Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Advent 2021, Dec 22: Ander Monson: 150 Random Things About Me Too


After Matias Viegener's 2500 Random Things About Me Too 


  1. I should say up front I wrote this while my daughter was at karate.
  2. I dislike writing longhand but it was all I had so I went for it.
  3. I’m already uncomfortable about how I feature prominently in this story about my life, as I always seem to.
  4. I’ve been feeling lately like my introduction to Renee Gladman was the wrong one, or perhaps just at the wrong time.
  5. All of a sudden Gladman is popping up in everything good I’m reading which usually means I need to reencounter her.
  6. The issue with longhand at night in the car during karate is that I’m writing into shadow, the car light being blocked out by my hand as I write toward the right margin.
  7. I don’t like not being able to see what I’m writing. It’s a control thing I suppose.
  8. I’m worried about _________.
  9. Really I’m worried about _________.
  10. But really my worry is about myself.
  11. There's a lot I'm not going to tell you about my family situation.
  12. At least not publicly.
  13. You can read my other essays for more of that. Or other writers for even more. I'm not your go-to for that kind of material, at least not at this point in the essay!
  14. Let me say I have a lot of voicemails saved on my phone from _________, so many that I keep getting notifications that my voicemail box is nearly full. They're pretty wild.
  15. I mean isn't it weird that a voicemail box can be full in this era of unlimited cloud storage?
  16. When I had a digital answering machine in college and after, people often left me messages there.
  17. They’ve now been deleted for years, but I wish I still had them. 
  18. It’s amazing how permanent an answering machine message seemed then, but, the digital one especially, if it lost power for a moment it erased. 
  19. Didn’t it?
  20. I mean, it must have had a battery backup I'm pretty sure, but when the battery ran down it would just die out, and all those messages would die with it. 
  21. It made it tricky to move the machine. I don't remember how many hours you had of battery power, but if it didn't get connected again to power, it would erase.
  22. Actually maybe it'd be better if everything did this so we didn't have to be bound to them.
  23. I don’t like beginning with _________ especially when they've made demands that I don't write about them.
  24. This is a demand _________ cannot of course make.
  25. Also demanding that I not write about _________ only makes me want to write about _________ more.


  26. I should tell you up front I borrowed this form.
  27. I mean what form isn't borrowed, but this one's directly borrowed from Matias Viegener's 2500 Random Things About Me Too.
  28. I think about his book often.
  29. Viegener borrowed his form too.
  30. It's a book made from a Facebook meme (list 25 random things about you and tag x # of friends) repeated to exhaustion.
  31. He did that once, then did it again, then 98 more times, and boom he had a book.
  32. It's more complicated than that, though, obviously.
  33. But the iterative process starts to pull things out of you that you wouldn't otherwise have written about.
  34. Like _________
  35. Like how _________ is not a benign presence in my life. 
  36. Like don't tell me to not write about you. Like once _________ told me to write about _________, but didn't like the way I wrote about them.
  37. Obviously.
  38. Like if you don’t want a writer to write about you being an asshole, don’t be an asshole is what I want to tell _________, but I also don’t want to talk to _________ at all.
  39. After I switched pens writing this got easier.
  40. It’s because my other pen was dying that I really was having to push hard to make a mark.
  41. I really dislike when a pen seems to still have ink—you can see it in the cartridge or whatever you call it—it’s definitely not empty—but stops writing, or takes a painful amount of pressure to get anything down.
  42. [Joke about erectile dysfunction]
  43. [Very Thalia Field from her newest book]
  44. Pump bottles of lotion where you can’t get the last 20% out drive me NUTS for the same reason.
  45. Every bottle feels like I’m being had by the capitalist machine—just a little bit, I know, but it hurts.
  46. This is not a metaphor for _________, but due to their proximity in this essay they become at least a little bit intertwined.
  47. I write too much about thaumatropes, which I’m now obliged to explain.
  48. A thaumatrope is a two-sided disc or card on a string or stick, with two separate images on each side, and when spun, they appear superimposed.
  49. Spun, a bird and an empty cage become a bird in a cage.
  50. It’s amazing how easily our minds can be tricked, or perform this trick.


