Will and Accomplishment and Satisfaction and Resentment: Jo and Danny v. May 2024

Will and Accomplishment and Satisfaction and Resentment: Jo and Danny v. May 2024

A little check-in.

Jo: Here’s your tea. It's nice doing this in person.

Danny: It’s wonderful! Although I did think that it might be slightly easier to inhabit the voice of the orangutan in writing.

J This is about you, Daniel. Do you regret not putting more babies in your highly anticipated forthcoming novel, Women’s Hotel, which is now available to preorder?  

D Oh! Um, there are no babies in the book. There are two off screen, or off page children, but you never really see them. And, um, I feel like the kind of people who were in my book were specifically people who, that was their whole thing. 

So, I'm not sure how I could have written it and put babies in it in a way that would make sense. And I didn't really know anything about babies until five weeks ago. And now I only know about five weeks' worth of baby information. But I like the idea of a Muppet Babies version of Women's Hotel

J A hotel for babies? 

D A hotel for babies, yes. A little baby in every room.  

J Yeah, that would be really cute. Now that you've been a parent for several weeks, what would you choose if you had to adapt any major classic film using a cast of babies? Not Muppets, but like, um, you know those American films where they make the children do the adults? 

D Oh, like Look Who's Talking? 

J Yeah, or like, um, The Blues Brothers?  No, not The Blues Brothers

D No, the Blues Brothers, they were adult men.  

J Whatever: You have to adapt any major work in cinema with babies and cast your baby as the protagonist. 

D I mean, unfortunately, I think noir baby movies would be really fun. So like Double Indemnity with all babies. Right? You would see that. You would go see Double Indemnity with all babies. It'd be really cute. 

J Yes, because I would love to see a baby give in to another baby’s manipulations.

D Yes. Or like the scene where he gets pushed off the train. It would have to be a really slow moving train. 

J And You Only Live Once. You ever see that movie?

D Is that a James Bond movie? 

J That’s You Only Live Twice

D I don't think I've seen You Only Live Once.  

J It stars Henry Fonda who does these terrifying blue eyes burning in a rear view mirror. And I thought that would be great played by a baby.

D Yeah. Anything mirror based. I think any Bette Davis movie. Of Human Bondage with babies. “You're a cripple! A cripple!”

J Do you feel that your perception of color has changed since becoming a parent?

D No, I think colors look the same.

J Do you think that the way food tastes is different since having a child?

D Mmm, no. I would say that, if anything, I appreciate food a little bit more because it used to be that I could just eat food at any time of day for as much as I wanted, and now it's a little bit more like, baby's asleep, time to eat. But with three people, I still get a fair amount of time to eat throughout the day, so it's more just like I have to plan my meals a little bit more carefully.

But yeah, food is pretty good. The food was not good in the hospital. I had a tough time eating food in the hospital.

J What did you eat?

D Mostly we had to get into a terrible cafe downstairs. And to get there you'd have to go downstairs, you went through the cafe, then you'd have to go downstairs to the lobby, and then get rechecked by security to go back upstairs, so every time I wanted a cup of tea I had to go through this whole rigmarole. And the tea was not good, because the water was never fully boiled, so your tea would never get really properly steeped.

J I mean, I understand why they do that in the hospital context. 

D I think they do it to cut corners. Because they have the little switch, you know. You should have a kettle to boil the water.

J I thought it would be so that people don't get burned?

D Well, the net result is that tea is worse.

J Now, sensation. With respect to your tactile interface with the world, has the baby altered that in any meaningful way?

D I mean, the baby's really soft. 

J Does that mean you're more alive to all softness? 

D No, it just means the baby's really soft. Okay. Um, I feel like maybe I would have better answers to these questions if—no, no, no, no, it's alright, I just mean like—you see people who, after they've given birth, say, Oh, now my left eye is blue and it didn't used to be.

J Yeah, but we could perfectly well suggest to people that that is not the case. I think I see color differently to how I was a kid. 

D But now, did you wear glasses as a kid?

J Yes. How has it been for you coming back to doing any writing after the baby was born?

D It was really nice not to do anything for the first two weeks. Because the first two weeks were nuts.

J You were just physically busy the whole time?

