. There are certain models that are just like, even under 50 bucks.  NEIL: Oh, wow. Okay.  JON: Will change your life.  NEIL: Huh? I, um, I would be, cause I feel like I've seen some like bidets that border on like the geriatric medical in terms of their appearance, you know, where they look like an add-on to the toilet seat. And, I feel like I would embrace a bidet deeply, but I need for the aesthetics to be on point.  JON: I hear you. I'm also someone who is an obsessed aesthete. And also I'm very practical and functional. And I really saw no point of a bidet cause I had a, was doing perfectly fine for God knows how many years, right? But we won it in a Santa Swap, like a, you know, the white elephant thing. Um, so we brought it home. I took it through the airport. My bag was fully paused cause they thought I was carrying home a bomb. Like what the fuck is in your bag, right? There's like piping and tubing, and this big shape of plastic and a knob. So, um, so this one's pretty sleek. And a bidet is, it's like a shower just for your ass. And. And that's it. It's, it's like, it's like taking a shower, but just for your anus. I, there's no other way to feel it. And I thought, and then I, I'm, and now I've, I've talked about it in my office because if I'm excited about something, I must to talk about it.  NEIL: Oh, yeah.  JON: And I'm going to put it out there - bidets are very sexual, and every straight man who's out there is understanding the queer experience. I, or like, this is like, you understand. It's like, Oh that's right, butt play isn't just like a gay thing. It's like a universal thing. And uh, you know, the anus is a sexual region, so you let it go for as long as you want. Some people have heated bidets, and that's nice cause then it's warm water. Mine is not, we have a cheap kind. So in the winter time it's frigid. But I like it because it makes me feel like I'm alive, and it's a test of character, which I get off on. And then you're done. And then it's, and then it's like you took a shower. NEIL: Ah. But you know, you should have front loaded the part that it's not heated. That might be a deal breaker for me. Although I also, like you, I'm energized by like, as a depressive. I love winter because it really brings out, um, a feeling of like, the will to live in me.  JON: And it's good for your skin.  NEIL: Cheers. But I don't want. I don't think I want, I don't know. I've never had that experience. I don't think I want a cold-water anal shower.   JON: Uh huh. Well, you know, and neither did I, I thought it would, it would never be on my radar. And that's why it's made my Top 2020 List.  NEIL: Wow.  JON: And I know we're just wrapping up the first month, but I think it's going to be on there. NEIL: Oh, I'm so confident in that, I'm so confident in that. I think if they called it a cold-water anal shower, it wouldn't sell as many units as a bidet.  JON: It would only sell in niche markets for sure.  NEIL: Uh, next card. The way you can tell certain people won't age well.  JON: Yeah. Um, you can just tell. Uh, for me it's just like an impression.  NEIL: Yes. It's not based on facts, for me.  JON: Truly not based on facts. A lot of it really just has to do with their energy.  NEIL: Exactly.  JON: Absolutely. Like their energy, the way they carry themselves, the way they think about themselves. Did you read that Roald Dahl book, The Twits?  NEIL: No. JON: The Twits. I can't recap the entire plot in entirety, but there's this one part of like, they think ugly thoughts and then they became ugly. And it was, you know, he is an amazing writer. But yeah, that never left me as a kid. And I think that continues to apply today. Even there are people who are old, but they just. They look and appear and they feel so young. And they're aging like, “Oh my gosh, you're aging beautifully.” NEIL: Right. I love that.  JON: Right?  NEIL: Yeah.  JON: It's not about having wrinkles or things like that. There really is a disposition, the way you carry yourself.  NEIL: Yeah. I find also, I think that card for me came from like, it, it can be a strategy or it used to be a strategy for managing, like desire. Like I would see someone who was hot to me, but then I would mentally age them and be like, No, as a way to... Yeah, manage my desire.  JON: Yeah. I mean, I'm not petty, but I recently went to a high school reunion and I said, I loved that I did not peak.  NEIL: Oh my God.  JON: I'm still ascending.  NEIL: Oh, you so are. You totally are.  JON: Oh, thank you. And you are too.  NEIL: Um, I think I, I don't know where I am.  JON: You're aging gracefully.  NEIL: Thank you. I'm trying.  JON: That's, and that's the goal. Yeah. No. Cause it's like some people that were like super hot in like, in high school and you're just like, Oh wow. I think we, I think our people had a different kind of strategy. We had a different strategy.  NEIL: Yeah. It's like, um. I just read this book called The Overstory, which is all about trees. I don't know if you heard of it. It's so good. I recommend it, but, uh, it talks about the different things different trees' seeds need to become activated. Like some seeds need extreme cold. Some need to be set on fire. Um, so I think the gay seed... That sounds bad. JON: No, no, no. Perfect.  NEIL: Um, benefits from not having peaked in high school. JON: Yes, absolutely.  NEIL: Can I ask how old you are?  JON: 29. 29, my numerological golden year.  NEIL: Oh, what does that mean?  JON: Everyone has a life path number.  Okay, so mine breaks down to 29 slash 11 slash 2. If you're a, ever all my die-hard numerologists out there. Um, and so 29 is the first reduction. And so I'm 29.  NEIL: I love it. Um 29 and 11 are both prime numbers, aren't they?   JON: Mm, I studied visual arts in undergraduate, so I'm going to pass on this one. But you know, you calculate your number by just adding your birthdate across like... So mine is zero plus eight plus zero plus two plus one plus nine plus nine zero equals 29. Two plus nine is 11. One plus one is two. NEIL: I love it.  JON: And then they all have meanings. You know, there's a whole book. You can Google it.  NEIL: Yeah, I can imagine. Wait, so you were born in August? Was that what I heard? Leo? JON: I'm a Leo. Are you a Leo?  NEIL: No, I'm a Virgo.  JON: Oh! I have a lot of Virgo friends.  NEIL: I have a lot of Leo friends. Well, Virgo teaches Leo. You're taught by the sign that follows you. So Virgo is taught by Libra. Leo is taught by Virgo.  JON: Yes, yes. And. The sign before you teaches a person after to remember that they didn't have to give up the qualities that they left behind. NEIL:  Cheers.  JON: Virgos are famously the perfectionists, right? Natural at managing their immediate environments and, you know, being very meticulous and they could run the whole system, but then they forget that they're also, you know, they can allow themselves to shine. They don't have to be so critical of themselves.  NEIL: That is such a beautiful, um, flipping of the teaching thing. I love it.  JON: You know who is a prime example of a Leo-Virgo cusp?  NEIL: Who? JON: Beyoncé. So you can tell she has the Virgo energy of like, everything must be perfect.  NEIL: Absolutely.  JON: Um, and I'll think of my idea and then I'll present it to you. But then she's also, you know, still carrying her Leo energy of like, I am a star.  NEIL: Right, exactly. That's deep. You have forever changed how I think about, um, the Zodiac.  JON: And that's my time today.  NEIL: Yes. (flips card) What's a bad X you'd take over a good Y?  JON: What's a bad X you'd take over a good Y? Oh gosh. I would take a bad massage over a good meal.  NEIL: I'm with you, totally with you.  JON: I had to really think.  NEIL: Yeah, you look a little spent right now.  JON: No, I mean that, that took the, the, the final juice of my brain. Yeah. We have, we have gone to the trenches of my brain and pulled everything out. That was it. I mean, like, that's it. That's my, that's my ethos.  NEIL: Have you had a bad massage?  JON: Absolutely. And would I take it over a good meal? 100%. I'm a little, I'm a little surprised that I haven't vocalized this earlier in my life, but that's how you know this is the genuine response. Bad massages? Oh, I don't care. Someone's touching me, oh, I melt. I like, I think I'm like in a constant state of low-grade ecstasy when someone's touching me. Right?  NEIL: Yeah.  JON: It could be terrible. And I have had my share of terrible massages. You know, Chinatown massages have a spectrum.  NEIL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  JON: No frills. You can't complain.  NEIL: Yeah.  JON: Good meal? Okay. But I know I'm gonna be hungry again. You know, like... Meal goodness to me is controllable cause you could let yourself go to the brink of like, I can't see, I'm so hungry and anything will taste good. Yes. Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I let myself get so hungry if I'm, if there's a meal I'm not thrilled to eat. I'd be like, Oh, I'm more vegetarian now, but when I would, when I was less, I would hang out with some of my friends, I'm like, Oh, I'm going to go to their place. I'm going to let myself get famished cause then it won't matter what I eat.  NEIL: Cause they're not good cooks, potentially? JON: Cause like, Oh, I really wanted meat. But like who knows what the vegetarian meal will be. A crap-shoot. But I'll be so hungry. It's going to taste like milk and honey from the Bible.  NEIL: You found a way to turn - you've made it predictable. You've managed it.  JON: I mean the gamble is, you do become more irritable and you have to kind of like have a lot of self-control. NEIL: Right, right, right.  JON: People want to small talk with you. You'd be like, okay, when's dinner?  NEIL: When's the shitty dinner that I'm starving for?  JON: A shout out to all my vegetarian friends. I love coming over to your house and don't stop making food from me.  NEIL: On that note, Jon Wan, thank you so much for being on SHE'S A TALKER. JON: Oh, thank you for having me, Neil. NEIL: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of SHE'S A TALKER. Before we get to the credits, there were some listener responses to cards that I'd love to share. In my conversation with Buddhist teacher Kate Johnson, we talked about the card:  I can imagine thinking as I'm dying, "Here we go again."  In response to that card, David Coleman wrote, "The one time that I ever really thought I was about to die, all I could think was, 'Wow, so this is it. Nothing more than this.' It was a feeling of peaceful surprise. This story is from 9/ 11. My building was so close to the World Trade Center that when the first tower started to collapse, it appeared as though it was going to fall to the East, which would've completely flattened my building, and I felt so sure I was about to die. Actually, for the next several months, I had this little secret thought I'd never shared that maybe I really was dead. But then again, my neurologist also said I was the only person he'd ever heard of who enjoyed having a stroke. So don't go by me." Thank you, David. If anyone out there listening has something that you'd like to share about a card on the podcast, email us or send us a voice memo at shesatalker@gmail.com or message us on Instagram at shesatalker. And also, as always, we'd love it if you'd rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or share this episode with a friend. This series is made possible with generous support from Still Point Fund. Devon Guinn produced this episode. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, and Rachel Wang. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver, and my husband, Jeff Hiller, sings the theme song you're about to hear. Thanks to all of them, and to my guest, Jon Wan, and to you for listening. JEFF HILLER: She's a talker with Neil Goldberg. She's a talker with fabulous guests. She's a talker, it's better than it sounds, yeah!

E

Feb 2020

28 min 26 sec

Artist Tony Bluestone talks about the existential condition of the Wet Paint sign.

