“I’m not one of those writers who say that love is not for them, but the truth is that my work has been more of a partner to me than any person has been so far.”
Texts mentioned below:
Glory, Vladimir Nabokov
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne
Another Country, James Baldwin
The Making of a Terrorist, Lucinda Franks and Thomas Powers
I’m on a train headed to Niagara Falls and as I wait for my stop to be announced I think about the moon and California. When I get off the train in Albany, three students of Kathleen Alcott’s are there to pick me up and drive me to Bennington College.
“What is Kathleen like as a professor?” I ask them as we make our way north.
“She’s so incredibly intelligent,” they tell me. Sometimes, they say, she tears up in class while reading a particularly intense passage of a book aloud. “She taught me a new way of reading, of looking at things,” one says.
Kathleen is waiting for me in her temporary office in the music department—there was a fire on campus a few days earlier, and her office building is now closed for maintenance. When I arrive, a violin and a flute are playing somewhere. The room is bright, with a piano, a wooden desk, a blackboard, two brown leather armchairs and an antique bathtub I get a glimpse of in the adjacent bathroom. I can see the park from the windows, everything outside is green. Kathleen is wearing a burnt-brown vest and pair of trousers, and it feels as if the entire scene, her, the room, had been carved in mahogany and cherry wood.
It’s early May, 2019, and I came to Bennington to talk about Alcott’s latest novel, America Was Hard To Find. Her first two, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets (2012) and Infinite Home (2015) came out when she was 23 and 25 years old, respectively.
America Was Hard To Find—a book that’s very different from her previous work—is the story of Fay Fern, a woman who becomes a left-wing terrorist during the Vietnam War, and of Vincent Kahn, the first man on the moon. It’s also the story of Wright, the son born from the affair they had in a previous life, when Fay and her sister ran a bar in the Mojave Desert in California and Vincent was a married pilot training at the nearby Edwards Air Force Base, before NASA, the Apollo missions, and everything else.
In the summer of 2018, I found myself reading the manuscript of America Was Hard To Find with the task of writing a readers’ report on it for potential foreign buyers. I was dazzled by it, unable to contain my enthusiasm. As anyone working with books knows, these are the rare, rare moments worth doing this job for: having the sudden, striking understanding that something will become a fundamental piece in the puzzle of literature.
Kathleen and I started our conversation in the park, and then decided to go for a drive in her old, beautiful Volvo, which she named Chantal. We spent two hours on the road discussing the book. At some point, we stopped for ice cream at a dairy bar.
I. Flat in the Audience
THE BELIEVER: Since we’re here: do you like teaching?
KA: I do. Teaching has been a real and ongoing catechism with regard to what I think good fiction is, how it works, can work and ought not to work. My routines and my methods as a fiction writer have adjusted because of what I found out I truly believed in a half decade of teaching. At the same time, I feel that doing it full time is an amount of emotional labor that is truly difficult to manage. Particularly creative writing, because you’re never just talking about someone’s piece, but you’re always talking about a cruel thing their mother said to them fifteen years ago that they’ve been turning over like some nasty stone in their shoe for all that time.
BLVR: Do you ever miss the freedom in writing that you had before being published for the first time?
KA: My first book was published when I was 23, so I don’t really have a conception of what my life as an adult was like before publication. I grew up really poor, and I don’t think there’s much freedom in poverty, in what it does to your sense of self and how temporary it makes your life feel. I’m not saying this because writing gave me any kind of financial freedom, but because I think that it opened up the next part of my life and allowed me to feel like my life belonged to me. So I don’t really think about that. What I miss is my freedom as a reader: my reading habits have changed substantially in these past eight years. Now I’m reading pretty narrowly, to find out about some kind of formal trick that I’m hoping to pull off myself, or I’m in research and I’m certainly reading, but much more carefully and much more like a scholar and less like the member of an audience. That’s a feeling I really miss. I miss those days spent just reading a book in a day, simply experiencing it without a thought for how it worked.
BLVR: It is said that, in order to write a great book, a writer has to be willing to write the book that scares the hell out of her—to venture into a dark room and be ready to dig up something unnameable, and do so with honesty. What was the unnameable thing that you dug up in order to write this novel?
