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An Interview with Will Eno

[PLAYWRIGHT]
“HI, I’M AN AUTOBIOGRAPHER.”
Reasons to become involved in theater:
Loneliness
You enjoy seeing people suffer under bright lighting
You enjoy hearing people in pain in rooms with good acoustics
by Patricia Mulgraw
Illustration by Tony Millionaire
header-image

An Interview with Will Eno

[PLAYWRIGHT]
“HI, I’M AN AUTOBIOGRAPHER.”
Reasons to become involved in theater:
Loneliness
You enjoy seeing people suffer under bright lighting
You enjoy hearing people in pain in rooms with good acoustics
by Patricia Mulgraw
Illustration by Tony Millionaire

An Interview with Will Eno

Patricia Mulgraw
15 Snaps

The following interview of Will Eno by Patricia Mulgraw is part of the series “Ocean Conversations,” in which Patricia meets with artists, writers, and others from the Northeast and beyond. It took place at the Mulgraw home on Long Island, in December of last year. A bowl of fruit sat on the table in the sitting room in which the interview was conducted. The Atlantic Ocean was outside, down a long lawn.

WILL ENO: Hi.

PATRICIA MULGRAW:

WE: Where should we start?

PM:

WE: Is today not a good time?

PM:

WE: I was born up in Lowell.

PM:

WE: I was born up there. My father had an office in town. I’d always go with my mother on errands. [Pause] The car, I remember, was always sunny and warm. Bright inside, you know? That whole age just seems cinematic, somehow—just light and shadow and Mom and I driving around in it, to the sound of the engine. I guess that’s just the past in general. The cinematic thing, that feeling of life being a presentation you got to late and sat in the back for. You know? When I was very young, she played tennis.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: Sports were important. And pets. My mother was instrumental, with all that. She taught us that how people treat animals shows how they’ll go on to treat people. My mother taught me how to throw. Dad was funny with the dog, very formal.

PM:

WE: I’m not really used to the—this, like, format.

PM:

WE: We could talk more about when I was smaller. I was going through everything on the way here. I’m all boned up on my life. [Coughs] So, just, you know, shoot.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: She had so many errands to run and all us kids and my dad, and regular stuff like leaks and visitors and all the normal distractions. I was the smallest. “Last but not least,” we always kind of said. I’m amazed how she found time for tennis. We’d go to this shady court the town built. It had a slope to it and a lot of cracks. The dog and I sat near the water fountain. That’s some autobiography. Does anyone ever use that word like that? Like, “Hi, I’m an autobiographer.” We always had a dog. Is that leashes, over there? Over the doorknob?

PM:

WE: I guess you have a dog, or dogs. I don’t see any, but, I don’t know. You probably trained them really well. It’s so quiet. We always had dogs. To repeat. I could see a hunting dog around here, a hound. Some elegant thing, you know, who didn’t drool and had a sort of highfalutin name. “Parker.” “Wystan.”

PM:

WE: Did I say something that threw you off or upset you? We could… we can go in a different direction.

PM:

WE: Sorry? Did you just… sorry, I thought you were going to… no?

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: This is why I hate these things.

PM:

WE: My first dog had the name Bobby, which he got from television. Bobby, or sometimes Bob, got hit by cars and attacked porcupines and skunks until he finally died of leukemia. He was wild, he was really great, a real prince. Roberto. He just threw himself into every situation. Yelping or growling or sound asleep, whatever the circumstance dictated. Ears back or teeth bared, he always knew how to be. Sometimes he’d just lie there. That was understandable. I remember he was always eating something dead. A weird squirrel or something you couldn’t even tell used to be an animal. After, he’d quiet down and have this great kind of look of—if you can believe it—remorse. Sick as a dog, is the only way to describe it. “Sick as a sick human” would also work. I don’t know. He needed so many shots all the time. Fleas, heartworm, different kinds of ticks. He just ate life up.