E

Feb 2020

28 min 43 sec

Meditator Kate Johnson explores the connection between car horns and anonymous comment sections. ABOUT THE GUEST Kate Johnson teaches classes and retreats integrating Buddhist meditation, somatics, social justice and creativity at the Rubin Museum in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, the Kripalu Center and the Omega Institute. Kate works as a culture change consultant, partnering with organizations who are pursuing noble goals to achieve greater diversity and sustainability. She is also an utterly unprofessional dancer and performer who earned a BFA in Dance from The Alvin Ailey School/Fordham University and an MA in Performance Studies from NYU. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION NEIL GOLDBERG:  My favorite New York biking experience is going over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn. There's that long, gentle curve as you exit into Brooklyn, and you also don't have to pedal because you're ... KATE JOHNSON: Going down a hill. NEIL:  ... going downhill. KATE: I know what you're talking about ... NEIL:  I live for that. KATE: ... down to Jay Street. NEIL:  Yeah, exactly. And I also love that moment, especially at night, coming from Brooklyn into Manhattan on any of the bridges, and when you reach that midpoint where you can stop pedaling, you're over the water, and you can basically just glide all the way back into Manhattan. KATE: Yeah, from the peak, right? NEIL:  Yeah. KATE: Oh yeah, that is beautiful. Yes. I actually crashed my bike once on that because I was just having this peak moment as I was looking out at the water, then I hit the side and scraped my knee and hobbled the rest of the way. NEIL:  Hello. I'm Neil Goldberg and this is SHE'S A TALKER. Today, I'll be talking to meditation teacher Kate Johnson. But first, here's the premise of the podcast, and I like to say it's better than it sounds. I'm a visual artist, and I have this collection of thousands of index cards on which I've been jotting down thoughts, observations, reflections for a good 20 years. They were originally meant just for me, maybe to hold onto something I wanted to remember, or maybe to use in a future art project. But in SHE'S A TALKER, I'm using them as prompts for conversations with some of my favorite New York artists, writers, performers, and beyond. NEIL:  These days, the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone here and there throughout the course of the day. Here are some recent ones: English. Double letters are okay, triple letters are too much. I'm kind of surprised Trump likes Sharpies. Have to get home to feed one animal to another animal. NEIL:  I'm so happy to have as my guest, Kate Johnson. Kate teaches classes and retreats that integrate Buddhist meditation, social justice work, and creative practice at places like the Rubin Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philly, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and the Kripalu Center, among others. She also describes herself as an utterly unprofessional dancer who earned an MA in performance studies from NYU. We talked in January at a recording studio at The New School near Union Square in New York City. NEIL:  I'm so happy to have Kate Johnson with me today on SHE'S A TALKER. Thank you, Kate, for being here. KATE: Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having me. NEIL:  I want to start with a couple questions I ask everybody. The first question would be, what is the elevator pitch for what it is you do? KATE: Oh my God. I am a mediation teacher and organizational consultant, and I often work at the intersections of spirituality, social justice, and creativity. NEIL:  Whoa. That is an elevator pitch. KATE: Right? NEIL:  That absolutely is. KATE: I pulled it together. NEIL:  I can really see how that triad could inform each other. Spirituality, social justice, and creativity, yes? KATE: Yeah. I mean, I also feel like those are the things that I just like and am good at, so there's not a whole lot else, I think, that's for me in this world. I try to just make them go together whenever I can. NEIL:  Right. Oh, isn't that what we're all doing? Just make the things that we like go together. Do you have parents, grandparents who are still around? KATE: Yeah. I have parents who are still around. NEIL:  What, let's say, would your parents say to their friends when their friends ask what you do? KATE: Oh. My mom would say that I'm a spiritual teacher, and my dad would say that I'm a writer. NEIL:  Oh, that's interesting. What's that split about? KATE: Well, my dad was a writer. He was a journalist, and so I think that he always really supported my love of language and saw that part of me. Then my mother, recently she started getting really into meditation, so she practices twice a day, she comes to mediation retreats that I teach. I don't know, I also feel like there are certain people in life where when you talk to them, your wisdom kind of comes out, and I think that my mom and I are that for each other. NEIL:  Oh, that's wonderful. KATE: So I see her as a spiritual teacher, too. NEIL:  Do you get nervous when she comes to a meditation retreat? KATE: A little bit. I mean, partially because I kind of have an internal commitment, even when I'm in meditation spaces, to really be honest about the way that I hope that our spiritual practice can inform our political lives. So oftentimes that means talking about my experience as a black, mixed race woman, and I have a white mommy. And so part of, I think, what's spiritual about our relationship is the willingness not to give up on each other as we have these conversations about what it means for me to be a black woman in America, what it's like for her as a mother of black children, and the ways in which, as a white woman living in kind of a middle-upper class area of Chicago, the things that she doesn't see or the attitudes she unconsciously picks up she didn't mean to. And so I think it's amazing. It's also frustrating in some ways to be in this long-term relationship with this person where we're not going to give up on each other because we have different views. KATE: But just to go back to your question, I'll often look out and be talking about experiences of racism, both within meditation centers and outside, and I'll look out at her and just wonder, "What's she thinking?" Does she feel bad that she couldn't shield me from those experiences? Is she feeling like, "Is Kate making this up? I don't know what she's talking about." So sometimes I'll try to read her face, but most of the time I'm just happy she's there and that she's ... I mean, she raised four children pretty much by herself, so I'm happy she has a little time to relax. We probably terrorized her. NEIL:  You mentioned not giving up on each other. I mean, that's such an interesting way to put it. KATE: Well, every family's different, everyone's relationship with their parents is different. A lot of the people that I interact with often in my social life, they have a relationship with their parents, and I think sometimes with the elder generation in general, where there's a sense of ... I don't know, kind of objectifying them. Like we might have seen them once and then saw a mixed bag, as we all are, someone who in some ways has it together or is loving and in other ways maybe carries outdated notions of themselves or other people, or uses embarrassing language to describe a particular ethnic group. Then we just kind of ... There's this dulling of the perception that happens after that where we no longer are seeing that person, we're seeing our memory projecting it out and then reacting to our own projections. And so- NEIL:  Oh my God. Story of my life. KATE: So I think not giving up is being, in some ways, willing to allow each other the grace that is actually offered to all of life, which is that we're all always changing and to be awake to each others' evolving experience and to be willing to be honest about what our experience is and shape each other. I think that's the other way in which I've seen friends give up on parents, is that they stop really telling the parents who they are. We fear we may not be accepted or parents just don't understand, that kind of thing, and sometimes that's true. Sometimes we have that fear and it's confirmed, and that's really hard. So it's like you can't have your whole sense of worth wrapped up in what a parent thinks, but also what if they couldn't see us once and then one day they could? And we kept kind of showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen, if that's not dangerous to who we are. I like to be surprised. NEIL:  Shall we go to these cards? KATE: Cool, yeah. This is actually the part that I'm most excited about, so ... NEIL:  All right, well. The first card I have is, "Patience always feels somehow wrong." KATE: The wrongness. I relate to the discomfort of patience. I think one of the blessings of Buddhist meditation training is it kind of gets drilled into your bones that just because something is uncomfortable doesn't mean it's wrong. I think to the point where it can even go a little too far and people can become scared of pleasure, and that's also not the point. In the Buddhist tradition, the word that's translated as patience is called khanti. It's K-H-A-N-T-I and it's one of the virtues, and so it's not different than other traditions where patience is a virtue. We often translate it as patience, but it means something like forbearance, also. KATE: So for me, when I learned patience as a child it was like holding on like hell until you get what you want, like, "If you're good, then you can have this treat when you get home." And so you just hold your little hands, you just sit on them and wait until finally, "Oh, I get what I want now that ..." I have a sense of relief and the patience that is talked about in the Buddhist teachings, which I also relate with ... and it's a little bit of a perspective shift, but it's like not just patience until I get what I want, but the patience that one has when we may never get what we want, or whether what we want is gone and will never return. The kind of patience that we have with our bodies as they get older and we go to do something that we used to do effortlessly. The suggestion, I guess, is that we can meet that experience with patience. NEIL:  Yeah, there's so many different types of patience, too. For a long time, I supported myself in a day job that involved a mix of computer graphics and IT work. Working with people around computers brings up, for me, the deepest level of patience or challenges to patience. KATE: Because they're not going fast enough? Is that- NEIL:  You could take the keyboard and mouse out of their hands and just do it absolutely in two seconds, but it is important to develop that muscle memory of using the mouse and the keyboard and da da ... going through the steps and having it be imprinted on your body in that way. KATE: Yeah. I mean, we're talking and I'm like, oh, so much of patience for me is about pace. It's about I either want a task to go faster than it's going, I would like time to go faster than it's going, and the frustration that it's actually not ... It's difficult. It's difficult. I don't know, would you say it's wrong? NEIL:  That really segues, interestingly, into a card I have about honking. "People honking are not where they want to be." KATE: That's deep. I mean, that's really deep. Yeah, I mean, gosh, to just be able to make a noise and be like, "I'm here and I don't want to be." NEIL:  Right, exactly. KATE: It makes me want to have a horn to just carry around and be like ... NEIL:  Oh my God. KATE: Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I think it's like they don't want to be here, but also, "I want someone to know that I'm here and I don't want to be. I want to make that heard. I want to make that visible." I can relate to that feeling. NEIL:  Oh my God, yeah. God, that horn would be on frequent blast in my life. KATE: Yeah, yeah. Or when you see a child have a tantrum and it's just like, that's them honking their horn being like, "Something is not right." NEIL:  Right, right, right. That's so true. Oh my God, the horn is metaphor. But I bike a lot, and I was stopped at a light where someone was honking the horn, and the biker next to me ... I love the conversations you'll have occasionally at a stoplight with someone else in the bike lane. He said, "Car horns should be just as loud inside the car as outside." KATE: Yeah, that's a cool idea. I mean, I can't imagine any car manufacturer picking that up, but you know. NEIL:  I know, right. I think that's also a connection between honking and vulnerability. As a bicyclist, do you ever kind of make that connection? I often feel like when people are honking at me, they're actually expressing a fear of hurting me. KATE: Oh, oh. NEIL:  Have you ever had that, or ... KATE: Yeah. I guess it can be like that the same way a parent will yank a kid, like, "Why'd you do ..." When they're doing something that they feel is dangerous. Yeah, I think the feeling of being in this giant metal thing that's hurling through space that could totally kill somebody is really kind of jarring. NEIL:  Absolutely. KATE: I mean, I love that you're giving people the benefit of the doubt like that, like, I startled them and they don't want to hurt me. I think that's a wonderful attitude to take. I didn't often think that. I often felt like there was so much protection or something that, I don't know, they felt they could do whatever they wanted. I often would pull up next to a car at a stop light and look over and when the person looked at me, the impression that I had is that they forgot that they could be seen inside this compartment. NEIL:  Oh, right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. KATE: So it almost is like an anonymous comment section or something where they can say whatever they want with their ... and then no one has to know it was them that trolled this nice biker. NEIL:  Honking is like the anonymous comment section. That's fucking brilliant. The card says, "Childish laughter at Buddhist lecture." You know what I'm talking about? Any kind of spiritual lecture ... First of all, the teacher will often embrace a kind of, "The bird doesn't worry about da, da, da." You know, say something kind of like that. KATE: Oh God. Yeah. NEIL:  And then in turn, the audience will laugh but it's not funny, and it's a childish kind of laughter. KATE: I was talking with a friend about this recently because we were talking about the kinds of Dharma talks or spiritual teachings that become ritualized to the point that this person is telling a story that they have actually told many, many times. You've heard it on a podcast and you've heard them say it at last year's retreat and they're telling the same story and there's the same punchline and you laugh again and it's like, "Why?" We were wondering if it's less about novelty and more about familiarity, kind of like there's a sense of, "Oh, I know what's coming and it's comforting to me and I laugh because I know what to do here." NEIL:  I hear that. It's why we like sitcoms. You know the joke's about to come ... certain types of sitcoms. KATE: Right. And it also depends on what's coming before it because sometimes I think that Dharma talks can also bring up heavy stuff, like death and aging and heartbreak of various kinds. And so it builds up a kind of energy that can actually be difficult for us to contain, and so there's this sense of it's powerful, but it's almost uncomfortable because it's building up this energy, then wanting it to release in some way. So even if the joke is bad, just being excited that there's a release valve that you can pull. NEIL:  Next card. "How I sometimes keep my shoelaces untied as a kind of mindfulness reminder." I'm aware that my shoelaces are untied as I'm walking. They become untied, it's not like I purposely don't tie them. They become untied and I kind of hold off on tying them just as a way to be like, "Got to walk mindfully." KATE: Oh wow. What effect does it have, or how does it work? Does it help your mindfulness? NEIL:  Absolutely because it's like you don't want to trip. It then becomes a walking meditation. But also, it really makes you aware of how many people will tell you, "Hey, your shoelace is untied." Which is why New York is great. KATE: I was thinking about that. I was like, "Oh my God, do you know what you're doing to people? NEIL:  Right, exactly. KATE: For me, I get so scared when I see someone with their shoelace untied. I'm like, "You're going to fall." But I kind of love that. I also think it's ... Walking meditation can be kind of boring. I mean, all meditation can be kind of boring, so it's like ... NEIL:  Right, exactly. KATE: ... juicing it up a little bit, living on the edge, walking meditation. I like it. NEIL:  Because you could trip, as mindful as you're trying to be. KATE: Right. The wind blows a different way, it swings that little lace underneath you're other foot, and then you're just- NEIL:  Exactly, you're down. KATE: Yeah. But I'm glad you haven't fallen yet. I think that's cool. NEIL:  May you not fall. KATE: May you ever be upright. NEIL:  Do you have any little tricks like that, like meditation hacks? KATE: Yeah. I mean, I think Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition is really amazing for this kind of thing because they talk about mindfulness bells and the way that you can ... And bell is a metaphor, it's something that makes you remember, and so you just ... It can be a bell, like every time your phone rings, you take a deep breath, feeling your feet on the ground before you pick it up. Or every time you touch a doorknob, you allow yourself to begin again, whatever that means. There's ways to do that. NEIL:  Oh, I love that. KATE: I think for me now, a lot of my mindfulness bells are internal. I'll actually notice a disturbance in the field. I'll notice that my chest tightened up a little bit or my belly kind of swerved, or I feel something inside and use this moment to kind of actually pause and notice what happened there, and if necessary, to care of it. I'm big into letting my body talk to me these days as a practice, after having really ignored it for many, many, many years. I'm like- NEIL:  As a dancer, or in dance work? Or just as a human being, or ... KATE: Yeah, definitely in dance work, although ... I was going to say, although I don't know if it started there. I might have ... But in dance for sure, there were ways of moving my body that didn't feel good, but then I thought, "Well, this is what the choreographer wants, so I'm going to do it." There's an element of dance training that is about don't pay attention to what you're feeling and just get it done, and that is capitalism. That's not- NEIL:  Dance is capitalism. That is hilarious, oh my God. KATE: I think, right? It's like what matters is production and not necessarily your human feelings and needs, and so as humble as it is, actually paying attention to what your body is feeling and being willing to attend to that ... at least with your attention, if not with your actions ... is kind of this radical anti-capitalist act. NEIL:  I love it. KATE: For some reason, from a early age I was really drawn to these European concert dance forms. I was really into ballet and then I was really into Martha Graham technique and some parts of the Horton technique, which I ended up in when I went to The Ailey School. They're not actually meant for everybody ... NEIL:  Yeah, everybody. KATE: ... and I'm not even sure if they're meant for anybody. It's kind of this idealized form that we're all ... So anyway, I don't know if feeling or feeling good is always a part of dance for the dancer. I think sometimes it's helping other people feel something. But I don't think that's what dance has to be and I don't think it's what it is at it's best, but I think somehow that's the kind of dance that I end up doing most of the time. NEIL:  That's an interesting way of thinking of it. It's almost like this Christlike thing of, "It doesn't feel good for me, but it makes someone else feel good." KATE: Feel amazing. NEIL:  Right, yeah. "I could imagine thinking as I'm dying, 'Here we go again.'" KATE: Where did this come from? NEIL:  I just had the idea it could have a sort of familiarity to it, in the same way that falling asleep has a familiarity to it or something. I mean, of course, the beauty of it is I'll know but I won't be able to have a followup podcast episode about it. I think. KATE: You'll just have to send us a sign or something. NEIL:  Yeah. And it's not even for me about necessarily believing in reincarnation, which I don't know if I believe in. But I don't think beyond that. KATE: The thought that I had just now was like, I hope I'm familiar enough with death by the time I experience it myself that I can think, "Oh, this is normal, this is natural, this is the way of all things," instead of, "Oh, why is this happening to me?" Which, I think, from talking to people who volunteer in hospice and stuff, that can be the thought. Like, "Why me, doctor? Why me?" And it's like, "Well, you're 90." NEIL:  "Why not you?" KATE: But yeah, so there's a lot of Buddhist practices that are preparations for death and dying, and some of them are visualizations, some of them are reminders. There's one that's, "I am of the nature to grow old. I am of the nature to become sick. I am of the nature to die. Everything and everyone I love will be taken from me and I am the owner of my karma, it's my only true inheritance." KATE: I mean, I think that one of the things that make Buddhism a hard sell is that it can feel like a downer to be like, "Okay, we want to talk about suffering. We're going to talk about impermanent." The paradox is that somehow being in touch with those things lends a sense of, "Oh, I'm actually alive now and this is what life is," and maybe even a sense of urgency around understanding, "This will not always be the case, so I don't just have forever to bumble along until I finally decide I'm going to do the thing that I need to do." And that leads to a kind of freedom and happiness that denial of death and denial that things are changing actually ... We will never win that game. NEIL:  Right, oh wow. Yeah. KATE: We will never succeed. This is a setup, actually, but it's a setup that you can buy a lot of products and goods on the way to realizing that's possible. So it's good for the economy, but it's not necessarily good for our spirits. NEIL:  Capitalism again. What's a bad X you'd take over a good Y? KATE: A bad X I'd take over a good Y. So first thought is a bad day sober I'd take over a good day drunk. NEIL:  Are you in recovery, can I ask? KATE: Yeah. Almost nine years, which means I was definitely meditating before I got sober. I was trying to become less attached to wine without actually having to stop drinking wine. But that didn't work out as well and I think that the meditation practice helped me to get real enough with myself to be like, "Oh, this is actually never going to work out. No matter how I dress it up or dress it down, it's never going to work out for me." Yeah. NEIL:  What is it that keeps you going? KATE: Oh man. I think it changes. A couple of answers came to as I was letting your question resonate, and one is a sensory sense of smell kind of thing, like being able to smell a different future that's ... I think it's something ... What keeps me going feels like it's something in a future that is looking back or calling to me from a future moment, saying, "You really want to get here, actually. Keep going. I love you. Keep going. You're doing great." NEIL:  And that connects to smell for you? KATE: Yeah, it's like a whiff. Having a whiff of something that is just kind of like cooking. I genuinely want to see what's going to happen. Like, "What's going to happen today?" It's very close to anxiety, but it's not anxiety. I know that there is kind of a way that anxiety can get people up in the morning for momentum, and I had that experience also, and this one is just a half-step back from that and it feels a little bit more sustainable for my system just to be like, "I wonder what's going to happen?" NEIL:  That seems like a beautiful place to end it. Kate Johnson, thank you so much for being on SHE'S A TALKER. KATE: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. It's been awesome. NEIL:  Thank you so much for listening to this episode of SHE'S A TALKER. Before we get to the credits, there were some listener responses to cards that I'd love to share. It's a new thing we're doing in season two. NEIL:  In my conversation with artist and baker Andy Hawkes, we talked about the card, "Leftovers as a kind of embodied memory." In response, Lex Brown wrote, "More than memory, leftovers make me think of the seemingly endless future of packing my lunch in middle and high school. I thought it would never end. Gladware, monotonous future food, foggy plastic lids, leftovers for school night dinner or for lunch the next day." John Pilson wrote, "I feel like the leftover with teeth marks deserves its own category, probably a name other than leftovers. Maybe evidence?" And finally, [Com and See 00:27:59] wrote, "One of my uncles in Hong Kong as a personal rule never keeps leftovers, even if he's making lobster or crab or abalone or delicious meats. It's so ruthlessly unsentimental, it breaks my heart every time I eat at his table." NEIL:  Thanks to everyone who wrote in. I loved all the responses. If you have something you'd like to share about a card on the podcast, email us or send us a voice memo at shesatalker@gmail.com or message us on Instagram @shesatalker. And also, as always, we'd love it if you'd rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or share this episode with a friend. NEIL:  This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devin Guinn produced this episode. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, and Jesse Kimotho. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver, and my husband, Jeff Hiller, sings the theme song you're about to hear. Thanks to all of them and to my guest, Kate Johnson, and to you for listening. Jeff Hiller:                       (singing