D Very. And so sleepy. So, so, so, so sleepy. It was so nice to come back home and finally start to get a little bit of sleep, because in the hospital it was so bad because someone was knocking on the door every ten minutes. And so by comparison, our first few nights home with the baby were like, at least everybody's getting some sleep.

But it was nice to like, ease lightly back into it. I haven't yet gotten to work on the next novel and I'm not doing a ton but I've been easing back in with "Texts From" style jokes about Jane Austen because I read a lot of Jane Austen on my phone when I was in the hospital.

J Oh dang, I've also done a lot of Jane Austen phone reading because I have the novel set.

D I have mostly 18th century novels on my phone. Because you can get them all for free.

J I very recently reread Persuasion on my phone and I'm just like [muffled scream]

D Persuasion. God, what an infuriating book.  I know it's supposed to be. 

J I think the aunt gets a bad rap.

D Which one?

J The bad auntie. That like, ruins her life?

D Are you thinking of Mansfield Park and Mrs. Norris? Oh, Lady Russell's not really an aunt. She's her mom's friend. No, you're right. She acts as an aunt. But I would say the family is about as bad as the Mansfield Park family. And yet, it's more lightly drawn. So you don't feel as, like, deeply oppressed by it all?

J Yeah, that's absolutely true. Right, Persuasion, it forces you to feel it.

D And Persuasion is, like . . . the little passage about Dick Musgrove is as casually brutal as anything I've ever read.

J [reading from Danny's phone]

The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.
He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him "poor Richard," been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.

Holy shit. I'd forgotten that.

D She's so mean. That's . . . she's just comes outta nowhere. It's like, this piece of shit dead kid. 

J But Captain Wentworth, she tortures him a bit, but you're not really privy to his tortures. What she does to her female characters is really often much worse, I think.

In times when I've had loads of stuff going on and I don't write for a while, I feel it backing up behind the eyes and it gives me a tension headache. How do you experience that? 

D Similarly. It's not a tension headache, but definitely a feeling of, okay, I've done the most that I can of noodling and getting ideas, and now if I don't start writing it out they will disappear.

I only have so much of a mental storehouse, and I'll, you know, I'll scribble little notes to myself in the notes app, but truly at a certain point, if I don't turn it into something, the imaginative heft behind it will just be gone.

J The note doesn't call up anything. But if you had fleshed it out a bit, you'd have had enough momentum to carry on? If it were actually written on the paper. So, you're not a habitual paper notebook jotter of ideas.

D I never write by hand.

J That's amazing.

D And lately I've been getting ads, I think on Twitter or Instagram that have been, like, did you know that when you write things by hand you remember it more and you write more thoughtfully. And it's starting to sell you something. I really resent it. I bet if I calculated stuff with an abacus I wouldn't have so many tax problems, but I'm not gonna do that.

J I make my students keep a notebook for the semester. It doesn't have to be handwritten, they just have to add any kind of sentence to it each week. Then by the end of the semester they will have a little corpus of their past ideas.  I think if you're working towards like a critical review you have to do it if you don't have a good enough memory. But you have a good memory. If you're working on an argument, do you take notes?

D I avoid argument, to the best of my ability.

J No, you write review essays! Even though they're not like, ad hominem, they still have an argument behind them.

D Well, I won't argue with you.

J I'm sorry.

D No, no, no, I trust your judgement.

J You won't argue about arguing?

D Yeah! I think I usually have a sense of, like, this has to be written within a day, or this is going to take longer, and I think I have two different mental models for those.

J Has the baby spurred you to any revelations you felt you had to write down right away? I've had that a couple of times. An example would be when they inexplicably enjoy themselves. Like how dogs demonstrate how happiness is done at the procedural level.

D It definitely does make me think sometimes about will and accomplishment and satisfaction and resentment and, you know, stating your needs. I don't think I've often, like, looked at the baby and thought I had unlocked the next chapter of a book or something.

But yeah, I will have thoughts  when I'm with the baby, some of which are just totally, like, you're a cute baby, look at you, you're the baby. And some of which are about things like life or family or relationships, in a way.

J Yeah.

D And that's kind of fun too. But I also sometimes really I just enjoy, like, holding the baby and, like, looking at my phone.