PM:

WE: We had so many errands. That’s an OK word, errands, not great, maybe. But, yeah, always picking up this and that, groceries and stuff. My toys and dog-doo and, god, I almost forgot, the leaves, all the yard work. I bet I raked the whole state of Massachusetts. Not really, but a lot of leaves. In the winter, I shoveled walks. We went all over. My father’s office, the doctor’s, someone’s house, the store. I’d wait in the car. I’d look at people looking at me. I don’t remember how that felt. It was kind of soundproof. [Pause] I’m talking about myself a lot. That was the point, though, right? Anyway, here, there, back, the vet’s, the wide world of everything with the sound all the way down. I felt so busy. New math, strep throat, croup. The first diseases. Mom was beautiful, I bet. A great woman, if you ask me. We learned English around the house. She gave birth to me. Obviously. She had red hair. I tried writing about it, once. She was born somewhere. Dad too. [Laughing] Everybody, I guess.

PM:

WE: [Not laughing]

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: New projects? Are you wondering that? I’m keeping my eyes open.

PM:

WE: My eyes are open. Mrs. Mulgraw.

PM:

WE: Are you… did you eat something?

PM:

WE: I had coffee near the station. Anyway. Work-wise, writing-wise, I guess I believe in a secret world. And the regular world, too. And words are just part of the, I don’t know, you know—we all know what words are. This story might tell something. One night, my friend and I were playing cards. It was snowing and warm inside. We were getting kind of, I don’t know, close. But really quietly, you know? Just touching each other like the snow, if you’ll pardon the… sorry. You suddenly look sort of antsy. Anyhow, there we were, she and I, the radiator hissing. Shevaun has a way of closing her eyes. Everything seemed candlelit and good. My apartment seemed so gentle. We were quizzing each other on the state capitals. We were barely whispering, we were practically just mouthing the words. “Nevada.” “Carson City.” It was so nice. Almost perfect, to me. It was the whole wonderful problem, the Great Question, the great—just, you know. The drama between the almost-infinite, semi-eternal nature of language and names and, like, the skinny little life of the breathing, bony human body—if I may be so… Anyway, there we were on a Monday night, deep in all that philosophy, no clothes on. God. Wow, you know. The poetry. The great black radio of the world. [Looking out window, across lawn] “Montpelier, Vermont,” Shevaun would breathe, in the dark. “Dover.” When you think of the size of the universe and our little voices, it makes you want to cry. We want our lives to be so meaningful, against that gigantic backdrop. Anyway, it was like this mystical thing. This new plane. Just through the regular names of things. Places. Do you think that that’s, I mean—I don’t know. I was happy.

PM: [Coughing]

WE:

PM:

WE: I’ve also always been interested in that magnetic refrigerator poetry. “RUN LOVELY TOWARD NORTH,” or something like that. “NAMES UNDERNEATH SNOW TOMORROW.” Whatever people put together, standing there thinking about eating. So, yeah, always, in general, things were pretty wordy, with me. Theater, in particular, was a less obvious choice. Probably born out of loneliness. A lot of things are born out of loneliness. Probably a lot of people, too. But, so, anyway, plays, theater. I like seeing people suffer under bright lighting. I like hearing people in pain in rooms with good acoustics. Everything gets so muffled and dim, in real life, normally, so you can never really tell what the problem is. I like watching curtain calls. It’s such a mortal moment. Julius Caesar, back to life, waving at his agent. People say theater is a dying art. Not the worst way to put it. Anyway, here I am. People say I was born with a gift for dialogue, but I never know what to say. I don’t know what I was born with. Big dumb eyes to stare out all the windows that life throws at a person. I don’t know. Other than that, you hear stuff, here and there, and you just learn how it goes. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.” You start to see how the world works, how it speaks. How it’s supposed to. People say I write women characters well.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: People say a lot of things.

PM:

WE: That’s quite a spoon collection you have. [Pause] OK, I see. Stop me when we have enough. So. I just try to write plays I think are good. Or, I don’t know. I try, I guess, to disable normative modes of perception, so as to try to allow for a revitalized way of seeing and feeling in the audience, hoping that’ll somehow translate itself, for them, into a reacquaintance with, and maybe even an affirmation of, regular earthly things, of consciousness itself, of suffering and joy themselves, rendering it all, for the audience, for all of us, for myself, into something more than a meaningless squeak beneath a meaningless and, by definition, heartless sky. I try to do that. I try to exalt normal stuff. I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded. I try to make myself cry. Or stop. You have feelings, you know. You have feelings and gravity and time. That’s what you have. I don’t know, you have luck and bones and a heart.