E

Feb 2020

29 min 24 sec

Activist and filmmaker Jacques Servin talks about shoplifting in airports. ABOUT THE GUEST Jacques Servin is co-founder of the Yes Men, an activist filmmaking collective that's plagued dozens of entities including Exxon, Shell, the NRA, and the US Department of Energy. In the process he's co-written, co-directed, and co-starred in three award-winning documentaries, with a fourth expected this fall. Servin has recently co-launched the Yes School, which teaches writers, theater people, and artists how to strategically bring creativity to ongoing activist campaigns; this spring, "students" are working with groups in Tanzania, Belfast, Istanbul, Toronto, and Budapest that oppose housing financialization and other forms of land theft. Servin has also published dozens of articles in all sorts of magazines, as well as two collections of short stories. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION  NEIL GOLDBERG:  I am sitting in the apartment of my dear, very long term, long term friend. It sounds like a disease.  JACQUES SERVIN:  I'm sorry, I'm a disease.  NEIL:  No, you're the best disease. You're, you're, you're the kind of chronic, you're the kind of chronic, I like.  JACQUES:  That is so romantic. NEIL:  Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg and this is She's a Talker..  NEIL:  Today, I'll be talking to activist writer and filmmaker Jacques Servin. If this is your first time listening, here's the premise of the podcast. I'm a visual artist and for the past million or so years have been jotting down thoughts, observations, reflections on index cards. I've got thousands of them. I originally wrote the cards just for me or maybe to use in future art projects, but in, She's a Talker, I'm using them as prompts for conversations with some of my favorite artists, writers, performers, and  beyond. These days, the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone here and there over the course of the day. Each episode I start with some recent ones. Here they are.  I always feel proud of doing the math of calling something 19th century rather than 1800's .  (Card Flip)  Weird that sun can shine into an apartment.  (Card Flip)  The way people talk when they're trying not to wake you in the other room.  (Card Flip)  I'm so excited to have as my guest, my dear friend and fellow lower East sider Jacques Servin. Jacques is one of the two founding members of the activist group, 'The Yes Men', who take a unique, really powerful and subversive approach to political action by basically impersonating officials from corporations and government agencies and taking public positions on their behalf. He'll explain more in our interview, which took place just after the new year in the apartment complex where we both live.  (Card Flip)  Hi, Jacques.  JACQUES:  Hi, Neil.  NEIL:  do you remember, we met around the same time that the original, she's a talker, was being filmed. Do you remember that?  JACQUES:  Of course. I remember I wrote a short story called, 'She's a Talker.' NEIL:  Oh, that's right.  JACQUES:  Yeah.  NEIL:  Shock. In addition to being a perpetrator of corporate identity theft is also a writer whose writing. I fell in love with way back in 1993 and you wrote a story called, 'She's a Talker' in one of your two, first books.  JACQUES:  Yup. Yup. Yeah, I remember it really well.  NEIL:  So for many years you were principally involved in the 'Yes Men'. What would be the elevator pitch? Just for our listeners of what the 'Yes Men' do?  JACQUES:  Oh God. Okay. The 'Yes Men' are best known for impersonating captains of industry and representing them at  conferences and on television and so on. Giving versions of what those people should say. Or doing what has been called identity correction in civic identity theft, where you kind of like represent them as as they actually are. NEIL:  Right. I remember a signature action of yours was impersonating someone from Dow Chemical going on BBC and announcing that at long last out chemical was going to be compensating the people of Bo Paul for that disaster there. And it had this implication for Dow Chemical stock.  JACQUES:  Yeah. They said it was seen by 350 million people, which is the audience of that show. BBC world.  NEIL:  Same audience as She's a Talker.  JACQUES:  Yeah, exactly. And but yeah, I ended up on, on BBC making this announcement on behalf of Dow chemical, spending $10 billion, I think, on compensating the  survivors all this great stuff. Yeah. And yeah, Dow stock tank to immediately, I mean 4%  NEIL:  It was surreal.  JACQUES:  In that in their case it meant $2 billion. I think these days, my elevator pitch, which I'm refining, is I work with activist groups around the world to help them be more creative in their work.  NEIL:  Well, I love it. That's a real elevator elevator pitch.  JACQUES:  Yeah, but there's a second part of it too. That's equally elevator, but another elevator, which is, and I'm training people to do that also.  NEIL:  So like, so you're both helping and training people to help.  JACQUES:  Yes.  NEIL:  You're training people to do the job that you're currently doing? Yes. Okay. And what does that mean to, what does the first part mean?  JACQUES:  It's like we went to South Africa in September and worked with like 800 squatters. It's kind of amazing. They reached out to us long story, but they  NEIL:  were speaking  to  the Yes Men'?  JACQUES:  The 'Yes Men'. And they wanted to kind of do something. 'Yes Men-ish' around their issue, which is existence. Like they. Have a right to be there under the South African constitution. Everybody has a right to housing, but typically the government, if you demand your right, they'll give you some corrugated iron and send you 30 miles outside the city. Just like under apartheid, where they have these like racial settlements. Now it's economic. Basically the same apartheid policies are being replicated for economic reasons. Big surprise, and. So these people basically have squatted this on these two medical places that were empty, that are located in the most pricey real estate in Cape Town.  And, and they've got a fully functioning society, not perfect.   NEIL:  Versus all those other perfect societies.  JACQUES:  Exactly.  NEIL:  Let's be  realistic,  JACQUES:  you know? But yeah, but anything that goes wrong and it's like says, you know, see, they can't do it. And you know, in like, they do amazing stuff already, but, but it doesn't get attention because everybody's used to it. So they wanted to. Try to think of something that people weren't used to that would surprise people that would get across these ideas. And they came up with the idea of a Zombie March. So it's like, you know, apartheid ideas back from the dead. So the za, they all dressed up as zombies and all the kids, especially dressed up as zombies and they had zombie dance offs and zombie, you know, all this, these crazy activities for a week, getting ready for the Zombie March. Which were in themselves, a big point, you know, like the education and the connection and all that. And then they did this big March on the city, building. It was all super fun and it got front page news. There was tons of press. they got a new metaphor. Zombie embodying the should  be dead ideas that were not dead  NEIL:  of apartheid  JACQUES:  of apartheid, zombie ideas. NEIL:  Ah, so Jacques. Your parents were, remind me your parents' names.  JACQUES:  Henry and Genevieve.  NEIL:  Okay. So what would in turn Henry and then Genevieve, how might they describe what it is you do to their  JACQUES:  friends? I think they would say he makes movies or when I made movies,  NEIL:  cause the Yes Men made movies.  JACQUES:  We made movies, we made three movies. So I think, I think they would say that they would say they make funny movies.  NEIL:  Oh huh. I remember at some early point, your mom asked you something like, "Are you still making mischief?" Was that it?  JACQUES:  Yeah. Yeah. She characterized, the first thing I did as mischief.  NEIL:  So they've moved beyond just seeing what you do as mischief? JACQUES:  It was mischief at the time.  NEIL:  So she was correct. JACQUES:  She was correct. NEIL:  Interesting. what is something you find yourself thinking about today?  JACQUES:  You mean like bigger than me? Cause like  NEIL:  Anything, what, what you  happen to be thinking about today?  JACQUES:  God, what was I thinking about? Like insofar I was thinking today, I was, I mean, one of the things I was doing was trying to, I did headstands. Our mutual friend, Joe , who's a super adept, adept of Iyengar. NEIL:  Yes. Relatively.  JACQUES:  Yeah. Showed me how to do headstands, which I used to do like 20 years ago, but that was a long time ago, and suddenly I was doing them again because the teacher wasn't there. The real teacher just didn't show up.  NEIL:  And Joe led the class  JACQUES:  No he led me and some other people kind of eavesdropped and did the same thing, but he, that's  NEIL:  That's very advanced to have you do a headstand. While he was just kinda like, filling in, you know. I remember back in, we're, if we're talking like 1991 at Jivamukti yoga center, when I had just really gotten deep into yoga and they had windows looking out onto second Avenue, I remember doing a headstand  while it was snowing out. Oh my God. And seeing the snow fall up. Oh my God. It was just so great.  JACQUES:  That sounds amazing.  NEIL:  That was a yoga turning point for me.  JACQUES:  Oh my God.  NEIL:  Shall we go to the cards?  JACQUES:  Yeah, more cards. Didn't we go to one? NEIL:  Now? These are, this is like the evergreen questions as it were. These are the questions I ask everyone. Now, these are bespoke cards that I've curated for you and only you. JACQUES:  Oh my God.  NEIL:  So first card Jacques is actually  something we came up with, or we found ourselves discussing together. First card is the way a couples bed feels, at a party. The way it kind of excludes you, you know? Oh, and the type of specific,  JACQUES:  Oh God.  NEIL:  Intimacy. I've seen a couple’s bed at a party  JACQUES:  Covered with coats, usually  NEIL:  That's true. That's true.  JACQUES:  That always strikes me as weird. Like, Oh.  NEIL:  Putting the coats on it.?   JACQUES:  Yeah. It seems like a shame or something, or it's like, yeah, there's a little shame in it. You feel shame. No, I feel like there is shame in the offering of the bed for the coats. It's like, you know, it's like a way of acknowledging the bed without highlighting the bed. I t's like, just put the things on it.  NEIL:  Maybe that's what it's about though. Maybe it's about kind of hiding. Literally and metaphorically. Yeah, the bad.  JACQUES:  I think so. I think it's like the bed is there and you got to use it. A bed is made to be used, but clearly they're not going to have sex in front of everybody at most parties, so you put the coats on it to use it, you know, not obscenely or not, not embarrassingly. And, and, and there's a little shame in that.  NEIL:  So, yeah, no, I totally get it. It is almost like a Freudian right? Like, you know, we're a Youngian, right? Like, so that we may have festivities in this room, we must cover the place where  the act of union happens. JACQUES:  Yeah. It's like all about covering up the bed.  NEIL:  Yes. Yeah, totally. Totally. Totally, totally. funny. I, you know, I. Because it is like that bed is almost like throbbing. It throbs with this intimacy from which you are excluded.  JACQUES:  Yes.  NEIL:  Maybe the jackets are effective in extinguishing. Right? ] JACQUES:  Because when the jackets are there, you're just focused on the jackets and your own jacket probably. NEIL:  And yes. And will you be able to find it? You know,  JACQUES:  And then when you go get it, I always have the thought like, are people gonna think I'm stealing things?  NEIL:  Sometimes when I'm in a supermarket, and obviously this is like the product of like deep privilege. Like if I reach into my pockets, as I walk through an aisle, I think, Oh, is someone looking at a camera going to think I stole something? JACQUES:  Right. And sometimes you have. But maybe not you. I steal in airports. I never steal in supermarkets. NEIL:  What do you steal in airports? JACQUES:  Anything I want. It's super easy to steal in airports.  NEIL:  Really? JACQUES:  Yeah. I almost always steal something.   NEIL:  Wow! Have you ever been caught?  JACQUES:  No. No. You can't really be caught at airports. There's no security. They're not looking for that,  NEIL:  Or their security is all riveted on something else. It's like the ultimate, the real misdirection.  JACQUES:  Yeah. Yeah. Right, There's this like potential really bad thing, so you can do the minorly bad thing. and also I always have an alibi, so like, you know how the shops are always open and interconnected? I just like pick something up from one shop and walk to the cash register in another shop as if I think that's where it is. And then kind of like aimlessly wander off so I can always. Say, Oh, I, he, I did thought that was like, all right.  NEIL:  She's a Talker. Pro tip. How to shoplift.  JACQUES:  Yeah. In airports.  NEIL:  See, I feel judgmental of that. I do. I'm always looking for opportunities to feel judgment.  JACQUES:  Yeah. No, I'm glad to provide that.  NEIL:  You often do.  (Card Flip)  All right. Jacques, next card.  Hypothesis - people who do torture, must actually be empathic in order to be effective.  JACQUES:  Ooh, yes, of course. Look, that's terrible. That's dark. That's good. Yeah. Yeah, of course. Otherwise it would be no fun.  NEIL:  It wouldn't be effective because you have to imagine what something would,  JACQUES:  yeah, I think, I think so. It's like sex, right? You, you, you can't really perform a good sexual act on somebody if you haven't had it performed well on you. I mean, is that true?  NEIL:  It may be true, but, but I think buried within that is the idea. I think you can't perform a sex act well if you can't inhabit someone else's subjectivity based on, and that doesn't necessarily have to come from having experienced it yourself, but from being able to like, you know, be in tuned with the cues that you're getting and stuff like  that, which is like torture. I mean, often when I'm getting a massage, which I don't get a lot of, but when I do, I really love them. But I often think, God, massage and torture are so related.  JACQUES:  God, you're so dark. It is not true  NEIL:  because they both require a type of empathic or a type of knowing touch, right? To the extent that torture is physical versus psychological. and I guess with torture, what you have to do is at a certain point you have to cauterize or do something to that empathic connection that permits you to, or turn that empathic connection around to generate pleasure from the fact that you're doing something to someone that you wouldn't want done to yourself.  JACQUES:  Do you have any other cards?  (Laughter)  NEIL:  Yes. Let's move on. I have another card about core torture, but using Kindles read a sample feature of a book about torture. I found myself doing that. A question of torture.  JACQUES:  Oh God,  NEIL:  Read a sample. JACQUES:  Read a sample  NEIL:  Jacques, next card, that part of every Holocaust museum where they acknowledged the folks who are not Jewish, who helped. What if we had the audacity not to include that?  (Laughter)  JACQUES:  Oh my God. First of all, as soon as you said the word words. The part of every Holocaust museum I had to burst out in laughter,  NEIL:  Of course. Which is hilarious. Hilarious.  JACQUES:  Yeah. What if you didn't include that? What would that mean? NEIL:  I'm not advocating it. I'm proposing it as a thought experiment.  JACQUES:  If you just didn't bother, Oh my God, that would be so dark,  NEIL:  Would it be dark? JACQUES:  I think it highlights the rest of the people who didn't help, but it also like makes it a little less dark. It's like not everybody was bad, you know, by and large they weren't. Maybe, but  that's a different lesson, isn't it?  NEIL:  I think that there's an element of internalized antisemitism in it. Like, I'm sorry that you needed to help us, or I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is.  JACQUES:  I don't see that NEIL:  That may be a bridge too far.  JACQUES:  I don't see that, but I do see it exceptionalizing and making people heroes, which is super interesting. Like I always think like blaming the CEOs of big companies is, is bullshit. Also, it's like by the same token, it's sorta like. You know, they're not the problem there. There are these bad people, but exceptionalizing them isn't, isn't where it's at. It's like, just like the exceptionally good people aren't where it's at. It's great. They exist and the exceptionally bad people exist. But no, the main problem is that there's the, that perfectly nice people can do horrendous things. NEIL:  Right. Are you an optimist? Yeah. I know so many people who are like surprising optimists. So many people.  JACQUES:  Ah! That's interesting. Like me, of course. Is it  surprising? I feel obviously an optimist.  NEIL:  I get that.  JACQUES:  Otherwise, why would I be doing anything that I'm doing?  NEIL:  So I'm not an optimist. I don't know if I'd call myself an activist, but I'm politically engaged because I don't want to feel regret. I want to feel like, at least I tried. Yeah, sure. But that's really different from optimism. Isn't it?  JACQUES:  There's a probably a fine line, a gradation, a shades of gray. Ah. Cause it's like you do everything with a suspension of disbelief. Like it's very easy to do things without fully believing them scientifically. You can just do them. Maybe secretly you think it might make a difference, you know? NEIL:  If that's not what drives me, well...  JACQUES:  You wouldn't do it.  NEIL:  That's true. Like that's true. If there was zero chance, I wouldn't do it right. So that implies optimism, doesn't it?  JACQUES:  It does. huh. It does. Absolutely. Cause you wouldn't, it wouldn't work for the regret thing. NEIL:  That's a great point. So maybe I'm a  crypto optimist.  JACQUES:  Yeah. I mean, at least somewhat. And maybe like you don't believe it's definitely gonna work, but you don't have to leave it believe it's definitely gonna work. To be an optimist. You have to believe there's a good chance or a chance, a chance, chance. And. Yeah. When, when, when ever, has there been anything more than that ever in history? Like it's always been just a chance.  NEIL:  You've changed the way I think about optimism and pessimism here on, She's a Talker.   (Card Flip)  What is something that keeps you going?  JACQUES:  Oh, say one thing is. This sense of story wanting to make a complete story. that's only half done, or maybe more than half done, but like, it isn't complete. So it's like wanting to, you know, put a goal on it... The perfectionist. Yeah. The  completest. Is that a word?  NEIL:  Completist. Yeah. Oh, it's like a person who needs to read every book by. JACQUES:  Okay. Or finish every... Which is a lot of people, right. Not me. okay. So, yeah. Well that's, that's one thing is like, Oh, that would be a shame because it's, it's not, it's not done. It's not finished. It's not a package. There isn't a, a knot on it. And that's just, we, I'm not saying that's rational or like, I'm right to think that it's just, that's my psychology. The other thing would be, Like have being ambitious, wanting to do things, wanting to do more things than I've done, thinking that I can do more things than I've done having these like ongoing, like back-burner projects that I know I'm going to get to. having that illusion of getting to them one day, which may not be an illusion or maybe, but having that illusion. NEIL:  Fill in the blank for X and  Y. What's a bad X you would take over a good Y? JACQUES:  Oh wait, there's so many. A bad X over a good Y? I would take a bad, almost everything over a good, almost anything, I think.  NEIL:  Really?  JACQUES:  Yeah, like...  NEIL:  A bad meal. Over a good meal? JACQUES:   Like often if it's good, if it's labeled good, I feel an obligation to enjoy it a certain way. Whereas if it's labeled bad, I can just like if, if I don't, it's no loss. I haven't failed.  NEIL:  I know that. Yeah, there's freedom.  JACQUES:  There's freedom and badness. Yeah. I dunno, there's a theater trick, right? Where you, you like say, okay, we're going to do this thing and we're going to do it as badly as we can.  NEIL:  Right. JACQUES:  Okay. Who's the worst actor here? First role. You do that. And you know, and it's amazing because you're free, right? And you don't have to worry about the quality and  you know it's going to be bad. So you just go with it.  NEIL:  On that note. Jacques Servin, I never use your last name, but... JACQUES:  Let's do it there.  NEIL:  You, you never use your own last name or you never used my last name? JACQUES:  Mine.  NEIL:  Okay. Jacques Servin thank you for being on. She's a Talker.  JACQUES:  Thank you Neil NEIL:  Love you.  JACQUES:  Love you.   (Neil airkisses Jacques, Jacques replies in kind)  NEIL:  Before we get to the credits... As promised, we have something a lot of people have written in with their own responses to the cards, and we're going to be featuring some of them in the show. For instance, Paul van Dakar wrote in about a card we featured in our episode with comedian Naomi Ekperigin. The card is: My favorite TV show is the menu. Paul wrote, "I have a love hate relationship with the menu. Whenever I stay at a hotel or a friend's place who has cable, I probably spend the most time on the menu channel.  When I was growing up, we had channels two four five seven 38 56 and if you're lucky, maybe 68 that's why TV menus for me today are still like how I think Soviet immigrants used to feel when they moved to the US in the seventies and eighties. Astonished at the endless variety of breakfast cereal and deodorants and peanut butter on supermarket shelves. So like a bewildered immigrant to the land of cable. I scroll endlessly through the menu only to realize that the good stuff either ended a half hour ago or it doesn't start for another two hours, or never existed to begin with. And I start to feel dead inside. And then if I don't fall asleep, I might muster the strength to turn off the TV and read a book."  Thanks, Paul, for writing. If you've got a response, please email us that shesatalker@gmail.com or message us at shesatalker on Instagram. This series is made possible with generous support from still point fund. Devon Guinn produced this episode. Andrew Litton mixed it. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers, Justin Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert and Jesse Kimotho. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver and my husband Jeff Hiller sings the theme song you're about to hear. JEFF HILLER: She's a talker with Neil Goldberg. She's a Talker with fabulous guests. She's a Talker, it's better than it sounds, yeah!