KA: Men. I wrote this book over a period of five years, starting when I was 24 and ending when I was 29. Those years in my life were a real reckoning with the ways the world was limited to me as a woman. I started to realize that my power was soft and that I was punished by the men around me for it. The philosopher and feminist Kate Manne, whom I think is one of the most brilliant people writing and publishing and thinking today, published this book called Down Girl: The Logic Of Misogyny, in which she talks about how the definition of misogyny has to be adjusted. It shouldn’t be defined as what it is—the hatred of women—but as what it does, and what it does is that it punishes women who fail to uphold the status quo.
BLVR: And the status quo is?
KA: That women treat men automatically with what they deem moral goods, such as kindness, patience, flirtation, emotional availability. In the last five years of my life I started to become deeply afraid of the ways that I had always extended myself in that regard, and of what happened when I didn’t. This is the first book that I wrote looking at the rest of my life as a woman. That’s not to say that this book is about my life because certainly it’s not, right? I’ve never been a domestic terrorist and I’ve never piloted an incredibly complicated mission to the moon. But I have been a woman in a room who had tricked herself into believing she was there for the same reasons as all the men, and then realized the reasons were quite a bit different.
BLVR: What was the thing that worried you the most about writing this book? About its form, and how it would be put together, about rendering on paper precisely the book that you had in mind.
KA: Well, in this book there’s a kind of baton that’s handed off in terms of who its protagonist appears to be, and how that is managed. At the outset the protagonist is Fay, or it’s Vincent, or it’s both of them, and in the code of the novel it’s her son. And so I had to decide at which point the reader lost interior access to Fay and how, when the whole initial acculturation of the novel allowed the reader into this person’s thinking in a way that was intimate and meaningful, it could possibly be justified to then cut that off. I looked to a few books that I thought did that magnificently, whether in a last-flash-of-genius way or a more attenuated manner.
BLVR: What were those books?
KA: Nabokov’s Glory, in which a young Russian man who’s very unhappy with his country finally expatriates. In the last twenty-five pages of the novel this remarkable thing happens: he passes into the snowy mountains and we no longer have his thoughts; we only have the thoughts of a character who’s just arrived in the scene. It’s incredibly disturbing, and the first time that I read it I thought it was deeply fucking irresponsible. But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that this is one of the most brilliant maneuvers I’ve ever experienced as a reader. It really rendered me a reader and not a writer, just putting me flat in the audience, keeping me from answering that question of how it works because I was simply stunned. Then there’s Another Country by James Baldwin. A hundred and seventy-five pages into that four-hundred-and-something page novel, the protagonist Rufus, a gifted and bisexual jazz musician who mostly socializes with a group of middle-class white people in New York City in the Fifties, kills himself. Though we’ve only had access to his thoughts, then the novel completely reinvents itself, and the protagonists become the people who have been reformed by the loss of him.
I wanted to write something that was similarly protean. The question was when. When do we lose access to those thoughts? Do we ever return to them? I keep using the word lose but it’s not the verb that I want. Fay’s thinking falls away from the novel when her background and her childhood fall away from her conception of herself: once she’s lost to her politics. There, we lose access to the smallness of her thinking, and we’re only able to see the bigness, maybe the stupidity and the foolishness, of her political gestures as seen by her son, who is then shaped by the loss of her to her politics.
BLVR: There is so much in here, from the Apollo program, to a domestic terrorist organization that’s inspired by the Weather Underground, to some turns in Fay’s life that recall some of those in Diana Oughton’s life. How long did you research?
KA: I don’t think that I can answer that question in a way that’s tidy, because the research and the writing were interdependent. I would realize that there was a gap in my knowledge, or a curiosity, or something I needed to know more about… and then there were certain pieces of research I didn’t do until later. There’s a fabulous, disturbing profile of Diana Oughton written by Lucinda Franks in 1970, called The Making of a Terrorist. I didn’t read it until the book was almost three-quarters of the way through a draft, and the reason for that was that I wanted the characters to be composites, I didn’t want to feel hemmed in by any similar people who had lived, and their lives. I was very pleased to see that certain turns in the life of Fay were not so different from the turns in the life of Diana Oughton, and how she ran from her privilege and what she ran toward. So in certain cases there was some re-threading: I read about something much after I had written the first draft and I went back and threaded it in… In general, I think that a good rule with research is that you’re allowed to begin with it, but you’re not allowed to end with it. If you’re writing toward an end that has occurred in the observable world, your faculties as a fiction writer can be limited. My research went on for several years but it happened as I was writing: I would stop and be in a period of deep research and then return to the text and I’d be in a period of deep research and still be writing… I’d be like, watching the Watergate hearings at night and writing a section about that summer the next morning.
