Ander Monson Interview
Amy Wright: You mention in Neck Deep and Other Predicaments, that Michael Martone sends you periodic postcards. What has your friendship with him taught you?
Ander Monson: For Martone I'm not sure what attracts him to postcards, or why he keeps sending them to me (and to a whole bunch of others, I expect). It's the compression, probably, and the byzantine quality of the mail service (general delivery, for instance, is a favorite nook of his), that old technology. I've only sent him maybe 2 postcards in my lifetime, partly because my handwriting sucks, though I sent him a pretty great vintage postcard I ran across in Florida this last August. Most of my communication is done over email. I do write periodically to some other writers, too, and have started to embrace that process, partly for its pleasing formality and again its physicality (I have a pad designed for telegrams that I like to use to send around, but for me writing other people is less about the writing and more about what I write on or with. I like collage; I like old forms and stationeries. And as I mention in that essay in Neck Deep I've had these Letterettes that I think I've finally used up, or else I've lost them.
Martone is always engaged in one project or another, usually manifesting themselves in physical ways (postcards, his small press, his many anthologies and books) and that polyamory has been an inspiration to me, though the term /inspiration/ has been leached of much of its meaning from the self-help, feel-good culture of the last couple decades in America, and I hate to use the dying term. Still. At the least we are fellow travelers in this particular way of engaging with the world.
I received a very strange package in the mail six months ago, in response, potentially, to a project I was asking friends to do for my 33rd birthday, in which I had asked them to make me a mix cd as a birthday present, and that I had hoped to get 33, as a kind of record of that third of life, or whatever it is. Word got around and I got a lot of them, more than 50, some from really random people whom I had not contacted. A standard business-sized envelope appeared in the mail one day with no return address, addressed to me in handwriting I did not recognize. The postmark was from Nebraska City, Nebraska, which of course seems like a fake city, but it turns out it is a real city, real enough anyhow to be on Google Maps and to have its own wikipedia page, and it looks to be a nice Nebraskan small town, and the official home of Arbor Day through some confluence of history and trees which I do not believe Nebraska is otherwise famous for. The envelope contained a microcassette that had been smashed in transit (or possibly smashed before transit) so it was unplayable. It sat on my shelf as I tried to figure out what to do with it. I didn't have a microcassette player, and the tape itself—the magnetic tape, not the case—was undamaged, so it's likely it could be repaired. I bought a blank microcassette in order to transplant the tape into a fresh body to make it again playable, but it resisted my abilities to lever the thing open. Because I did not know who had sent the tape, and because none of my friends, when queried, copped to it, I felt I had a real mystery on my hands. I finally ended up sending the thing away to a tape repair place I found online, and for a piddling $45, had the thing transplanted into a new body, and also burned to a CD so I could more easily listen to it. I brought the CD on an airplane (I forget where exactly I was en route to) and popped it in my computer to listen to with earbuds. The story goes on longer here, but here's what I found: the tape consists of recordings of one character's dialogue from the film version of the novel Anatomy of a Murder, the only film I can think of offhand (aside from the ludicrous Ben Affleck action flick Reindeer Games) that is filmed, and set, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I'm from. The recording is of the comments made by the judge character during the murder trial, responding, mostly to objections and arguments made by the lawyer characters, one played by Jimmy Stewart, and one played by George C. Scott. It's actually a pretty good movie, and a slightly better novel, though it is of course a genre novel and reads as dated by some of the conventions of the genre. I had not, at the time, seen the film, so I didn't recognize the dialogue, nor the character names, and the whole experience of it had me a little bit freaked out because I had written about a murder, a real-life murder, albeit fictionalized, in Upper Michigan in Other Electricities. And the circumstances of the package's arrival were almost verbatim from what you'd expect of a murder mystery type of novel.
I still have no idea who sent the tape, who bothered to record (and edit, apparently, which took some work, since the recording is indeed clean) just the judge's lines. And what this has to do with me, obviously, is not entirely clear. Am I the judge? Is the sender of the package the judge? And why was it sent from Nebraska City, Nebraska? And why on microcassette? And why unmarked and unlabeled and unpadded in a plain envelope? There are mysteries in this world, quite obviously, and this is one of them. I think, mainly because of the Nebraska City, Nebraska postmark, that it is about 20% possible that this was sent to me by Martone on one of his jags through the midwest. Which is to say I don't know this is true by any means, and I haven't asked him, and partly I'd prefer not to, to maintain the possibility that Martone, who is a trickster character in thought if not always in action, is responsible for this strangeness. And that is what being friends with the writer and person Michael Martone means, that a lot of things are possible, even if they are not always true.
AW: You must know Paul Auster's The Red Notebook, a collection of metaphorical coincidences, one of which describes the wrong number that prompted his first novel. Twice a caller called requesting The Pinkerton Agency, which Auster's apartment was not. After the second call, Auster was tempted to front as a detective if he called again. He didn't, but in the expectation, Auster penned a character named Quinn who receives two similar calls, wanting to be put through to Paul Auster, and the novel, City of Glass, begins. Ten years and several novels and apartments later, Auster receives a phone call requesting to speak to Mr. Quinn. This “is a true story,” Auster says. A mystery, because it is not a crime, but a crime, perhaps, to think oneself the author.