E

Feb 2020

23 min 52 sec

Artist and baker Andrew Hawkes talks about bouncing around pixelated mansions. ABOUT THE GUEST Andy Hawkes is an interdisciplinary artist based in Harlem. He creates performances, videos and baked goods that interrogate intimacy, aspirational domesticity and desire. Hawkes has presented his work at Museum of the Moving Image,Present Company, and Secret Project Robot. For more information Andrew-hawkes.com or IG @Andyawesomepants. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Mixer: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Website: Itai Almor Media: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnoc TRANSCRIPTION NEIL GOLDBERG:  I was going to say you were a former student of mine, but let’s get real here. ANDY HAWKES:  Almost student. I came so close. NEIL:  What happened? Why did you drop my class? ANDY:  Because they told me I had to. NEIL:  Who told you that? ANDY:  The people. NEIL:  The people. You’re putting it on someone else. ANDY:  No, I was… NEIL:  What went wrong? ANDY:  What went wrong was I was a first year sculptural student and I wanted to take a class with you in graphic design and the class was full and I think I was told I could take it if no one else in graphic design wanted to take the class so I got bumped out, but I did do the first assignment, but then I never got to show anyone. I think it wasn’t meant to be. NEIL:  Here we are today though. ANDY:  Here we are today. I think it’s change and it’s something different and special. NEIL:  Hello, I’m Neil and this is She’s A Talker. Today I’ll be talking to artist and baker, Andy. If this is your first time listening, here’s the premise of the podcast. I’m a visual artist and for the past million or so years I’ve been jotting down thoughts, observations, and reflections often about things that might otherwise get overlooked or go unnoticed. I write them down on index cards and I’ve got thousands of them. I originally wrote the cards just for me or maybe to use in future art projects, but in She’s A Talker I’m using them as prompts for conversations with some of my favorite artists, writers, performers, and beyond. NEIL:  These days the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone here and there over the course of the day. Each episode I start with some recent ones. Here they are. Animals are so straight edge. When you shake hands with somebody just after you’ve washed your hands and they’re still wet and you have to say, “I just washed my hands.” Photography is like taxidermy. I’m so excited to have as my guest Andy. Andy is an interdisciplinary artist who lists his mediums as performances, videos and baked goods. He’s presented his art at the Museum of the Moving Image and a bunch of other art venues. He also works as a coordinator of public programs at the Whitney Museum. NEIL:  We talked in January at a recording studio at the New School in New York City.    NEIL:  I’m sitting here with Andy Hawks. I’m so happy to have you here today.  ANDY:  I’m happy to be here.  NEIL:  Um, Andy, what’s your elevator pitch for what you do?  ANDY:  I would say, and it’s changed a lot since I’ve moved to New York, which is five years ago, I would say I am. I’m a performance artist and a video artist that’s interested in. Food consumption and labor and whiteness and those sorts of things. Yeah. I just recently accepted to myself that my kitchen is my studio or an extension of my studio, and so I think my time since graduate school has been learning to unlearn that art happens when you make a concerted effort in the studio and you know, to realize that. I can make art when I’m not sitting at a desk saying, okay, this is the time in which I will make art, you know? So I say I’m interested in food and interested in cakes and baking and things like that because I am still coming to terms :with like, that is, I think, a big part of the materials I want to work with. Yeah.  NEIL:  I am blown away by the gorgeousness of these cakes that have appeared on your social media feed.  ANDY:  Thank you.  NEIL:  It seems to me like in what the last year possibly?  ANDY:  In the last year? Yeah,  NEIL:  And it’s like zero to 60 I don’t know what the term is, but they’re, they’re so exquisite looking and came to me as a really big surprise. But perhaps not for you or, or, or was this something that you’ve been working towards?  ANDY:  It was a big surprise for me. I started baking a year ago when I started posting.  NEIL:  Fucking A!  ANDY:  So what happened was, you know, uh, my partner really wanted to take a cake decorating class. And so for Christmas I signed them up for one and we did it together and he did not like it,  But we had all this stuff and I wanted to use it. We had all this butter and all these bags and things, and I was like, well, I want to figure out how to use this. And I kind of got interested in it as a sculptural material and wanted to… explore it. And I started making cakes and seeing cakes on the internet and bringing them into work. And a big part of this was I started working in an office where it was, you know, predominantly white women who, you know, would bring in baked goods and stuff. And it was such a language of power play of like, “Oh, I baked these this weekend”, or “I bake these with the kids.” And I realized it was sort of like a… an interesting flexing that all these women were doing with each other. And I was like, well, I want to be a part of this. I want to like somehow get into this sort of like, “Oh, I made these cookies and they’re really good”. You know? And, and present them really prettily. So then I started trying to learn how to make them as beautiful as possible, which is something I’d never been interested in, which was beauty.  Explain that for people who. Rightly are blown away by the idea of an artist who heretofore, was not interested in beauty.  I think beauty in a way, to me means resolved in a certain way and a certain aesthetic and a certain kind of finish. And as an artist, I was never interested in…  No, I was interested in things aesthetically making sense to me, but I was never interested in them aesthetically being at a resolved point where… It’s sort of like drag makeup in a way, right? Like, you know, to have the idea that there’s like a, a flawless application of, of eyeshadow or something, or like a flawlessness to it. And I was never interested in making something that was flawless. I had never really thought about that. And you know, I, I learned a lot of this to this school to YouTube, and there’s so much conversation with these people who are making cakes about, like, how to make sure that your buttercream is perfectly smooth and how to make sure you have the perfect icing and making sure that you have the perfect, like the word perfect kept coming up so much because it was like, “Oh, this is about being perfect,” you know? So I had never used the word perfect, or use the word harmonious, and in a way, you know. But that’s something that I am interested in with like how something tastes or how something looks now. Yeah.  NEIL:  This perfection thing is really coming up for you, huh?  ANDY:  I guess so.  Yeah. Does it in any way feel like it may be a response to Yale where perfection is questioned? It is. Question there. I came from mid Michigan, small school, you know, by a corn field. I remember in one of the critiques, one of my first critiques in Yale, one of the faculty members said, Oh, it’s such an object as a critique. And I was like, and my head spin spun around and I was like, “Oh my, what? I thought we were supposed to be doing that here.” Yeah. I thought we were supposed to be making objects, what am I doing? And so I, I know that like one of the things that I felt was that, that, you know, and I loved the program and I learned so much, I have to say that. But you know, one of the things that when I left, it was like I had completely abandoned making anything tangible or physical or like, an object. And so like maybe in a way, you know, I am striking back. I mean, a cake is an object. As long as you don’t eat it, you know, as long as you don’t cut it. So, you know, maybe, maybe it is a reaction against that and maybe there’s some little trespassing, you know, it’s a little naughty exploring perfection. Are your parents still in the world?  Yes. They both are. Yeah.  Oh, a little question mark.  Yes. Both of my parents are alive. Yes. Yeah.  NEIL:  Um, how do each of them describe what it is you do to their friends?  ANDY:  Oh. So I work at the Whitney museum and I, uh, work with a small team to produce, um, programs for adult audiences. So I think that they don’t think of me baking as, as an artistic practice. My mom probably would say that I am, you know, an arts administrator in New York.  NEIL:  Mhmmmm.  ANDY:  That’s, I think as much as she would describe it. And I don’t know if I’ve articulated to her that I think of what I’m doing. A sculpture,  NEIL:  Arts administration – as sculpture? Or baking as…  ANDY:  Baking as sculpture, not art. If arts administration is sculpture, my gosh, I have built the pyramids. Um,  NEIL:  How about your dad?  ANDY:  Ah, well my dad is, um. He’s a.. He had a closed head injury a few years ago, so he.. That’s why, you know, when you were like, “Oh, your parents..”  My dad’s alive, but he’s not, um, he has a lot of memory loss and a lot of difficulty. So he’s in an, um, in a nursing home. So he remembers me if I’m there in person, but I don’t think on the day to day he thinks about it. If I call him, he’ll be kind of confused.  Right. Yeah.  So that’s why I said it with a question mark cause it’s like, Oh well hmm…. NEIL:  I hear you. I’m sorry to have been so, um.. uh, cavalier about that question. ANDY:  But when he has a with us, I mean, you know, before his accident, I think he, I know he would describe me as an artist and he was very, he fancied himself an artist. And he took me as a kid, actually, is one of the reasons why I became an artist. As a little kid. He would take us the DIA, Detroit Institute of the Arts, you know, like once a month. And we were members. And I remember just having really formative experiences there. And when I turned like 13, he gave me his SLR, like film camera from, you know, he had since the 80s. And, and that sort of opened, I think the door to me being an artist. And he was a truck driver. But you know, he painted and he took photographs and he played the flute and he was a person that, you know, I think in a lot of ways I’m a lot like him. That if he took an interest in something, he fully committed and did a 0 – 60 so seeing him obsessively buy gadgets and obsessively commit to learning something was sort of really impactful for me. NEIL:  What’s something that you find yourself thinking about today?  ANDY:  Oh, today specifically? Or today is like a concept, huh?  NEIL:  What is today as a concept. Oh, like, like kids today?  ANDY:  Yeah. That sort of thing.  NEIL:  Take your pick. I love it.  ANDY:  I’m thinking a lot about, this is going to sound crazy. Watching ‘Let’s Play’ videos.  NEIL:  What are they called, lip play? ANDY:  Let’s play. NEIL:  Let’s play? ANDY:  It’s when people play video games and record them.  NEIL:  Oh, right. Yeah, thats a thing huh? ANDY:  Yeah. And I’ve been watching the Tomb Raider ones from like 1996 you know, with the… the worst resolution graphics on earth. And its just a very surreal experience to watch someone who’s perfected playing Tomb Raider. It’s just a really interesting, um, meditative kind of thing to watch. NEIL:  Weird.  ANDY:  Yeah. It is weird.  NEIL:  Do you play video games?  ANDY:  I don’t.  NEIL:  Me neither. You don’t like playing them but you like watching other people play?  ANDY:  Yeah.  NEIL:  Huh. ANDY:  I was a very scared child. I grew up with the PlayStation and I was always too stressed out to ever play past the first level of anything. And so now that I’ve discovered that you can just watch someone else play and be able to see again, I guess it’s like I said, perfect. Again, like perfectly played Tomb Raider.  NEIL:  What was it as a kid that scared you back over to the next level?  ANDY:  I was afraid of the conflict. There’s always a first boss that you have to fight, right?  NEIL:  Oh, is that what happens in a video game?  ANDY:  Oh  yeah! With any video game you get to a part and you have to fight some sort of like guy who throws bricks at you or something or you know, some sort of like mushroom monster or something. And I, um, never wanted to do that. I was like, well, that’s okay with me. I’ll just play the first level again where you just, you know. Don’t deal with that. So, you know, I, my favorite part of tomb Raider was there was a part where you could just play in Laura’s house. The, the main character is like a millionaire and you could just like jump around her mansion and I, that was enough for me. And so it’s nice to see.. to watch something that isn’t just bouncing around someone’s pixelated mansion I guess.  NEIL:  Right, isn’t that what we’re all doing? Bouncing around our respective pixelated mansions.  ANDY:  Well, or pixelated apartments or pixelated hovels in my case.  NEIL:  Let’s go to some cards I curated for you.  ANDY:  Okay.   (Card Flip sound)  NEIL:  First card is the profound thing about cooking show competitions is that the sense of taste is invisible. You can’t know what they’re tasting except in how it registers on their face or in their words.  ANDY:  That’s really true. In a way, that’s what I’m interested in, like trying to make, I’ve been trying to make more elaborate kind of baked goods, uh, different kinds of sponges and things like that, so I can actually know what they taste like. And actually experience that. And I think that in a lot of ways when you watch these shows we’re there by proxy. We’re there by what someone is what someone’s facial expression is. What someone says about it. The camera. The music. The response of the other contestants. And we’re never actually there. Sort of a mirror to a lot of… we’re increasingly removed from most experiences, you know? NEIL:  For sure. But I think about like baking shows in particular, or cooking shows are different from, let’s say, a singing competition where you can experience it.  Yeah. And how that shapes cooking shows, you know? So there’s like, for me, I’m really interested in like the, the fetishization of the bite, you know, the, the ways of telegraphing this experience that you don’t have access to in the same way that you would have it if it were someone singing and you could hear them sing.  ANDY:  Or America’s next top model, and you can see them posing.  NEIL:  Exactly. Exactly.  ANDY:  Right.  NEIL:  You had said earlier, um, a cake is an object unless you eat it. How does, how does that figure into it? Like is a cake that you’ve cut into. Is that a? Is it still a cake? Is it an object? Is it… ANDY:  I think it’s still an object if you cut into it? But I’ve noticed the fun thing about baking cakes is that you can’t eat them alone, right? I mean, you could, but you would be sort of a monster if you baked the cake and ate it by yourself. NEIL:  Right.  