PM:

WE: Obviously, the dark is important. I don’t think you go into the theater unless you have some feeling for the dark, for physical unmetaphorical darkness. This used to not be the case. In the early days, they did plays during the day, outside. Right in the bright day. Like back in the car with my mom. The days of ice cream and overalls. It was so quiet. We didn’t talk. We just drove, the world going by in the other direction, maybe the sound of a blinker. I’ve known some different quietnesses. Quietudes? We probably didn’t need to talk. What’s anyone supposed to say?

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: Silence sort of suggests itself as a topic.

PM:

WE: I guess it’s golden, sometimes. But I kind of wonder. No one ever really said anything to me, in a way. Or, I never said anything back. That’s how it feels. I always felt removed from—I don’t know. Just a lot of deafness and, like, laryngitis and some muffled buzz that might be other people. I’d think I’d hear my name and turn. Maybe I’m not the type you call out to. No one ever said anything. Except a few beautiful times. Except that great snowy night. Lansing. Cheyenne. God. I’m lucky, I have to believe. There are great parts of life. Like that snowy night, indoors. Requited. I never loved English more. Oh well. Happy memories. You sift around and come up with a life story, in case anyone asks. Some things seem important. Others, I don’t know. For instance, my poor dad, where the fuck is he in all this? Not a word. Not a single image. He had an office in town. And my poor mom, driving around, staring straight ahead, sunglasses, off in her own comforts or sorrows, the windows all rolled up. For all the silence, would I say it’s been a quiet life? Yeah, no. It sounded like bees and smoke alarms. Just noise in my head. Like, my psychology is just screaming, just this chaos or something. All I could hear was the things no one was saying. Stupid shit. Your crawling and your brand-new smile are draining the life out of us. Why are you staring at me with your idiot blue eyes. You just sit back there, staring. What do you want from me.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: A version of events. One version of events.

PM:

WE: Sorry. I’m sorry about that. [Pause] Let’s see. Topics. Recent events. I came out to near here, once. To near the water. Without going into it, exactly, it was fun. It’s a beautiful area. I just remembered, somebody almost drowned, an older Asian man. After they got the guy resuscitated, he couldn’t find his stuff, his towel and keys and wallet. He was really upset. He kept staring out into the water. He did some kind of ceremonial thing, like a bullfighting thing. His wife was crying, holding her beach things and yelling, “Why him?” I never forgot that. I never got what she was trying to say. I have a million stories like that. Vignettes that sort of, I don’t know, sort of quietly close. But you were smart to choose me as a subject, I think. Although, by the way, I was almost late on the way coming here. Some pipe broke, and there was flooding. Water, water—everywhere. Newspaper and cigarettes, newspaper and cigarettes—too. The train was delayed. But, voilà, here I am. I made it.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: You’re so different from when you called.

PM:

WE: Come on. God.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: “MAMMAL GASPING IN VIOLENT FLOOD.” You know? “SHATTERED BODY REACHES ELEGANTLY.” Remember? The magnets?

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: You must have a lot going on inside you. You have interesting eyes, when I can look. I bet you had a serious childhood. I bet we’re similar people. Do you gamble? Maybe you like being the one who gets asked the questions. Do you? I have a few. Why don’t we start. What kind of name is that, first off? Were you always so tall? Probably not. Were animals part of your early life? Where were you born and why doesn’t it make any difference? Why are you in a wheelchair? Are you okay? I think I see you shake. Do you like singing? Sing a little something. Do you like whispering? Did you ever have one second of calm? I thought I said sing a little something. What the hell are your hobbies? Don’t you like bad weather? What do people like to do around here? Was that Mr. M., out front, with the oxygen? Hello? Yes, you. I’m looking at you. Bobby always cracked us up. He was great with people. I’m not surprised I turned out like this. Let’s get back to you. To what do you attribute yourself ? To what breathless fuck under what mathematical equation of a sky? Pisces? Cancer? It doesn’t matter. Our faults are right here, you know? Just look at us. Whisper something. Hey, where’s that pretty smile? Do you have a pretty smile? Sorry for swearing. Why don’t you ask me anything? I’m starting to want to do anything for you. The way you stay so still. The way you ask so little. And the way you shake so ladylike. Mrs. Mulgraw, I could rub your feet. Do you want a glass of water? Nobody takes care of anybody, these days. What the hell is wrong with you? Is it just me? Anyway, are we OK? Do we have enough material, here? I’d take back everything and do it again, if I thought it’d make any difference. I’d change my whole childhood if I thought there was another one you’d like better.