BLVR: What was the very first thing that you wrote?
KA: The first scene in the book, although it changed significantly. I always start with one image, and in this case that image was Fay and Wright in a room where everyone else is watching the first moon landing, not watching it. That was a source of puzzlement to me: who would those people be and why wouldn’t they be watching that iconic and dynamic moment? Look, this was Shirley Jackson’s house.
BLVR: This house?
KA: This house. Can you imagine her sitting on that porch?
II. Mothers and Fathers
BLVR: What was the thing you became most interested in, while researching?
KA: Well, it was shocking to me how the dedication required by the radical left and the conservative, military industrial right were so similar. In order to become an astronaut, one had to perform every portion of their job over and over again in the same exact way, to the extent that there was never any question about what was to be done, and the individual’s identity totally receded. During the first landing the Apollo astronauts were not allowed to take a step off of the ladder before they had practiced taking a step back up. And the radical left required a similar depersonalization: there was a systematic practice of stripping down the ego. There is that whole chapter in the novel about the tests of endurance that astronauts went through in order to qualify for the program, in which they are, for instance, locked in a dark room and being told come out in two hours. There’s no clock, they just have to figure it out. To me, that didn’t feel so far from something the Weather Underground did, in which they would get in a circle and hurl insults at each other. The idea was that if you endured that kind of criticism of your identity, you might be less likely to see it as important, and you might be more likely to see your political work at the center of your life. That was probably the path that was most shocking to me.
BLVR: Neil Armstrong and Vincent Kahn have a lot in common. Their biographies, and even their physical appearance is somewhat similar. But you told me that you took many liberties… what was the process like, writing this character?
KA: I don’t feel comfortable saying that Vincent Kahn is some copy of Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong was an incredibly private person, and I think his relationship with aviation was concomitant with that privacy. The sky was a place where he could be truly alone, and then the moon was. So I can’t tell you who he was. I can only tell you what his barriers were. I can tell you that in interviews he never wanted to talk about God. I can tell you that the extent to which his ego was flattered by this attention remains mysterious. Vincent Kahn is someone entirely different in my approximation, and I don’t even want to say “someone.” I feel a little bit patronizingly towards authors who are talking about their characters as though they’re real people. Vincent Kahn is an idea. And he is the idea of an individual who can exist entirely inside himself. That is a sort of pet project of mine. Some of the darkest parts of me, and some of the most productive parts of me, and the parts of who I am that have protected me, share a certain quality of that: the need for solitude, the pushing at the limit of how long that can last, how long one can go without speaking to someone else. I think that Neil Armstrong put up a lot of fencing, and I respect that, so if I were to tell you that Vincent Kahn is my imagination of who Neil Armstrong was when he was alone, that would not feel like respect to me, which is something I have a great deal of for Neil Armstrong.
BLVR: Your parents were reporters, and you say that your father’s work was “a crucial introduction” to that era. You also say that “the light coming off” your mother, “who escaped her cul-the-sac in Sacramento in a Volkswagen and a few other lives after that in a spectacular manner, is at the center of this novel.” You lost them both when you were very young, and yet it seems to me that they are everywhere. How did their memory influence your work?
KA: I wasn’t really thinking about my parents as individuals. I was thinking about the culture that made and unmade them.
BLVR: What was the culture that made your mother, for instance?
KA: My mother grew up in Sacramento, her father was a very conservative lawyer. She was one of five children, all very catholic. She had a bright, beautiful older sister who was studying poetry, and was a brilliant poet. I have some of her poems and it’s a shame that she did what she did, which is that she killed herself at the age of 20. Shortly after that my mother left home and she and a group of friends traveled to Yosemite, where they secured jobs like cleaning toilets and doing general maintenance, but what they were really doing was a healthy amount of psychedelics and lot of swimming naked. They called themselves “The Fun Club.” She later went back to school and she also became a reporter. My mother changed professions many times over though, the way that many baby boomers have.
My father worked for Radio Free Europe, he was recruited by it right out of journalism school. Radio Free Europe was this arm of the C.I.A that was attempting to infiltrate left-leaning media and indeed create some media outlets to prevent the spread of communism. My father was a very handsome, very charismatic, problematically fun-seeking individual, so of course he took the opportunity to work for them, in 1961, to go abroad and to be working for what he very quickly realized was a propagandist arm of the C.I.A. He was very disturbed by that. He spent the next decade kind of caterwauling around Europe and came back to this country irrefutably damaged in a way that the people around him could never really define for me, but that was very clear. Oh my God, look at this Dairy Bar. We’re going to turn around at some point and go there.