ANDY:  And so I started baking cakes for everyone’s birthdays and so many people said, “Oh, it’s… I don’t want to cut it. It’s so pretty. I don’t want to cut it. I don’t want t  ruin it.” And you know, it’s, it’s interesting because like, if there’s like one little tiny piece of cake left, it’s no longer, it’s no longer something that I made. It’s participatory at that point, right? Like every little cut, every little licking of the frosting, like people are changing it and it’s actively changing shape and changing form. And, um, I love when you, when, when, when it’s sort of that wedge missing and it’s full of crumbs and it’s full of. You know, things falling over and, um, people scraping up the pieces with a knife and it become something that’s kind of on one side. Literally on one side, it’s really pretty. On the other side, in the front, it looks broken. It looks damaged. It’s, uh, been affected by other people, you know, and that’s, that’s interesting to me to look at that. And I find myself always documenting the completed cake before it’s cut into and not taking pictures of the half consumed cake. But I think that, you know, it’s interesting when they are in the process of losing their objectness and the process of becoming, I guess just food, you know? And the in-between between a work of art and just food is interesting for me. And that’s something that I haven’t figured out how to, how to cement that moment. Cause I. I dunno. I feel like I’m, I, I’ve not seen other people work with cakes as a material. So I’m trying to figure out how do I make this art? How do I prove to everyone that I’m actually making her? And I’m not just baking, you know? But. I, I believe that I am making art when I’m doing this.  NEIL:  Oh my God. If you ever have doubt, you can definitely text me.  ANDY:  Okay.  NEIL:  But I do think the question you’re dealing with is so fucking deep, which is, yeah, we can say what you’re doing is hard, but where is the art?  ANDY:  Right. All right. You know, I’m also interested in things that I, I feel like are, this is almost art.  NEIL:  Almost art is so much better than art.  ANDY:  I think so too.  All the possibilities! One of my friends, I Simon Wu. I’ll ll send him things that I think are, “Oh my God, this is almost art.” You know, and there’s like a, there’s, there’s this, um, like two hour. And I’m not lying. It’s like a two hour YouTube compilation of, of women in anime saying, “Oh, ho, ho, ho ho ho ho ho” like this, like specific anime laugh. It’s like two hours long. And I’m like, this is almost art. I think that if you just put this on a screen, I think it’d be art. But then I, then I asked myself, well, is it art now? If it’s art on YouTube, but I don’t know. Or, um, those things… If I can get spicy? NEIL:  Oh, please do, on she’s a talker.  ANDY:  Those, um, those poppers training videos, have you seen those?  I haven’t seen them?  They’re, they’re, they’re  po… po… porn… porno… pornographic.  They’re, they’re pornographic adult films. And for those of you who don’t know, poppers are a… I actually don’t even know how to explain what they are, but they are a, they are a tool. They’re a tool to get you where you need to go.  And there are these videos that like, it’s like these super cuts of intense pornographic hardcore gay scenes, and there’s like at the bottom it tells you like, start doing your poppers now and then stop doing your poppers. NEIL:  Oh, really?  ANDY:  Yeah. And it’s supposed to train you to like. I dunno. It’s some sort of like tantric poppers sort of thing. Oh yeah. I don’t, I, I’ve watched them. I’m not going to say if I’ve like participated in the exercise, but I think that that’s like a thing that I’m like, this seems like it’s almost art. NEIL:  Almost art.  (Card Flip sound)  Next card. I was watching ‘The Great British Baking Show’ and they were making a self saucing sponge. Okay. I don’t know if that means anything to you. ANDY:  I think I’d know what that means. NEIL:  But the card I wrote in relationship to that is you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until the end. You can’t taste it as it goes.  ANDY:  Yeah.  NEIL:  It’s inscrutable past a certain point. You can’t, well, you can’t take taste, for instance, batter and know what it’s going to taste like, or can you? ANDY:  You can taste batter, but it isn’t baked.  NEIL:  Right. ANDY:  You can certainly tell if it’s, if there’s something wrong with it. But it won’t taste good. Yeah. One of the interesting things that I’ve been doing is because I’ve been making multiple component cakes, you know, so it’s  like… NEIL:  MCCs? ANDY:  Oh yeah. Maybe that. Um, you know, so it’s like, Oh because you know, I’m trying to do that whole ‘British Bake-Off’. Like, Oh, it’s a brown butter vanilla sponge with a white chocolate ganache inside with a raspberry reduction, and it’s covered in Italian merengue buttercream, you know?  NEIL:  And take your  poppers now  (Laughs)  ANDY:  And start poppers now.  (Laughs)  Um, no, but so you can taste each individual component, but you don’t actually know what a slice will taste like. You don’t know this small section of this greater whole. How much of everything do you get? How much in every forkful do you get? Does it actually make sense together? You can never really know until you cut into it unless you’ve made something a hundred times and you’ve kind of memorized it.  (Card Flip sound)  NEIL:  Okay. Next card, Andy.  ANDY:  Okay.  NEIL:  I think my favorite kitchen tool might be the spatula. Very Virgo tool. I’m talking about the kind of spatulas, not like that you use to flip a burger, but that you use to kind of like… ANDY:  A rubber spatula? NEIL:  A rubber spatula!  ANDY:  Or that sort of like scrapey-scrapey. NEIL:  Yeah, perfection of scraping. ANDY:  I love spatulas. I also hate bad spatulas.  NEIL:  Oh yeah, like where they’re too stiff.  ANDY:  They’re too stiff or they’re too, I mean,  the two stiff, a bit too limp or they’re afraid to commit. You know? I watched a spatula review video recently. NEIL:  Really?  ANDY:  Yeah. And I bought the top rated spatula and I love it.  NEIL:  Really? Tell me about it. ANDY:  I forget what it’s called, but it’s silicone. The whole thing is silicone, so there’s no wood on it. And so. It, you can go, it can go on the dishwasher. It’s safe up to 450 degrees so you can’t melt it. And unless you put an oven that’s 500 degrees and it’s, it’s stiff but not too stiff and it’s wide but not too wide and it fits in the hand perfectly. I dunno. Spatials are an interesting thing cause they’re sort of like, when you have idea of like you cupping your hand in a, I mean the goal of any good kitchen tool is that it feels like it’s just your hand just doing something different.  NEIL:  Yes. That’s so true.  ANDY:  That’s my relationship to spatulas I suppose. NEIL:  Is it? Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?  ANDY:  My favorite, favorite, favorite thing is the, is this French tip. A piping tip. It’s, it’s open star tip and it’s got a lot of little, it’s really small. Like if it’s just, it just makes these really pretty dollops that have these like really architectural pretty lines incised in them. And I just, I just like it cause it makes everything look instantly fancier.   (Card Flip sound)  NEIL:  Next card, the experience of eating berries that are fleetingly in season. Something about grasping or attachment or something is what I wrote about the experience of like now is cherry season and it’s fleeting and so you get the cherries and they’re delicious and sweet and it creates in me a type of like disconnect actually.  ANDY:  That’s like, I feel like. Is a problem is that we never really know when something is in season because something is more often than not always available and it’s just a few, a few weeks or months, or it, no, it doesn’t taste like trash. One of the things that I used to work at the Brooklyn museum, and there was this, um, still life painting by an American artist and I, I don’t remember his name, but I remember looking at it and not understanding why it was remarkable and it was because it took him a year to paint it because it depicts all these fruits, you know, strawberries, blackberries, watermelons, pumpkins, every kind of conceivable fruit, fresh at the same time. And you know. To a person living before mass supermarkets and things like that, you would never see a blueberry at the same time that you see a cabbage. You know, it’s interesting because like, Oh, I read the wall label and we, I talked about it with a coworker and it’s like, Oh, it actually took him a year because he had to like. Wait until something was ripened, paint it and make a composition based on things that he has that he knew would be in season later that he would put someplace else, you know? NEIL:  Well, so he did the thing that supermarkets do today.  ANDY:  Yes. And it was magic at the time.  NEIL:  Wild!  (Card Flip Sound))   Next card, Andy.  ANDY:  Yes.  NEIL:  Leftovers as a kind of embodied memory. ANDY:  That makes me think about meal prep. You know, when you’re making the same thing and eating the same thing over and over and over again, and that there is no leftovers, that you’ve made it all at once and you’re eating the sort of copies of the same meal, right? You cook a bunch of chicken breasts and broccoli, you know, there was never the original meal. There was never a leftover. But I do think it is interesting thinking about leftovers as like as some sort of analog to memories of a previous experience. The soup always tastes different the next day. It always tastes better. The flavors get to know each other more. It’s telling you a different story. You know, the act of measuring something disrupts what you’re measuring, the act of remembering something changes what you remembering. Right? Uh, Thanksgiving leftovers aren’t Thanksgiving. They’re something different, but it is in a way, a memory or some sort of, um,remnant or some sort of a shadow of what there was before,  NEIL:  But, but to your point, it often tastes better.  ANDY:  I think it does.  NEIL:  I agree completely. And I think there’s two parts to that. One is the way certain foods. Yeah. Get to know each other, but also it’s like you’re not at fucking Thanksgiving. ANDY:  No!   (laughter)  Socialization and all of the, the experience is not there again. NEIL:  And that’s, that makes it taste better. In other words, in fact, knowing Thanksgiving is over. That you got through it that it’s done  ANDY:  You got out  NEIL:  Makes that taste better. You got out. Exactly. Exactly. I think that’s a key to why Thanksgiving leftovers taste better. I love Thanksgiving with my family. Do I love it more than Thanksgiving being over? I dunno. What would you choose? Well, you’re getting both.  ANDY:  Yeah. You can get both.  NEIL:  You have Thanksgiving and then you have the pleasure of Thanksgiving being over.  (Card Flip Sound)  The next card. Confusion as a working method.  ANDY:  Yeah, yeah. Doubt I think is pretty, it’s pretty generative, right? Someone told me once, I think it was, um, Miss Kaufman who was my photography professor in undergrad, and she told me, if you’re ever comfortable with the work that you’re making, you probably should be doing something different. I think if you’re so confident in something, then like you need to shake it up a bit. And I think that being confused is a useful space to, to be trying to orient yourself somewhere .It’s a useful thing. And I remember you… you’re the one, you photographed people coming out of the subway.  NEIL:  I did. Yeah. ,  ANDY:  I remember that! It meant a lot to me. I think about it a lot sometimes. Oh, I love it. Um, I think I’ve articulated enough in this interview that I’m a little bit unsure of what I’m doing. Um, so I think that, um. Orienting yourself is a useful place to be in. I think confusion is important.  NEIL:  I love it. That’s so deep. Your take, it starts from really different take from mine. This card came from, um, almost as a methodology. Like when I’m getting feedback about a piece of art, I like to get a lot of feedback about a piece of art feedback and kind of get myself kind of confused about it through these different voices that are weighing in on it and added that confusion I wouldn’t say a certainty of emerges, but like a direction forward does. There’s a place where both of our thoughts meet.   (Card Flip sounds)  Okay. What keeps you going? ANDY:  The desire to learn? I think wanting to, um, yeah. Wanting to learn . Both in like my, you know, trying to learn how to do drag makeup, trying to learn how to tap dance, how to try and to learn how to bake a cake and my relationship learning, you know, more about my partner and learning how he feels and how he thinks and things like that. And, um, you know, my job, my day job, you know. Um, learning about art and learning about a collection of art and learning about different artists. And yeah, I’d say learning. And I think that, you know, that’s what keeps me going in the. In the, um, in that field also. Um, I’m very passionate about having insurance. I’m passionate about eating, um, and paying my rent somewhat on time. So that is also what keeps me going in that job. NEIL:  It’s good that you have passions.   (Card Flip Sounds)  Andy on that note. Huge thank you for being on ‘She’s a Talker.’ I’m so grateful.  ANDY:  Thank you for having me. It’s been so much fun, I hope I talked enough. NEIL:  Oh my God. Gems. It was like an embarrassment of riches.  ANDY:  Thank you.  NEIL:  Uh, we’ll do a version where there’s like the popper instruction part that goes with it too. ANDY:  Popper training!  NEIL:  Popper training.  (Chuckles)  ANDY:  It’s like, you train for a marathon. You don’t need, you know… NEIL:  You don’t get instructed.  ANDY:  Yes.  NEIL:  All right.       Thank you so much for listening to She’s A Talker. Before we get to the credits, we have something new this season. A lot of people have been writing in with their own responses to the cards and we’d love to feature yours in the show, so please send them our way at shesatalker@gmail.com or via Instagram at shesatalker. Jonathan Taylor wrote in with a question about drag, which I thought would be perfect to ask Andy given his own use of drag in his art. Here it is. In an earlier episode with the choreographer, Miguel Gutierrez. He was at the Whitney biennial a few years ago. I love him. One of the cards I had there was, I don’t like any of the art forms that are built around the uncanny, like animation, puppetry and impersonations, and a listener wrote in and asked, “What about drag? Does drag play on the uncanny?” What’s your answer to that? ANDY:  I think there’s a difference between drag and female illusion. I think a good drag queen or a drag queen that I appreciate, not a good drag queen, isn’t one that’s trying to look like a woman whereas I think female impersonation is the whole entertainment aspect is that this person looks so much like a woman, but they’re not. I’m thinking of the uncanny valley where something hits that wall where it’s too realistic but not realistic enough at the same time. And I think that drag at its heart is critiquing what gender is and exaggerating and there’s a level of camp to I think drag, the makeup is so distinct and so exaggerated. It’s stage makeup. It’s almost Kabuki. NEIL:  But that really aligns with what might’ve been my take. My take would have been less articulate. Thank you Andy for answering that listener question. ANDY:  Thank you. Thank you for asking. NEIL:  This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devin Guinn produced this episode. Andrew Lytton mixed it. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton, our consulting producers, Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert and Jesse Kimotho. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver and my husband Jeff Hiller sings the theme song you’re about to hear. Thanks to all of them and to my guest, Andy and to you for listening.

