Self-Contained on the Tongue
Amy Wright: Did you ever have an imaginary friend? A pet rock? A marmoset?
Brenda Miller: I did have an imaginary friend when I was very young. Her name was Susan. She was always in charge, always criticizing, always stomping away from me in disgust. Once I stood at the edge of a giant puddle in my backyard (it always flooded in the hard rains that swept through L.A. in the spring), making little boats out of twigs and leaves. I squatted down in my rubber boots, intent on my work, and I could hear Susan telling me to just forget it, my boat would never sail. So I put her on one of them, pushed it out with my thumb, watched it wobble out to the middle then sink sideways in the mud. Susan was calling for help, but I just stood there, then went inside for a piece of rye toast spread with peanut butter. I hope this doesn’t reflect too poorly on my character.
AW: What’s your favorite kind of candy?
BM: Junior Mints. I love the way each one is so self-contained on the tongue, so surprising, no matter how many you eat. I once overdosed on Junior Mints at a movie theater; it was the premier of one of those movies you stand in lines for hours to get into: Star Wars or Star Trek or something like that. It didn’t really matter: I was there not for the movie but for the boys. Boys who were in that in-between stage between child and man, smelling of pot and Brut. Boys who wore their shirts halfway tucked in, and high-topped sneakers. We finally got to our seats, and I’d already eaten half a King-size box of Junior Mints, then polished it off even before the previews were over. I had to climb over the legs of many boys to make it to the bathroom before I threw up. I didn’t eat Junior Mints for a long time after that, but then they weaseled their way back into my affections.
AW: What’s the most unexpected or categorically unspiritual of your go-to sacred texts?
BM: Charlotte’s Web. Now some would call this a blatantly spiritual text, but I never noticed it until a few months ago. All I knew was that I carried this book around with me since the time I was seven. It made it into every moving box, onto every bookshelf. I remember its torn cover giving me comfort in the tiny studio apartment I rented as a graduate student in Missoula, Mt. The apartment building dated from the turn of the century, and each apartment had a cunning little bed that slipped into the sideboard like a drawer. I don’t think the mattress had been changed in all that time. I’d lay on that musty mattress, looking up at the few books on the shelf in that cupboard, wondering if I could ever really be a writer. Charlotte would always be there, spinning her words of wisdom above me. I memorized the closing lines, in which Wilbur muses: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” I think I’d always taken that as a directive, to be a true friend and a good writer, and maybe I’ve accomplished at least one of those mandates.
AW: Fanny Howe says “Tonight I request the precious gift of final perseverance.” Tonight, what would you request?
BM: Tonight I request oatmeal cookies, with chunks of almonds and chocolate. Tonight I request the tea to be hot, and the fire easily kindled. Tonight I request the restless owls to settle down, commune in silence, be only a swishing presence through the air. Tonight, no mating in the wild. Tonight, only a welcoming bed. Cloud light. Rain passing through. Steady dawn. Spiders watching over us and weaving safety nets in the air. Junior Mints. Rye toast. Little boats made of twigs and leaves.