BLVR: Yes, please!
KA: So, what I mean is that that period in American history and in media and in cultural output was very much a part of my upbringing. I would come home from junior high school and my father would have printed out the lyrics to some Pete Seeger ballad and would ask me “So what do you think about this?” And I remember very clearly some moment of being a child, going to the movies… I have to say that the best thing my father ever did for me was that he really cultivated in me a love of cinema and of images. I remember going to the movies, being 7 or 8, going to see Toy Story and afterward, he asked me: “So dear, what do you think about the idea of depersonalization?”
I had and still have a lot of anger about the way that the boomer’s fixation on total cultural upheaval kept me from the protections of childhood that I ought to have had. This is not to say that I don’t feel very grateful for the upbringing that I had, which in many ways was remarkable and shaped me as a thinker in ways that can never be undone.
BLVR: Speaking of mothers, I want to ask you something about Fay. I’ll quote some passages from the book, I feel that’s the best way to describe her:
“If she would never be a wife who waited for a husband in a warm kitchen, she would always be a mother who delighted in the opening of her son’s life…. Her love for him arrived late and enormous.“
“The more she practiced, she found it was possible: to live one life in your mind, furious and predatory, and another out in the open, quiet and untouched by foresight.“
To her son: “You are the only thing I’ve made that I know is beautiful. It’s internalized forever, that’s what happened to it, it’s another organ.“
Fay will have a very complicated, very dangerous life. And yet, at her core, she is also a mother. Was it difficult, on a practical level, as the writer who has to write her, to keep up with the many forms of a character like this, of a person that contains so many opposites?
KA: I have to say that I don’t think she’s at her core a mother. I think that there are many rooms of her identity. The philosopher William James, who was Henry James’ brother, had this idea about the identity, of it basically being a series of rooms, and then an inner room: a room closest to the soul, and the life of the mind within it, and rooms that move outward… That to me is a very male conception of identity, and I don’t think that that’s available to women. Women, if they’re going to get anywhere at all in their life, are socialized to be chameleonic, to be many different things, and to be able to switch between those roles and to understand the necessity of their separation. So it wasn’t hard for me to write a character whose life was made up of so many contradictions, as you say, because that to me is just what it is like to be a woman.
BLVR: My God, you’re completely right.
KA: Particularly to be a woman of any power or intelligence. I’m meant to be supplicating and tender in my romantic life and I’m meant to be articulate but not forceful in my professional life if I’m going to be respected but not perceived as a threat. In my social life, I’m something else, et cetera.
III. Granting the Reader a Swim
BLVR: I have a question about sex. I’ll introduce it by quoting a passage from the book, a thought of Fay’s: “That he has seen this part of her more closely than she ever will, how it changes given touch or heat, has not gone unconsidered in her mind. A mirror couldn’t show her, a camera couldn’t. This is part and parcel of the female, which was created, she begins to know, not by who lives it but by who watches it.” What do the people we have sex with reveal about us, and what parts of us do they create?
KA: I can only answer this question from my personal experience. I don’t think that I have ever used sex to learn more about myself. I think of sex as the place where I go to be without language and without time and without education, and without most of the things that we talk about as defining ourselves. What I like about it is the destruction of identity—or the multiplicity in identity – that it allows. Sex feels like another country you go to. It’s so lovely to be there, and our passports are always about to expire.
BLVR: Your writing is beautiful, there’s no other way to say it. It’s lyrical and beautiful and has both a texture and a lightness. I would like to know a little more about the ways in which your voice—what you recognize as your own voice as a writer—came to be.
KA: Well, I don’t think that I had an active hand in the developing of my style: I write in the way that feels natural to me. But I did have a hand in modulating it. I actually wanted for certain parts of that book to be ugly, for certain sentences to be shorter and for certain passages to have no figurative language in them, to be less than lyrical. This book was a half-decade experiment in control. John Gardner’s thoughts on the sentence and which syntactic slot deserves what were quite a bit on my mind. I realize that’s probably a disappointing answer, but I would say that I’m writing away from beauty and toward something else.
BLVR: What is that something else?
BLVR: What does having control mean for you?