E

Jan 2020

33 min 46 sec

Violinist Alicia Svigals talks about the erotics of dishwashing. ABOUT THE GUESTAlicia Svigals is violinist, composer, and co-founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics. She has taught and toured with violinist Itzhak Perlman and has composed for the Kronos Quartet, has appeared in stadium shows with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, recorded for John Cale's album Last Day On Earth, and the Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen. Her debut album Fidl was instrumentation in reviving the tradition of klezmer fiddling, and in 2018 she released the album Bergovski Suite with jazz pianist Uli Geissendoerfer. Recently she has been commissioned to compose scores for silent films, including The Yellow Ticket and Das Alte Gesetz. More info at https://aliciasvigals.com. ABOUT THE HOST Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Mixer: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Website: Itai AlmorMedia: Justine Lee Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse KimothoThanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock TRANSCRIPTION ALICIA SVIGALS:  I have, over the years, you know, since we got married in 2011, done that thing that I was doing before with "partner" and "my significant" - uncourageously obscured the fact that I'm a lesbian and... NEIL GOLDBERG:  Uncourageously obscure could be the title of my autobiography. NEIL:  Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg and this is SHE’S A TALKER. This is the first episode of season two, and we'll be back with new episodes every Friday. Today I'll be talking with violinist Alicia Svigals. If this is your first time listening, here's the premise of the podcast:  I'm a visual artist, and for the past million or so years, I've been jotting down thoughts, observations, and reflections, often about things that might otherwise get overlooked or go unnoticed. I write them on index cards, and I've got thousands of them. I originally wrote the cards just for me, or maybe to use in future art projects, but now I'm using them as prompts for conversations with some of my favorite artists, writers, performers, and beyond. These days, the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone here and there over the course of the day. Each episode I start with some recent ones. Here they are: NEIL:  The particular Grim Reaper-gloom of a rolly bag coming up behind you. NEIL:  Sleeping naked, but wearing a mouth guard. NEIL:  People in New York get so jovial when they see you carrying a pizza box. NEIL:  I am so excited to have as my guest, my dear friend, Alicia Svigals. Alicia is a world-class violinist who specializes in klezmer. If you’re not familiar with klezmer, here’s Alicia playing at the River To River Festival… [Klezmer music plays]… Klezmer was originally a type of Eastern European Jewish music that then came to the United States and became influenced by jazz. Alicia was one of the founders of the Klezmatics who won a Grammy. She's played with all kinds of fancy people like Itzhak Perlman, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, which was just a brunch where we listened to Led Zeppelin, which turns out to be a great combination. Here's our conversation. NEIL:  Alicia Svigals. Thank you so much for being in SHE’S A TALKER. We went to college together. We've known each other for more than 30 years, but, um, I do like to ask everyone, I'm about to sit down next to you on a plane. Hey, what do you do? ALICIA:  I'm a violinist and a composer. Uh, I specialize in a kind of traditional East European Jewish music called klezmer music, which, you know, in the past people would be like, "Oh, what?" And now they're like, "Oh yeah, of course I know that." NEIL:  Right, right. It's almost like the way coming out has kind of changed, although maybe without the shame element, or maybe not. ALICIA:  I know that the shame element is there. It's a little apologetic, like I'm a violinist composer, well, not like a classical violinist. ALICIA:  I do this weird thing. NEIL:  Yeah. Yeah. It vaguely reminds me of how my referencing my husband has changed. You know what I mean? When Jeff and I got married, we did kind of make an informal commitment that we would just always use 'husband' as a way to kind of desensitize the world to it. Yeah. If we were going to take advantage of that privilege. NEIL:  Um, but now I, I usually don't think twice about it. ALICIA:  Wow. NEIL:  How about you? ALICIA:  I think about it practically, I mean, absolutely every single time, it always feels weird and awkward and like I'm pretending it's no big deal, and there's a social contract now that of course it's no big deal, and everybody secretly in their mind thinks it's a very big deal. NEIL:  Exactly. ALICIA:  I'm wondering, like, how has their entire vision of me now changed and are they, have they stopped listening to what I'm saying? Cause there's digesting that... NEIL:  Right. When you're meeting someone for the first time and you just drop a "wife." ALICIA:  Yeah, or if I'm in a professional context. NEIL:  For me, I always feel like, to your point, that every time I use "husband", it's a little micro acting exercise. You know? ALICIA:  It's like... NEIL:  It's performing casualness. ALICIA:  Exactly. Like, and everybody knows it's a performance. So the conversation was doing whatever it was doing and it was normal, and all of a sudden we're faced with that moment like, what else are we going to do? We have no choice. Either we're going to perform casualness and feel weird and fake about that, or we're going to, uh, uncourageously obfuscate, or there's a third possibility, which I've seen people do, which is to say like, be sort of transparent about all that, but then you've made a big deal of something perhaps unnecessarily. NEIL:  Right. How has that sounded? Like, "I'm gay and I have a husband." ALICIA:  You know, I'm not even sure, I've seen other people do it and I haven't liked it, so I'm not sure, but it... Yeah, exactly. "I'm gay and I have a husband." NEIL:  All right. Now, another question I like to ask people is, uh, what is something you were thinking about today? ALICIA:  I mean, since I woke up. NEIL:  I'll let you define 'today'. ALICIA:  Okay. Okay. Okay. Cause I don't usually start thinking till about one or two. NEIL:  Oh, okay. ALICIA:  And it's still early. NEIL:  So you haven't thought about anything yet? ALICIA:  Not very much, but some - okay, some of the things I'll tell you, I thought, um... I hope that Ellen, my wife, hears me doing the dishes because she has told me that turns her on. NEIL:  Do you think she's saying that just as a way to get you to do the dishes? ALICIA:  You know, I have discussed that at length with my therapist and she says, I need to take that literally. NEIL:  Wow, okay. ALICIA:  And all kinds of things turn people on. And that's not even a weird one in her experience here. And hearing all kinds of things from all kinds of people, because, for a lot of people, having the other person do the dishes means they're being taken care of. NEIL:  Oh yeah, totally. ALICIA:  You know, for some people, you know, they want to wear diapers. NEIL:  Exactly. ALICIA:  No, we don't do that. NEIL:  Okay. ALICIA:  So maybe... NEIL:  No judgement if you did though, but, but feeling taken care of doesn't necessarily map directly onto being turned on. Like I feel very taken care of by Jeff often. I guess sometimes that can be a turn on. It lives in a different space though. ALICIA:  Right. ALICIA:  For me too. But apparently there are a lot of people, like it's a very common thing. They won't feel turned on until they feel taken care of. It's really, really separate for me. Like I'm sure it's connected somewhere in there, sometimes in some ways, in some fantasies and so forth. But, um, according to my shrink, who is a genius - NEIL:  Yeah. ALICIA:  And is the smartest person I've ever met. NEIL:  Wow. ALICIA:  Kind of hoping she'll listen to this. NEIL:  Do you want to do the dishes too, while you're at it? ALICIA:  Anyway, I tend to think that my way of thinking and feeling and... My brain is really the right way. And other people's, if it's different, they must be making it up, they must be putting it on. It must be a ploy to get me to do the dishes. And I wrote the quote somewhere, somebody who said, "Everybody's got a weird brain", and I really like it, and I try to remind myself, and everybody's got a weird brain. NEIL:  Absolutely. I love not being in therapy anymore. ALICIA:  Oh you're not in therapy anymore? NEIL:  No. After, after, I think almost 25 years on the dot. ALICIA:  Wow. NEIL:  Um, we terminated like, uh, three or four years ago now, maybe three years. I love it. ALICIA:  Wow. Wow. NEIL:  You don't spend the money and you have the time and you don't have to kind of think about yourself in that same way. NEIL:  You don't have that accountability. ALICIA:  Yeah, the time part I, you know, couldn't relate to. Um, I feel like currently I'm like a snake in the process of getting ready to shed its skin. There's no crisis. Knock wood, you know, cheap too. But I feel like a transformation is going to happen. NEIL:  That's great. ALICIA:  I can't imagine leaving. NEIL:  Although, sorry, not to be a buzzkill, but, um, that's the thing that I'm happy not to have going on for me in therapy, which is the feeling of like, okay, life is just ahead of you. You know what I mean? And, and when I would say this to my therapist, he would be like, that's not the way to be holding this. But I found it hard to avoid that. I mean, toward the end, it, there was an alignment of like the, you know, the me who was in therapy, but also living my life and feeling like this is also my life. ALICIA:  You know, you're right. Like I'm, I am thinking of it as life is going to be so great once the skin - it's very itchy now, but once I've shed the skin. NEIL:  Yeah. ALICIA:  And yeah, that's problematic. And, uh, one day I think I probably would like to no longer be the kind of person who's like talking about themselves and their therapy, which I think is probably boring to most people. NEIL:  Oh, I know. I don't think talking about therapy stops after your - case in point - stops after you're in therapy. Here I am. NEIL:  Alicia, let's look at some of these cards now. Okay. I've picked out some cards, especially for you. Our first card is the diplomacy of saying a child resembles one parent or another. ALICIA:  Oh... NEIL:  You and Ellen are a very specific case of this, if you'd care to share with our podcast audience. ALICIA:  Right. We're a specific case of this, because, um, we each gave birth to one of our sons with the same anonymous donor. They're very much alike in a lot of ways, and they're each very much like each of us, and it's, it's a different case because we're not competing to be the one whose traits appeared more. ALICIA:  It's just a lovely thing to hear that, you know, one of them looks like one of us, um, because it means our genes worked at all. NEIL:  Yeah, that's a great way to put it. Cause I feel very skeptical about whether my jeans would work. ALICIA:  I'm sure they would, Neil. NEIL:  Well, thank you. Isn't it, it always grosses me out when one kid looks powerfully like one of the parents, you know what I mean? It speaks of like their parents fucking in it somehow, it's like a big genetic smear or something like a litter of pups. ALICIA:  There's something like biologically obscene about it. NEIL:  Exactly. Biologically obscene. ALICIA:  Yeah, like an infestation. NEIL:  Exactly. Exactly. ALICIA:  It's like it kind of, impolitely exposes biology too much and it's rude. NEIL:  Exactly, it's like someone flashing you or something. ALICIA:  It's rude. Cause we're supposed to be self-made individuals and we were supposed to have created our own faces. If I didn't have our personalities and which we chose, which we selected using our moral rectitude. NEIL:  We are not bodies. We are pure. You know, in that whole kind of mind. ALICIA:  Ether, mind. Where my, like, Ooh, we must be bodies cause those two completely different people look exactly alike. NEIL:  Oh yeah, exactly. Disgusting. NEIL:  Next card. As soon as I stub my toe, I look for someone to blame. ALICIA:  How did you know that about me? NEIL:  I guess we're similar in that way. Not everyone's that way. ALICIA:  Oh, it is so... When, when the boys were little, one of them, I'm not going to say who, cause you know, it's a little personal. NEIL:  50/50 chance though. Two kids, Ben and Philip. ALICIA:  True. True. NEIL:  If you're listening, this is about one of you. ALICIA:  But I'm respecting your privacy, cause it's just, it's all, you get all the plausible deniability if it's a 50/50 chance. So if he, like, fell, or if he stubbed his toe, like let's say he hurt himself on the floor, he would bang that floor, angry at the floor. NEIL:  When he was a kid? ALICIA:  Yeah, hitting the floor, mad at the floor. He was mad at the object that hurt him. But I absolutely, I stub my toe and I try to think of whose fault was that. Isn't that nutty? NEIL:  Absolutely. It's horrible. Jeff is not like that. ALICIA:  I don't care if they hear it, but my parents are totally... My mom... Mom, I love you. But you know, you're always looking for the blame. And I'm always like, and of course, you know, I'm always trying to blame Ellen, and right? NEIL:  Right? Yeah, of course. Proximity. ALICIA:  And it all seems like completely reasonable to me until I notice I do it even when I stub my toe. And then it's like, wait a minute... NEIL:  I mean, I guess it begs the question, what are the consequences of there not being - ALICIA:  Someone to blame - NEIL:  There's no fault. ALICIA:  Man. NEIL:  What, I mean, in a way, that's a beautiful moment somehow. I think it's also like a very scary moment. ALICIA:  Frightening, out of control, random. NEIL:  Right. But also free somehow. I think? I don't know, whatever part of the brain that assigns blame to discharge that. ALICIA:  Perfectible. Cause if the person would only not. Then no one would stub their toe again if they'd only get it right. NEIL:  Next card. I know you, at a certain point in your life, were a subway musician. I'm going to say something provocative. ALICIA:  Okay. NEIL:  We don't need subway musicians. ALICIA:  They need us. NEIL:  I don't care. We don't need, we don't need buskers of any sort anywhere. We don't. ALICIA:  What about parkour? NEIL:  Parkour, they're doing it for themselves. You mean where they rebound off buildings and shit like that? ALICIA:  No, they do it in the subway car and they ask for money. NEIL:  Oh, Showtime. Nope. Not that neither. That neither. I'm more disposed to that particular narrative than to like the heartfelt  acoustic singer or really anything, but I'm just ready to come down with a full, like no buskers anywhere. ALICIA:  Uh huh. Well, you know, did you feel that way 30 years ago? NEIL:  I think I might have. ALICIA:  Really? NEIL:  Yeah. Because for me, the subway is enough. The subway, everything is enough. ALICIA:  More than enough. NEIL:  It's more than enough. Absolutely. This street is enough. The Plaza is enough, and I understand that that's proposing a separation between the Plaza and the musician or the musician and the subway. NEIL:  Actually, up until very recently, I was like not into putting headphones in when I was on the street. It's like, the street will do just fine. Now, by the way, I do put the headphones in. ALICIA:  To escape the street or cause you're bored without them? NEIL:  I think it's for the same reason that I like not being in therapy. It's like I'm going to choose not to use this time to think. Or my thinking will be directed by whatever I'm listening to, whether it's a podcast or music. So I think I always felt that, yeah. ALICIA:  I always loved street performers. They made me feel like the joy of humanity. Oh my God. NEIL:  Really? If anything could make me change my mind, which it can't, it would be knowing something like that, like that makes other people happy, I - maybe it's my own narcissism or solipsism or whatever ism. It's like, I just assume everyone feels a slight variation on what I feel. I mean, I feel like at best people are like, interested. Um, I didn't know that, like it's actively bringing joy to people like you. ALICIA:  I would go out looking for them. I mean - NEIL:  Wow! ALICIA:  Partly it was youthful, naivete and enthusiasm, but it was like I would love to go to Central Park, and I would like, uh, street performer hop. I'd go from one to the next. That was my idea of an exciting , you know, adventurous Sunday. NEIL:  Holy shit! My God. Who the fuck knew? ALICIA:  Yeah. Um, and I would love, like if I had friends visiting from another country or city - to show off New York, I would show off all these different performers. NEIL:  I might've  done that, possibly, possibly. Not go out of my way, but if I'm going into a subway platform and there's the street musician, I could kind of inwardly feel like, Oh, I live in a city where we have street musicians. That. Well, at the same time, privately feeling like - ALICIA:  Like stop! NEIL:  Yeah, enough. We don't need it. ALICIA:  You know, in the seventies and eighties, it was new and I would love to see like a P pop player and then, you know, the Pam pipe players. NEIL:  I just feel like the pan pipe, if I may, I just feel like pan pipes only have one emotional register, which is wistful. You know?. And I'm not into wistful ever, ever, ever. You don't need wistful. What are you wistful for? What are you wistful about? Come on. ALICIA:  I'm wistful in advance for the things I have now, but might not in the future. NEIL:  I'm something else about them, but not wistful. ALICIA:  Do you like Brahms, and Dvorak, and romantic chamber music? NEIL:  I don't really know it. ALICIA:  You probably heard it and never pursued it because it was wistful. NEIL:  Next card. Male singers showcasing their vulnerability by singing falsetto. ALICIA:  Ooh. I always thought of it as supreme confidence, but showcasing your vulnerability is confidence. Isn't it? NEIL:  But I feel like it's almost performing vulnerability. ALICIA:  I just am remembering something, which I remember all the time for some reason. When I was in junior high, ninth grade I think, a friend of mine, a female friend... I said something like, Do know this guy? He's got like longish feathered - okay, this is the 70s - reddish straight feathered hair. He, he was just walking by the principal's office singing, you've got a cute way of walking, which is the BG's and it's falsetto, right? NEIL:  It's Leo Sayer. ALICIA:  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. It's the era, but yeah, right. It's not the BG's. And he was singing that and, and she said, Ooh, sounds cute. Like the guy sounds cute. And that was a moment I thought, I don't understand what girls see in boys. I was like, why is that cute? I'm so perplexed what my female friends think is cute and sexy about boys. You know? That probably was a clue. NEIL:  And was that the moment you became a lesbian? ALICIA:  Listen, it was not. I was just like, I don't get heterosexuality. I didn't really know there was an alternative at that point. So. I don't get heterosexuality. I'm not empathetic. I expect heterosexuals to get homosexuality. I can't, I don't get like, it's so hard for me. NEIL:  You're pretty extreme, pretty extreme lesbian. ALICIA:  Not, not in entire, it shouldn't entirely be hard because I think on some level, you know, I'm not a zero or a 10 on the Kinsey spectrum, but like I always have to like do the mental exercise very deliberately of, yes, this heterosexual couple really does love each other. They're not just making it up. Yes, women really do fall in love with men and cry themselves to sleep, and you know, go into deep depressions of if it doesn't go right and they obsess over them and you know, just like I would do with women, like it's so hard. It's so hard for me. I have to believe that truly. NEIL:  And the emotional part is hard for you to believe. So it's not like the idea of like heterosexual people have sex. ALICIA:  No, that's easy. NEIL:  Interesting. The idea that the affective, the emotional part, is hard to believe, that they love each other. ALICIA:  That, that they're out of control, you know, in love with each other or that, I mean, I love men. Like I love you, my friend. NEIL:  I love you too, Alicia. ALICIA:  And I love my sons to infinity, you know. And I, I, they're, they're like no beings I love more in the world than these two males and not despite their maleness. It's what they are. You know, like I love everything about them, and it's very easy for me in a way to imagine anybody being in love with them, of course. Who wouldn't be in love with my sons. But, when I consider, it's mostly movies and literature, it's like, really? NEIL:  I find it really refreshing. You really have carved yourself a bit of freedom within heteronormativity to be able to like, not believe in heterosexuality in the way that you're talking about. ALICIA:  Do you make an analogy, like do you identify with the woman in a heterosexual couple or do you have no trouble imagining that, that romantic love? NEIL:  I don't. No, super don't. I mean, sometimes I have more trouble imagining it in a homosexual relationship, I think. I don't know. Yeah. I mean, I think that's a, that's a bigger problem for me, probably, even though I'm in love with Jeff and, you know, and, uh. ALICIA:  You see? Everybody has a weird brain. NEIL:  Oh, okay. We can agree to that. I love it. Okay, Alicia. Let's do bad over good. What's the X you would take a bad of over a Y you would  take a good of? ALICIA:  You know what, even this is a loaded question, because what I've been thinking about a lot lately is like I have a hard time recreating, basically. I'm such a nerd. It's like... NEIL:  You want edification. ALICIA:  I know, and part of it is sincere, like I do enjoy the learning, learning languages and reading, but, it seems to me like I would take a bad history book over a good mystery book because I don't know how, I don't know how to have fun, you know? ALICIA:  And that's how I live anyway. I'm trying to like explore that, but I'm just noticing. If I have some free time, it's like, Ooh, now I could practice my scales and go back to Duolingo where I'm working on Hebrew and Japanese right now, and it's like, you know, Ellen, my wife is like, Oh, now I could finish a season of the Bachelor. ALICIA:  But, I think I'd rather read a badly-written edifying thing than watch the most hilarious season of the Bachelor. NEIL:  Wow. You're a paradox, or not a paradox. It's opposite day for Alicia Svigals. That's great though. I hear that. I think that's what gives the pleasure to doing the TV thing. It's the release from the imperative for edification. NEIL:  There's just a certain pleasure that becomes available when your intention is different than to be eating your spinach on some level. You know what I mean? ALICIA:  All I do is frigging eat my spinach. I'm trying to stop that. NEIL:  On that note, Alicia Spiegels, thank you so much for being on SHE’S A TALKER. ALICIA:  Thank you for having me. This was like, just like having coffee with you, with an engineer present, very discreet and like, I totally forgot that we were recording. NEIL:  Thank you. NEIL:  Cut. NEIL:  Huge thank you for listening to this episode of SHE’S A TALKER. If there's someone else you think might like it, I'd love it if you'd share it with them and if you have a couple of seconds to rate and review it on Apple Podcasts, it really helps people find this during season one, a number of folks let me know they had their own responses for some of the cards. NEIL:  If you have thoughts you'd like to share, we'd love to feature them too. Write to us at shesatalker@gmail.com or on Instagram @shesatalker. This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devon Guinn produced this episode. Andrew Litton mixed it. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. NEIL:  Our card flipped beats come from Josh Graver, and my husband Jeff Hiller sings the theme song you're about to hear. Thanks to all of them and to my guest, Alicia Svigals, and to you for listening. JEFF HILLER:  SHE’S A TALKER with Neil Goldberg. SHE’S A TALKER with fabulous guests. SHE’S A TALKER it's better than it sounds. Yeah.