  51. You see anything can be superimposed with anything by proximity and repetition.
  52. The car door next to me just opened and out poured a cloud of cigarette smoke. 
  53. It’s awful. 
  54. I hate smoke.
  55. Does anyone like smoke? Do smokers?
  56. But I love fire. So I mean I hate cigarette smoke. Smoking them and the smoke it produces.
  57. I’m choking on it some as I write.
  58. The other car on my right is rattling off a combination of facts—personal and not: Aaron Rodgers got Covid; another NFL guy whose name I missed drove drunk and hit and killed a girl and also her dog. And so on.
  59. One function of writing these like this is that some of the interesting facts come in from the world unbidden. 
  60. You can’t even keep them out, or at least I’m not trying to.
  61. It’s like that other Thalia Field essay.
  62. I think about it a lot but I haven’t reread it recently.
  63. I do love a steno book.
  64. I particularly love this brand in particular; it reads on the front STENO and then it reads NOTES.
  65. Do they know that these two words are anagrams? I hope so.
  66. As a result I keep buying more. 
  67. They are otherwise unfancy steno pads. 
  68. The woman in the car on the right is listening to something very derivative of Prince.
  69. Possibly it is Prince; I just can’t hear it well enough to tell.
  70. Prince rules. This is not a surprising fact.
  71. There’s too much noise to make out the signal clearly. 
  72. But man, the karate parents are a piece of work. 
  73. I like to think of these hours of downtime as opportunities for encounter or intimacy, but fuck, sometimes I really don’t want to encounter much of the world.
  74. They are happy to encounter me, however. Last time I heard this woman just screaming at her 7-year-old.
  75. That was brutal, not just the screaming, but the not caring that anybody could hear. I was just sitting in my car listening, unsure what, if anything to do.


  76. I guess I put it in here is what I did. It was a fact. It is a fact. It remains a fact.
  77. That’s doing something.
  78. All parents are pieces of work. We just don’t say it too loudly.
  79. We shouldn’t say it too loudly. It’s hard work being a parent.
  80. I used to find it tedious when people wrote about their kids. Why?
  81. I think it was just a pose; me flexing on something to myself for reasons.
  82. I remember a panel at AWP some years back discussing this very issue. I felt some unease when a poet acknowledged that her young kids couldn’t consent to showing up in her work. 
  83. I mean, I wouldn’t particularly like—I don’t think—showing up in someone else’s work.
  84. Some people like any kind of attention.
  85. Evelyn Waugh said you could do what you wanted writing real people in stories. His secret was to represent them however he wanted; he just also added that they were great in bed. They never complained, he says.
  86. This doesn’t work so well when it comes to one’s family.
  87. I took a lot of notes earlier listening to Lucy Corin talk this morning in MFA Colloquium and want to include some here. 
  88. This is not really a random fact. 
  89. This is the lie of the title. 
  90. What's random, really? We want a little of the illusion of randomness but not the real thing. 
  91. The mind couldn't come up with a truly random fact even if it wanted to.
  92. Same for Viegener. What makes the book work is how his mind starts developing these different threads.
  93. And those build narratively.
  94. Content warning: sad stuff about the death of his dog.
  95. And then a lot of good stuff about Kathy Acker too.
  96. That's what also makes the book good: it has real meat.
  97. Maybe unlike this one.
  98. Here's a random fact though: around the time I first watched Tron (which is still great) as a kid, I came up with a name for the act of digitally scanning an item (or a person) and then recomposing that scan as a material body, which they kind of do in the movie: omnigrating.
  99. I still think it’s a good name.
  100. The movie I think just calls it digitizing. The central difference is that now of course digitizing just means rendering analog data as digital. Not effectively disintegrating and then reintegrating something digitally (and then potentially back to analog).