KA: A number of things. When I think about control, I think about censorial bias, like which scenes are canted toward which sensory experience, whether that’s tactile, or the olfactory, or the organic literally happening on the level of the organ, and what is happening in any given character’s organs… I think about the length of sentences, about whether those lengths are diminishing or increasing as the paragraph continues. I think about syllabic value, about figurative language, when it is there and when it is not. And about how, when you use simile or metaphor, you’re granting the reader a swim in his own matrix and connotations. There are moments when you can grant the reader that kind of freedom and moments when you can’t. That’s what I think about when I think about control.
BLVR: You say that Vincent’s “oldest wish was a life that was always becoming bigger.” What was yours?
KA: I’m sorry that every answer that I give you about my personal life is some angry feminist thing. Actually, I’m not sorry.
BLVR: Me neither.
KA: There’s a line in this novel about Fay and about her conception of herself at 32, and the line is “Her fantasy of herself had already concluded”. I think that’s something that many women experience at a certain age. I never imagined my life beyond a couple of years ago, except to imagine motherhood, and I’m not a mother, nor a partner, nor a wife, and I’m not sure how much interest I have in being any of those things without an incredibly exceptional circumstance. So I don’t know if I can talk about a wish that is extent, that I can see as a part of who I was when I was a little girl. I know I always wanted to be around people I thought were brilliant, and I’ve been gifted with that. I always loved conversation, and I always loved rivers and mountains and being alone in the natural world. And I’ve had the pleasure and luck to enjoy a fair amount of those things.
BLVR: Now I have a question about love. I’ll introduce this one, too, with a quote from the book: “Something essential changed about a person, Fay thought, when they belonged fully to someone else, as particular as a color. A certain softness in the shoulders, a diminished curiosity that came from no longer performing for potential futures”. How does being in love, or not being in love, affect your writing? Did you notice significant changes in yourself as a writer, in your work and your approach to it, when you weren’t in love as opposed to when you were? Let me explain you why I’m asking this: for a long time I thought of the idea of stability and of a steady love life as something quite in contrast with the kind of inner hunger that an artistic life demands – this something that eats you alive, this fire burning inside that is required in order to be a writer, or an artist in general. And yet many prolific writers have a steady love life, someone by their side, children. So sometimes I ask myself: how can one let the fire burn and at the same time manage to also have a “normal” life? Is it even possible? And other times I wonder: but what if that steadiness and serenity in the outer world were precisely what allows that writer to let the the beast run free in the inner world? I don’t know if I’ll ever find an answer to that question. What do you think? Oh here’s that dairy bar again.
KA: I’m sorry, we have to go there because we’re going to get some ice cream.
IV. Kathleen Alcott Explains How Love Affects Her Writing at the Dairy Bar
KA: Love by its nature is a sort of altar built to a very specific person. And being in love with a person is very different from being in love with the next. I know that I seek out certain patterns in my romantic life, but I’m not sure that I can tell you what my life as a writer is like when I’m in a relationship versus when I’m not. Like many women I think I have a tendency to rearrange my life around the man that I love, and so to be a single person and to have made specific choices around myself probably offers certain benefits as a writer. But I don’t want to make any definitive statement about my being a more daring writer as a single woman… What many people are looking for in love is a sanctuary-space from the world, and I think the life of the writer, at least for me, involves having access to all parts of yourself at all times: being able to follow any feeling, follow your anger, your mania, your sadness, your grief. And I think it’s very difficult to do that and emerge unscathed. So I think partnership for a writer requires a person who is alright with that kind of mercurial nature. And that’s something I haven’t yet found. When I’ve dated people who aren’t writers, the amount of time that I need to spend alone and the ways that I want to be alone have always been somewhat offensive to them, and when I’ve dated other writers the problem seems always to have been a competition for whose silence at that moment was more important, whose time needed to bend around another’s. I do think that the selfishness that is required of a writer is very difficult to pair with any kind of steady romantic partnership, and I think that when it’s done it’s a masterpiece. I’ve thought that way about romantic relationships before: they can be masterpieces, they require the same kind of long concentration, the same fine sketching and variety of colors as a great artwork. I’m not one of those writers who say that love is not for them, but the truth is that my work has been more of a partner to me than any person has been so far.
BLVR: I’m floored by the beauty of this answer.
KA: I also think that stability can come from many places. In the last few years I’ve been very decidedly single and itinerant and yet there are parts of my life that are very predictable: the way that I take care of my body, my exercise regimen, is a way of having stability. My practice as a reader and the regimen that I set up for myself as a writer also require discipline.