E

Jan 2020

26 min 17 sec

Comedian John Early talks about blooper reel politics and the challenges of performing sleep. ABOUT THE GUEST:  John Early is a comedian and actor who plays Elliott in the television show Search Party and has appeared on Thirty Rock, Difficult People, Broad City, At Home with Amy Sedaris, Los Espookys and many others. He has also written and starred in his own episode of Netflix's The Characters and co-wrote and starred in the Vimeo Plus series 555 with Kate Berlant. ABOUT THE HOST:  Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE:  SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS:  This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald  Editor: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao  Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Roger Kingsepp, Tod Lippy, Nick Rymer, Maddy Sinnock, Sue Simon, Shirin Mazdeyasna   TRANSCRIPT

E

Dec 2019

26 min 14 sec

Choreographer Miguel Gutierrez talks about the beauty of confident mistakes and what you can learn about people by how they handle fruit. ABOUT THE GUEST: Miguel Gutierrez is a choreographer, composer, performer, singer, writer, educator and advocate who has lived in New York for over twenty years. He has been presented in more than 60 cities around the world, in venues such as at Centre Pompidou, Festival Universitario, ImPulsTanz, Walker Art Center, MCA Chicago, and the 2014 Whitney Biennial. He is a Guggenheim and has received four Bessies. More information at miguelgutierrez.org. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao

E

Dec 2019

25 min 30 sec

Cartoonist Roz Chast talks about arsenic-infused wallpaper and the occasional dutifulness of "I love you, too." ABOUT THE GUEST: Roz Chast has had her cartoons and covers featured in The New Yorker magazine since 1978. She is the author of several cartoon collections and children’s books. Her graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was short-listed for a National Book Award in 2014. You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples, an illustrated collection of love and relationship advice from writer Patricia Marx, with illustrations by Roz, will be released in January 2020. More info at rozchast.com. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao

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Dec 2019

23 min 9 sec

Cultural critic Robert Reid-Pharr examines the existential choice between elapsed time and remaining time on the elliptical. ABOUT THE GUEST: Robert Reid-Pharr is a Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of African and African American Studies at Harvard. He is the author of four books: Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique, Conjugal Union: The Body, the House, and the Black American; Black, Gay, Man: Essays; and Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao

E

Nov 2019

24 min 34 sec

Choreographer Karen Sherman talks about the politics of applause and the olfactory landscape of the stage. ABOUT THE GUEST: Karen Sherman makes performances that have been presented by P.S. 122, Walker Art Center, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, PICA/TBA Festival, Highways Performance Space, Philadelphia Dance Projects, and many other spaces across the U.S. Her work has been recognized with a Bessie Award, two McKnight Foundation Fellowships in Choreography, several MacDowell Colony fellowships, and residencies through Vermont Performance Lab and the Bogliasco Foundation program in Liguria, Italy. She was a 2016-2017 Hodder Fellow in The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. More information at karenshermanperformance.org. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao

E

Nov 2019

28 min 25 sec

Writer and performer Mike Albo talks about enthusiasm as a gay survival strategy and the erotics of fermented food. ABOUT THE GUEST: Mike Albo is a writer, performer, humorist and author. His novels include Hornito (HarperCollins) and The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life (BloomsburyUSA), co-written with Virginia Heffernan. His solo shows, Spermhood and The Junket, have been presented nationally. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Fraser McCulloch Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao

E

Nov 2019

24 min 29 sec

Writer Jia Tolentino contemplates whether animals can feel embarrassed for other animals and explores her desire to die in space. ABOUT THE GUEST: Jia Tolentino is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of the essay collection Trick Mirror. Formerly, she was the deputy editor at Jezebel and a contributing editor at the Hairpin. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine and Pitchfork, among other places. She lives in Brooklyn. ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Roger Kingsepp, Tod Lippy, Nick Rymer, Maddy Sinnock, Sue Simon, Shirin Mazdeyasna

E

Nov 2019

28 min

Performer Morgan Bassichis talks about the drama of sealing an envelope and the pleasure of leaving parties early.  ABOUT THE GUEST: Morgan Bassichis is a comedic performer whose recent shows include Nibbling the Hand That Feeds Me in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, Klezmer for Beginners at Abrons Arts Center (2019), Damned If You Duet at the Kitchen (2018), and More Protest Songs! at Danspace Project (2018). Morgan has presented work at the New Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, MoMA PS1, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art. They have contributed writing to Artforum, Radical History Review, Captive Genders, and the 2019 edition of The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions (1977). ABOUT THE HOST: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE:  SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS: This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Producer: Devon Guinn Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald Editor: Andrew Litton Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver Theme Song: Jeff Hiller Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Roger Kingsepp, Tod Lippy, Nick Rymer, Maddy Sinnock, Sue Simon, Shirin Mazdeyasna   TRANSCRIPT  

E

Nov 2019

26 min 24 sec

Comedian Naomi Ekperigin discusses her feelings about the spacebar key and the wisdom of not trusting your gut. ABOUT THE GUEST:  Naomi Ekperigin is an actor, stand-up comedian and writer who has appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Two Dope Queens, and her own Comedy Central Half Hour special. Naomi has written for Comedy Central's Broad City, Hulu's Difficult People, and NBC's Great News. In 2017, she was listed as one of "10 Comedians You Need to Know" by Rolling Stone. Check out her podcast, with co-host/financé Andy Beckerman, at couplestherapypod.com. ABOUT THE HOST:  Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE:  SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS:  This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald  Editor: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao  Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Roger Kingsepp, Tod Lippy, Nick Rymer, Maddy Sinnock, Sue Simon, Shirin Mazdeyasna   TRANSCRIPT