  101. Tron was a Disney movie. It’s easy to forget how many really intense and cool movies Disney made before they got Disneyfied. I’d also recommend The Black Hole which is really dark and weird, with the exception of the dumb robots. 
  102. It’s got a really batshit ending, which was batshit then and is definitely batshit now.
  103. I’ve spent so much of my life with digital media I forget sometimes that it’s really not possible to get everything analog in digital form. That you’re always stripping something out when you encode or digitize it.
  104. I’m not a big dork for lossless compression on my music; that’s for people with a lot more means and/or better ears than me.
  105. But a digital text is not the same. An mp3 just isn’t the same as a track on a vinyl record or even the unloved medium of the CD.
  106. The reason our voices still sound weird on phones is because phones strip out most of the high and low frequencies—which aren’t that important, I guess, for understandability—to make the resulting data much smaller.
  107. So those voicemails that got left are at best a diminished record of what was really said by a human body.
  108. As humans we’re so centered on our own limitations—the frequencies we can hear and the wavelengths we can see—it took elephant researchers hundreds of years to figure out that elephants actually communicate with each other across large distances with very low frequency sounds. We just can’t hear them, so we assume they don’t matter or exist.
  109. Lucy Corin: “I collected things from the world…I’d try to collect them and keep the good things and bring them into the book.”
  110. Some of those good things are sentences. Good sentences are maybe among the very best things I can think of.
  111. Kate Bernheimer: “Part of the process of writing a novel is figuring out how the disparate parts go together.”
  112. One of the things I loved about Lucy Corin’s talk was how much it collided with my thinking about collections and how they inform or come together into books (or essays).
  113. This kind of list project is self-evidently granular: a collection.
  114. It’s not easy to decide what constitutes a discrete item on these lists; I think I’m probably overflowing from one random thing into the next a lot more often than I think I am.
  115. I mean, when I shift directions, from the personal to the aesthetic, they feel somewhat more disparate, but because they’re scavenged from interior and exterior by the same I we still end up following it down to the same root.
  116. I’m going to try to do one of these lists that’s more random, or at least swerves more between the items.
  117. I do think writing is essentially collection. I actually wrote a whole chapter on this for a forthcoming guide to writing that I think is being published first in Australia. 
  118. Really I should have put my money where my mouth was and had that whole chapter be collaged.
  119. Walk the walk, motherfucker!
  120. Like Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Anxiety of Influence” or David Shields’ bumper sticker essay.
  121. All these boys all doing their fine-ass literary tricks!
  122. Maybe there's something to just doing someone else's literary tricks.
  123. Give up the anxiety of influence: just let the influence influence, dude.
  124. That's what influences are supposed to do.
  125. Go buy Viegener's book then while we're talking about it.


  126. I figured out this week that one of my advanced fiction workshop students clearly did not write the story she turned in for workshop.
  127. Why, for instance, was a white 24 year old in Arizona setting her folk tale, clearly indebted to a tradition of African folk tales, in Rwanda, a place that she almost certainly had never been and probably—I’m guessing here—could not identify on a map?
  128. You know, I should ask her to do that in person and see what happens.
  129. I was trying to figure out how to talk about the story in class—at the least we’d have to get into some shit about cultural appropriation which is complicated to discuss with UGs, who just want RULES about what’s allowed and what’s not.
  130. There are of course no hard rules to anything in art. It’s what you can make work. It’s what you can get away with. You’re always in conversation with the readers of your time. 
  131. It can be frustrating to have to be in conversation with the readers of our time.
  132. Twitter accelerates this process quite a bit.
  133. (I do like Twitter, but it makes me tired.)
  134. Why put that in parentheses? In a random list, aren’t all of these kind of in parentheses, each seemingly inflecting the previous item? Aren’t they all delivered sotto voce?
  135. But the more I thought about it the less it made sense my student wrote the story at all. It didn’t sound anything like her other work. 
  136. It was probably plagiarized, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I asked Kate Bernheimer, since fairy and folk tales are her territory, and I thought maybe it had been composed for one of her classes? That might explain things a bit.
  137. She couldn’t find it anywhere either, and had never had the student in class, but was also increasingly convinced there was no way my student wrote this story. 
  138. I mean, it’s not that a white girl from Arizona can’t write into and out of an African folk tale tradition, but it’s pretty unlikely, especially considering her other work.
  139. The story in question is at least on the surface level in the tradition of African folk tales about Ogres, is set in Kigali, and is really committed to its African names, but at no point is it obvious why it’s set in Rwanda.
  140. A lot of the names don’t really make sense, as Kate pointed out: they’re African, but not Rwandan, and not routinely anything, really: kind of a mishmash of African and kinda African names. The story also fell apart the more we read it. 
  141. I think Kate and I both enjoyed playing detective. (Detective is definitely fun to play.)
  142. I asked my student what was the germination of this story, asked her for some more context around its composition or idea, if just to better be able to angle the workshop conversation so that it would be useful to her (and not just her getting torched for cultural appropriation and general bad writing by students she’d already pissed off).
  143. She wrote me a note back saying some blah blah blah and right below the note she wrote was another note, evidently pasted in from another email from obviously the original author of the story, someone who presumably essay-milled this story out, probably, if I had to guess, someone of African descent, telling her “here’s what you tell your professor,” colon, then telling me what my student had just told me above.
  144. I mean my student kept that note in the email she sent me by way of explanation. 
  145. How dumb can you be? The answer is pretty dumb. Perhaps not unrelated, this student is also “one of those Covid skeptics” and someone who announced to my class she’d had a positive Covid test and then in the same class took her mask off to sneeze. This went over poorly with my students. 
  146. I haven’t decided what to do about this student yet. 
  147. Up next week my students are writing cover stories already, so we’ll be talking about originality and appropriation either way.
  148. It’s academic dishonesty for sure, and pretty much a slam dunk if I want to bother to pursue it. (Do I want to bother? I’m not sure how much it’s worth my time.) She missed class today for reasons that I also have no reason to believe are real, but wants to be there for her workshop of this story next week. 
  149. I think I’m going to invite her to workshop it, but only if her collaborator, the actual author, can also be present (if just on zoom) as the artistic force behind the story to answer questions and get feedback on it, and if both of them allow me to record the workshop conversation, and if Kate can also be present as an Appropriation Expert (which she is, and also part of the forensic team investigating this matter), and if both she and her collaborator allow Kate and I to collaboratively write an essay about appropriation and composition in fiction using them and their really bad story “written” for my workshop as a primary source. 
  150. We’ll offer them full credit as coauthors if they want to do it, but I think we all know what the answer to this question will be.