BLVR: What is your writing routine like?
KA: I try to write five hundred words a day, and…
BLVR: Every day?
KA: Every day. In the morning I try not to speak to anybody. I try not to look at any screen for too long, I don’t read the news, I try not to look at the internet or communicate with anybody until the afternoon. It’s never happening in another order, I can only write in the morning. The afternoon is a hard period for me: sensorially I love it, but it’s not when I have access to my mind in the way I have earlier in the day. And the older I get, the more I become a morning person. There’s a privacy that’s possible then that isn’t possible later in the day.
BLVR: Do you listen to music when you’re writing?
KA: Almost never. I’m very strict about what I’m exposed to as I’m writing. If I do, it’s one recording and it’s Glassworks by Philip Glass. I’ve been listening to it for so long that I can put it on if I need some background violence—if there’s such a thing—and I know that it won’t distract me.
BLVR: Now I’d like to talk about San Francisco. And again, I’ll start by quoting the book. This is Fay: “In San Francisco Fay got her first glance of the rest of her life.” This is Wright, many years later: “Wright’s life in San Francisco revealed itself in a matter of forty eight hours, coming to him like he’d called it by its name.” This is you, in a previous interview: “In San Francisco I lived with a sex worker who claimed, in a bodiless voice, to be a nursing student.” Well, I’ve never been to San Francisco, but it seems quite a special place. Can we talk about your relationship with that city?
KA: I grew up in Petaluma, which is forty five minutes north of San Francisco, so I have a lifelong relationship with it. Then I lived there as a young adult before I moved to New York. San Francisco doesn’t exist anymore now. It’s dead, destroyed by tech money. But when I lived there, ten years ago, it was a really singular place. It was a city that one could gain total access to, in a way that is just not possible in New York or in any other American city I have visited. It certainly had to do with its smallness, but I think it also had to do with everything: with its topography, with the fact that the next mile is always sort of hidden from view and so one is always feeling surprised. And then there’s that view, that sudden look upon the water, or upon the hills. It was a place where you could live both very cheaply and very well. You could buy very good produce for very little money—as well as any drug you wanted—and it was possible to move around without the benefit of public transportation if you were in certain areas… In many ways it was just a place with few impediments to self-expression. San Francisco sent this message that, just by being there, its imprimatur was immediately placed upon you: you were formed by it, and because you were in it you belonged to it and then it would change you, and it did. It did change me. More dramatically then I think New York did, or at least more quickly. I never had the feeling of owning New York in the way that I did of owning San Francisco.
BLVR: The editor and literary critic John Freeman, who grew up in Sacramento like your mother, has a theory on what he calls “West Coast writing”: he says that it has “an openness to it” that might have something to do with landscape, or the texture of light, and how that something “transmutes into prose.” Speaking of the places we come from and how those places map themselves onto us… how did California, its light, its landscape, influence your writing and made you the writer that you are?
KA: I just taught last fall a class on the literature of California which I designed, and it was an immensely gratifying experience and a real education. One of the things that I love so much about California is that one is able to pass from one micro-climate into another in under an hour. This is true of Southern California also: you can get from the highest point in the state to the lowest point in under two hours. I think that contributes to the sense of time that many Californians have—because you’re able to go to what feels like another country in so little time, the idea of change, the idea of things being completely different than they just were, is less foreign. And for that reason, I think that the act of writing fiction is not intimidating to me in the way that it might be for other people. It’s fine for me to take out the bottom and make it the top. I was used to the colors out the window turning over entirely, and to stop seeing trees and to start seeing water. The amount of time it takes to write a novel somehow doesn’t seem so obtrusive to me because time was never something that I was very aware of. I think one of the most beautiful things about Californians is just how they waste their time. Time doesn’t exist in the same way there, and for that reason the amount of time that you step into, as a novelist, doesn’t feel as much like incarceration as it might to some people.
BLVR: When you see yourself happy, what do you see?
KA: If I were really able to choose my ideal life, it would involve swimming in a river every single day. I think swimming in a river is very similar to writing, in terms of what is excessive about your movement, the way that you’re traveling across and through the water. Water is this great editor, and you can sense which kicks are necessary: it works very well with the process of writing. At the times that I have been swimming regularly and writing at the same time, I have felt like I reached a higher level of consciousness. Yeah, that’s my platonic ideal of life, I guess.