E

Oct 2019

28 min 4 sec

Writer and performer Annie Lanzillotto discusses the pleasure of wolfing food down and how the "feels like" temperature is measured. ABOUT THE GUEST:  Born and raised in the Westchester Square neighborhood of the Bronx of Barese heritage, Annie Lanzillotto is renowned memoirist, poet, and performance artist. She's the author of L IS FOR LION: AN ITALIAN BRONX BUTCH FREEDOM MEMOIR (SUNY Press), the books of poetry SCHISTSONG (Bordighera Press) and Hard Candy/Pitch Roll Yaw (Guernica Editions). She has received fellowships and performance commissions from New York Foundation For The Arts, Dancing In The Streets, Dixon Place, Franklin Furnace, The Rockefeller Foundation for shows including CONFESSIONS OF A BRONX TOMBOY: My Throwing Arm, This Useless Expertise, How to Wake Up a Marine in a Foxhole, and a’Schapett. More info at annielanzillotto.com. Catch Annie performing her one-person show Feed Time at City Lore in Manhattan on November 15 at 7:30pm. ABOUT THE HOST:  Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com. ABOUT THE TITLE:  SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast. CREDITS:  This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund.  Producer: Devon Guinn  Creative Consultants: Stella Binion, Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue  Assistant Producers: Itai Almor, Charlie Theobald  Editor: Andrew Litton  Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver  Theme Song: Jeff Hiller  Media: Justine Lee with help from Angela Liao and Alex Qiao  Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Roger Kingsepp, Tod Lippy, Nick Rymer, Maddy Sinnock, Sue Simon, Shirin Mazdeyasna TRANSCRIPT: ANNIE LANZILLOTTO: In the Bronx we weren't poor. You're in the Bronx. My father was, working class, had his own business. There wasn't such big class distinctions. It was like Fiddler on the Roof class distinctions, like the butcher ate better. NEIL GOLDBERG: Right. ANNIE: We all had Raleigh Choppers. That was the best bicycle and really, most of us on the block could get that, a Schwinn or a Raleigh, you know? That was it really. That was in terms of being a kid, that was the class distinction. I achieved it, so I grew up feeling pretty rich until I was 13. NEIL: Hello, I'm Neil Goldberg and this is my new podcast, She's A Talker. On today's episode I'll be talking to one-of-a-kind of poet, playwright, memoirist and performer Annie Lanzillotto. But first, I want to tell you a little bit about the podcast itself. I'm a visual artist, but for the last million or so years I've been writing passing thoughts down on index cards. I've got thousands of them. I originally wrote the cards just for me or maybe as starting points for future art projects, but now I'm using them as prompts for conversations with some of my favorite artists, writers, performers, and beyond. Why is it called She's A Talker? Way back in 1993, I made my first-ever video project which featured dozens of gay men in their apartments all over New York city combing their cats and saying the words, "She's a talker." 25 years later, I'm excited to resurrect the phrase for this podcast. NEIL: Each episode, I'll start with some recent cards. Here they are, photo project, the litter boxes of celebrities, those people who have strong feelings about you're saying, "Bless you.", Before they sneeze. Babies making their dolphin noises at a wedding. Those glass buildings that appear curved, but then you realize it's just an approximation of a curve made from rectangle. I am so excited to have as my guest, writer and performer Annie Lanzillotto. Annie and I went to college together many, many years ago and have been dear friends ever since. She produced, what to this day, is still one of my favorite performance pieces ever. A site-specific opera featuring the vendors at the Arthur Avenue market near where she grew up in the Bronx. I remember a butcher singing a gorgeous love aria while frying up chicken hearts. NEIL: Annie has a new double book of poetry out from Guernica Editions, called Hard Candy / Pitch Roll Yaw, which touches on parental mortality, her own struggles with cancer and poverty. And if that sounds heavy, there is so much beauty and joy and pleasure and straight-up polarity in the work. I spoke to Annie very late on a very hot August night in my art studio in Chinatown. NEIL: I'm recording. I'm recording. NEIL: I'm here with Annie Lanzillotto. Okay, Annie. Here are a couple of questions that I ask everyone. What is the elevator pitch for what you do? ANNIE: Oh my God, that's so hard. I write and speak and put my body on stage, and in live and an audience, whoever's in the room, I resuscitate that room. NEIL: Is that what you would say to someone in an elevator who asks, "Hey, what do you do?" ANNIE: No. NEIL: What would you say to them? I resuscitate the room. ANNIE: Some people I say, "Well, I do theater. Oh, I'm in theater." Then they say, "Oh, I saw the Lion King.", or something. Oh, that's beautiful. At some point when I was cleaning out the closets, I found the picture I drew as a kid. I think the question was, what do you do or what do you want to do or what do want to be or whatever? I drew five situations where this stick figure was commanding a story. One was at the table, one was on a corner, one was on the stage, and I thought, "That's what I do." NEIL: I love it. I love it. ANNIE: The truth about my elevator pitch is I'm listening to the other person in the elevator. That really is the truth. I always feel like I'm very good at bonding but not so good at networking. So, that elevator pitch, in my mind, is someone who is in a position maybe to help me advance my work, which is a problem to frame it that way. But in reality they end up telling me about their sick kid and we're hugging and that's really the elevator pitch. NEIL: Right. ANNIE: I'm just listening to- NEIL: Do you do an elevator catch? ANNIE: Yeah. Just listen. NEIL: What did your mom, Annie, let's say a friend of hers asked her, "What does Annie do?" What would she say? ANNIE: Well, she at times, probably would've said, I taught. I did workshops, taught writing and theater. I think with her neighbors, she would really share with them her love and pride. NEIL: How about your grandmother? Why would she say? ANNIE: Oh God. Well, Grandma Rose, she would, Grandma Rose always wanted to know you were eating good. At the time when she was alive, I was hustling a lot of teaching jobs, like Poet in the Schools. Mostly I was a Poet in the School, so I would call her between schools. I was running from one school and another school and she'd just always want to know cosa mangia oggi? What did you eat today? Really that was the conversation. NEIL: Would she, in talking about you with friends, would she tell them what you had eaten that day? How's Annie doing? ANNIE: She's a good eater. She eats good. Mangia bene. No, I don't know. I don't think she talked to her friends that way. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: But to boil it down, she would want to know if you're making money. And that's the conversation with friends. Oh, she's a good girl. She makes money. She helps her mother. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: It wasn't about career choice or something. NEIL: Annie, what's something you find yourself thinking about today? ANNIE: One thought I'm having is that prices are arbitrary. The other day I went for breakfast in a diner. I ordered one way, but the waitress understood in a different way. So anyway, it was two eggs, whatever. So she said, "That'll be $17." I said, "That sounds like a lot." She said," Oh well you got this, you got that" I said, "Yeah, but I ordered the combo. It's shouldn't be that much." So she rang it up a different way. She was like, "All right, how about $12?" It's almost seems like prices don't matter and it seems arbitrary. I think this is a new experience for me because in the past I started noticing what my mom, every time we went food shopping, several items were rung up more than they were supposed to be. My mother was sharp at this because I think in ShopRite if you caught a mistake, you got a lot for free, whatever the, there was some bonus like you got that item for free or whatever it was. So she caught them a lot. But it was pretty much every time. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: I'm cognizant now not to buy too many items at once because then I can't keep track of what the prices were on the shelf. The old way, if you go to the market for two, three things, string beans, peaches and a piece of meat you don't lose track because you're buying, you have a push cart with a million items, how can you keep track? So I guess the thought is that prices have no relevance anymore to what the thing is. NEIL: Okay Annie, let's go to the cards. Shall we? ANNIE: Let's do it. Let's go to the cards. NEIL: Okay. Our first card, the card says the pleasure of wearing things out. ANNIE: I love that you brought that up. Well, I was always wearing out my sneakers and throwing them up on the telephone wires or the light wires, or whatever wires were over our heads in the Bronx and that was the joy to wear them out. My mother, who was a cripple as a kid because she fell out a window, would always say to me when she bought me new sneakers, PF flyers with the sneakers that I wore as a kid, "Wear them out. God bless you, be in good health. Wear them out." Every two months I'd wear out those sneakers, and my grandmother was horrified. NEIL: But your mother would love it? ANNIE: Yeah, because to her that was health. Wear out your sneakers. That meant I was doing the work of a tomboy, of the kid. I do feel worried about wearing out pajamas and things that I don't really have money to replace. So my neighbor saw me sewing a new elastic in my pajama bottoms with the flannel pajamas. She was making fun of me." Why don't you just go buy a new pair?" I was like, "Well this season I really don't have another 40, 50 bucks for LLB or whatever. I want to get through the season.", which is something I grew up hearing, but it stayed with me, like see if he could get into the season out of it. NEIL: I wonder if we'll ever feel that way about our lives. Let's see if I can get another season out of this. ANNIE: Well, I do hear people saying, "I wish I had a few more summers at the beach." Or, "I could, I hope I could have a few more summers." People do count like that. NEIL: That's true. ANNIE: Like seasons. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: "I hope I see Italy one more time." I hear people, "Will I get back to Paris." NEIL: Right. ANNIE: You know, I hear people saying things like that. NEIL: yeah, ANNIE: So they do try to stretch it out, I think. I don't know. Sometimes I feel like I've done enough. There is a part of me that feels like I've done enough to be satisfied if there's no more. If there's no more, it's okay. NEIL: Okay, next card. ANNIE: I love these cards. It's like playing a game like Monopoly. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: And you get Community Chest or whatever the- NEIL: I know. ANNIE: Chance. It's like Chance. NEIL: Yeah. Here's this Chance. I think it's important to have access when you are eating something you love to imagine them as they are to people who hate them. For me the classic example of that is dark chocolate, which I love. It's very easy I think, for me to plug into how someone would find this disgusting and somehow my tuning into finding it disgusting, helps me to enjoy it even more. ANNIE: Really? NEIL: Yeah. Do you remember the first time you had coffee? ANNIE: No, because I was probably two years old with expresso on my bottle, like most Italian kids. NEIL: Right. ANNIE: I don't eat things that I know people who, they hate what I eat. But people do, I feel like having a version to my proportions, the amount I eat. I think that freaks people out because I grew up, and I still wolf food down. Just Wolf it down and too much of it. Just shoving it in your mouth. Like your cheeks bulging, you're chewing and you're just yeah. Shoving as much as you can in your mouth, basically. NEIL: In Yiddish, you say, and I think it's related to German, human beings es but animals fres. So, if you're talking about someone eating in a certain way, you say they use the term for how animals eat versus how people eat. ANNIE: Fres? NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: What does that mean? Like that? NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: Like a piece of pizza I could just shove in my mouth, inhale, a good piece, out on the corner. NEIL: Right. ANNIE: I just pull up in Hoboken where my friend is, where she works, there's a great pizzeria right on the corner. She gets free pizza because she does their printing services. So I meet her, she says, "Oh I'll meet you outside" So we get a piece of pizza. Oh you want a piece of pizza. All right, give me a piece of pizza. Fine. I'm an Hoboken, eat a piece of pizza. She gets a few slices. We stand on the corner. Just boom, shove it in our mouth. Wolf it down like folded by. No soda, no water. Just inhale the piece of pizza. NEIL: Is there pleasure in that? ANNIE: Yes. NEIL: Because see I always just associate the pleasure of eating with eating slowly but- ANNIE: No. Not Italians NEIL: Talk to me about it. ANNIE: It's just, this pleasure of your mouth is full of this gooey perfect thing. You just can't believe that you lived another day just to have ... It's like then I want to stay alive because it's such satiation, with just shoving it in your mouth. You're not taking your time because you're not worried there's another bite. It could just be gone. NEIL: See, this makes me feel good because I remember when my dad, after he had a stroke, he couldn't feed himself. He couldn't communicate and we had this person who would help him. She was cold and she used to feed him so quickly, spoonful after spoonful, to get it over with. I knew that my dad actually like to eat slow. I know I talked about with my sister. I was like, you know, do you think I should ask? I can't remember her name, little trauma blocked out, but to feed him slower. My sister said. "No, I think there can be pleasure in eating fast." Speaking of food, but this question doesn't need to just apply to food, what is a taste that you've acquired? ANNIE: Well, coffee, vino, peppermint soap. Dr. Brown's peppermint soap. Myrrh. NEIL: Oh wow. Okay. ANNIE: The street oil from the guys. I've grown accustomed to Myrrh, and the smells of the city, I've learned to groove on in a way. I sometimes feel in the grassy suburbs, I could sneeze hundreds of times and I just need to get to the city and it'll stop. So something about like, yeah, I'm good with the asphalt, tar. My mother used to tell me to go breathe where they're burning tar. She said it clears out your lungs. NEIL: Wow. ANNIE: She said tar ladies and never get colds. NEIL: Okay, next card. I feel really judgmental of people with a strong will to live. ANNIE: That gives me so much good feeling because I'm so tied to having to struggle to live. But the best, Jimmy Cagney in this movie I saw, I don't know what movie. It was on TCN, and he's about to run into this gunfire and he says to his partner, who was hesitating, he says, "What, do you want to live forever?" I thought, "Thank you, thank you. That's just what I needed to hear." I'm so tired of fighting to live, from the cancer and the breathing issues and just, Oh my God, that's a relief. It really is. NEIL: Next card. Life is hard, but how the pitch rises when you fill a water bottle can still be pretty beautiful. ANNIE: The pitch.? NEIL: Yeah. Is that the word for it? ANNIE: Like, how you feel? NEIL: You know when you fill a water bottle and it goes, errr? There's always that still. ANNIE: I like filling my water bottle. I've been filling it in the Britta, so I have to stand there with the fridge open to fill it and then I water the plants and it's the same kind of feeling. I like doing that. I like seeing the plants grow and it's the most pleasurable thing in my life to see in these plants growing and feeding them water. NEIL: I went away and we sublet our place. I have one big plant that really only needs to be watered every two weeks. But I had one plant that needs to be watered, I water it every other day. ANNIE: Every other day? NEIL: Truthfully, this plant, I remember one day I came in, it had wilted, after. I hadn't watered it for three days and I found myself saying out loud, "Drama queen". So anyhow, we were down in DC for a month and I was going to take the plant with me, but we had this really wonderful sub-letter and I just said to her, "Do you think you would be okay watering the plant twice a week? Totally no problem. "If you're not, I'll just take it down with me". She was like, "Absolutely no problem." When I came back, she left me a note that said, I'm so sorry but I killed your plant. ANNIE: Oh my God. NEIL: It was clear it hadn't been watered the whole time I was gone. ANNIE: Really? NEIL: Yeah, I don't think so. I moved on, but my point is, I don't get how a plant could be there in your living room and he could not see it and it could be dying over there without you're taking that in. ANNIE: When I'm someone's house and the plants don't look healthy, I register that in a big way. NEIL: What is that registration? ANNIE: Well, people could think they're so smart or hip or they make such great decisions and doing this. But if you can't take care of a fucking plant, it doesn't mean anything to me. Sometimes I can't go back to people's houses for reasons like that because I can't witness the abuse. NEIL: Plant abuse. ANNIE: Well, any sentient being. Yeah, some of the stuff I just can't stomach, to be honest. The plants dying or no one's ... You're that busy? Then what do you have plants for? Give it away. I just can't- NEIL: I hear you. Do you think of plants a sentient? ANNIE: Yeah, a plant is alive and I think communicates in ways we'll never understand. A plant has movement, responds to light, water, earth, the sky, the sun, everything. NEIL: I just have a card that's called, swallowing pills. ANNIE: Swallowed a big one today. NEIL: Yeah. ANNIE: Before I go to the dentist, I have to take Amoxicillin. In America they give you a 500 milligram pills. You got to take four. NEIL: Wow. ANNIE: They go down easy. But I had some Amoxicillin from Sicily. They were one- gram pills. They were big and I tried to swallow three times. I couldn't get it down. I had to really focused then. Should I bite it, should I swallow it? what can I try? Am I going to choke on it? Finally I got it down this morning, but it wasn't coated so it stuck a little in the mouth. I went through this whole thing with this pill. NEIL: You really have to consciously will yourself. The experience of swallowing pills is such an odd, it's not eating. You have to do this thing where you don't chew something. Swallowing- ANNIE: You got to open the back of your mouth a little bit, the throat a little bit. NEIL: Yeah. And it goes against something really basic or a bunch of things that are really basic. ANNIE: It does. Right. You don't swallow M&Ms. NEIL: Right. ANNIE: You'd never swallow an M&M. NEIL: Absolutely not. ANNIE: Never would you swallow an M&M. it would be like, what are you doing? NEIL: I had a colonoscopy recently. ANNIE: Oh, brother. NEIL: Thank you. ANNIE: Nice and clean? NEIL: One thing, I was telling a friend, I got a colonoscopy and he said, "Oh, you know, I had it. I just did one, a couple of months ago, and my doctor really commended me for how clean my colon was." I realized when I had a, because I've had to have a few because of this history in my family. Every time, they go out of their way to praise what a job, how clean your colon is. So when I was done with the colonoscopy, and I was talking to this friend and he said, "Well did he praise you for how clean your colon was?" I was like, "He didn't." ANNIE: He didn't? NEIL: He didn't, but then I got the report about the colonoscopy and it's like very formal, and it's the patient presented with an exceedingly clean colon or something. ANNIE: Which is abnormal. NEIL: Exactly. ANNIE: Very abnormal. NEIL: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Last card. The feels-like temperature. ANNIE: Feels like. NEIL: You know how you feel when the weather- ANNIE: It feels like, yeah, that's weird. NEIL: What is the feels-like temperature? ANNIE: I don't know but- NEIL: How do they- ANNIE: But today when I felt like, before I put on a jacket, I had to go on the stoop to feel what it was going to feel like. Then I didn't do it. But I don't know how they measure the feels-like temperature. That's a sweet thought. So there's a thermometer, then there's a naked lady standing there saying, "Well the thermometer says this, but it really feels that." That should be a job for somebody. NEIL: Oh my God, to come up with the feels-like temperature? ANNIE: Yeah. Like is it a nipple hard day? Is it what day? What kind of day is it? NEIL: Okay. Annie, this is a quantification question. What's something bad or even just okay that you would take over a good thing of something else. ANNIE: All right, I'll give you a list. A bad eggplant Parmesan hero over a good raw sushi meal. A bad thunderstorm storm over a hundred-degree day. A hard day in the hospital with someone I'm close to, over being at the beach with 10 friends. Take any day, bad or good in the rehearsal room, over chit-chat brunch. A bad rant in the basement of the mental home with my father over a beautiful meal with intellectuals. NEIL: On that note, Annie, I love you. Thank you for being on the show, She's A Talker. ANNIE: She's a talker, baby. Thank you, Neil. You're my favorite host. NEIL: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of She's A Talker. I really hope you liked it. To help other people find it, I'd love it if you might rate and review it on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to it. Some credits. This series is made possible with generous from Stillpoint Fund, and with help from Devon Guinn, Aaron Dalton, Stella Binion, Charlie Theobald, Itai Almor, Alex Qiao, Molly Donahue, Justine Lee, Angela Liao, Andrew Litton, Josh Graver, and my husband Jeff Hiller who sings the theme song you're about to hear. Thanks to them, to my guest, Annie Lanzillotto, and to you for listening.  

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Oct 2019

24 min 24 sec

Introducing SHE'S A TALKER, a podcast in which visual artist Neil Goldberg talks with some of his favorite New Yorkers (and former New Yorkers and New Yorkers at heart) about the everyday and overlooked. In this trailer, you’ll hear excerpts from comedians John Early and Naomi Ekperigin, poet Annie Lanzillotto, and Harvard professor of race and gender studies Robert Reid-Pharr. Subscribe now, and episodes will appear in your feed every Friday starting October 25, when the podcast launches. Enjoy! About the Host: Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA and other museums, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. About the Title: SHE'S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast.

Sep 2019

2 min 16 sec