I'm not sure if a borrowed form (like The Malcontent, I don't love the term hermit crab for this kind of writing) is a cover or not. 

In many ways I don't think it is. But when the form, like Viegener's, is so procedural and essential to how the project thinks and works I think using it gets pretty close to a cover, even if the product ends up being quite a bit different. 

I assigned some of 2500 Random Things About Me Too to my grad workshop this semester, and of course we practiced doing the thing. One or two of us, myself included, found it really useful and oddly freeing to use. So we kept on writing them. Or I did anyhow. I'm over 500 at this point. The more I kept writing them the more I started to feel indebted. To Viegener yes, but also to whoever came up with this Facebook meme. I've never been on Facebook so it's still a novel form to me. And to Joe Brainard, whose iterative work feeds into Viegener's. 

Even though my life is way different from Viegener's, the activity of doing the same thing over and over and over gave me a good sense of its freedoms and limitations. Each list has to have some of its own energy and integrity. Each needs to throw a ball or two in the air that gets caught by the end of that 25. Then each list also needs to throw some balls in the air that get caught in a subsequent list. Each list can also pick up some of the balls previously thrown and still hanging somewhere int he air. This is how the mind works, after all. Viegener's book ends up being more narrative, more thoughtful, and more powerful than mine is so far, but then again I'm only a fifth as deep as he was. 

I wrote these lists above a few weeks back (you'll see some news items from November in there) and reproduced them without too much editing. I did make some redactions and delete a few items, trim others, adding more, riffing longer on Viegener for you, the Essay Daily reader. But I tried to keep as much as possible of the original movement of the mind that appeared here so that the improvisatory action of the drafting felt alive. That felt true to Viegener's book, which he claims was not revised very much at all. That may be a lie. I feel like it has to be, but then if you give a really thoughtful and lively mind a toy like this meme thing to do, it's already doing a lot of work before he writes each item on the list, so maybe not. Maybe that's the key takeaway: that the toy (really it's a tool: I don't want to denigrate what we're up to here) is as good as the mind that uses it. The only way to find out is to try it. So give it a go in 2022 and see if it opens things up for you?


Ander Monson's next book is Predator: a Memoir, a Movie, an Obsession. Graywolf will publish it in September 2022.

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