PM:

WE: I grew up in Waslala, Nicaragua, the favorite daughter of a beloved mayor. We had a burro named Gil. There was blue plastic over everything. We got rocks from by the river. I am famous for my smile and for my authentic local dances. There’s a boy from the university who likes when I sing. I grew up in Jerusalem, poor Jerusalem. Third holiest city in all of Islam. We sold Dead Sea salt to Americans for their faces. We dreamed of dark green grasses and snow. We had a goat named Ashel. My grandmother was strong and we were filled with love. We ate wonderful dinners and talked into the night. I grew up in Antarctica. I’m a frozen snow bank. I’m two thirds water. Hardly anything. Nine tenths dark matter. I’m a fraction of—I don’t know. I grew up somewhere, had some relatives, had some cherished animal that had some cherished name. I stared up into the sky, like children all over the world, and didn’t know what to do. Nobody told me that’s what life was. They just said, “Alon, beautiful boy, stop your crying.” They just said, “Auxilliadora, pretty girl, leave poor Gil alone.”

PM:

WE: Please. I just want to hear your voice. I want to see your mouth move. Sacramento. Anything.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: Hey, picture me screaming. Picture me waist up into it, the roaring ocean at the end of your property. Walking out into it, screaming and yelling, veins in my throat, screaming and yelling for the sake of people like you and me. [Laughing sound] Hey, picture my spleen bursts. All the terrible medical stuff. Clots, seizures, stroke. I’m a mess of veins and seizing muscles in the freezing cold, the crashing waves, I’m screaming and bursting, cursing the sea and the sky, cursing the fucking rejects who made us like this, who made us so apart from everything else. [Panting] The bitches and whoresons and whores and sons of bitches. All the beautiful swearwords who populate the earth. [Hyperventilating] The care givers. I’m yelling, helpless against the tide, the giant waves, the howling wind, helpless against all of it, the quiet, the crashing silence, the huge total lack of anyone saying anything, yelling helplessly into it all. For you. With you. [Choking, then two inaudible words, then perhaps the word “adore,” and then another inaudible word] Yeah. I am screaming for you and me. You, too. Why not. We’re all grown-ups, here. Who doesn’t have time for screaming? What a pretty dark day you are. You have a beautiful scream, Patricia. And now we go. Because we’re different, because we’re finished with this. With all the talking and not talking that life on land is made up of. Because what difference did any of it make. Say things, or don’t, you end up lying down in the end. Submit to their questions or not, they’ve got a terrible answer they’re waiting to give you. So now we’re going into the water, on purpose, to Calais, to a watery grave, to swim, to frolic to the bottom, blue in the face, fuck it all, fuck every single thing, Mrs. Mulgraw. I am carrying you in my arms. Your legs hang down. You’re losing your voice. A seagull is aware of us. [Breathing] Now you’re speechless, all of sudden, like you get. I’m speechless, too. Now it’s just gestures, smaller and smaller, and then it’s just twitches. We’re going deeper into it. We’re on a serious errand. No more fighting things.

[Pause, hoarse] You’re putting your hand over your ear. Your mouth is in a shape. Come on, Patricia. This is going to hurt. The seas are not parting, the seas are insane. This is love, for people like us, and now we’re going to die. This is water. It’s the opposite of land. This is art, even—all the spray and the angry birds. It’s a great ending. The sky is a mess. You and I aren’t scared. For once in this dry life. Me and my Mrs. Mulgraw. We would make a famous photograph. We’re not afraid. Violent death. Quiet death. The opposite of shouting. Boston, Massachusetts. All quietness, all thanks. What a lucky life. So many feelings. So many states. What a happy ending. Every trace of who we said we were—gone, now. Going. Lost in the noise of the ocean. All that water, all that force, day and night— to think we ever thought that we were strong. Jesus, we’re gorgeous. We’re two people. We understand.

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: Why does everything always have to be so dramatic?

PM:

WE:

PM:

WE: I was born way up in Lowell. I was a breach baby, I’m told.

PM:

WE: No shit. I was.

PM:

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