I Interview Myself: Fiction, Reality, and Deep Deep Background
JV: Thanks for agreeing to this interview.
JV: Did I have a choice?
JV: Not really. But it was your idea in the first place.
JV: You mean yours.
JV: Yours too.
JV: Can we get on with it? I have fresh coffee sitting in the pot in the other room.
JV: Certainly, I won’t keep you long. But feel free to grab a cup before we get started.
JV: Thanks, I’ll be much more relaxed.
JV: Relaxed? By coffee?
JV: I’m weird that way.
JV: Or addicted.
JV: No comment.
JV: Go ahead. Now that I’m slurping my drug of choice.
JV: By the by, I think this is an excellent way for readers to get to know you, the man behind the curtain.
JV: The curtain of fiction.
JV: I’m not sure that’s an appropriate characterization.
JV: Because it implies something else is behind it, something other. When in fact with fiction most of the time what you have is what you have: the story itself.
JV: I disagree.
JV: You do?
JV: I do.
JV: The story itself often owes nothing to the “real world,” which is just another fictional construct anyway isn’t it?
JV: I disagree.
JV: You do?
JV: I do.
JV: So in the end what you always get back to is that fiction is fiction and needs no “institutional support” from a real world, especially when there isn’t any.
JV: Are you telling me you think that nothing is real?
JV: No, I’m telling you that everything isn’t.
JV: So you are not real?
JV: Oh, I’m real as rain.
JV: So you’re real?
JV: I’m real as rain. So is my coffee.
JV: The coffee is real?
JV: It’s as real as rain.
JV: So you aren’t unreal?
JV: I’m real as rain. I am also, in my humble opinion, “totally unreal!”
JV: (Sigh.) If you’re not real, I don’t see what I’m interviewing you for.
JV: It was your idea.
JV: Yours too. And how are you talking if you’re not real?
JV: I’m not talking.
JV: How are you typing?
JV: Who says I’m typing?
JV: I do.
JV: And who are you? Are you even real?
JV: Tee hee.
JV: No one ever really says ‘tee hee.’
JV: I’m not speaking, I’m typing.
JV: You said you weren’t typing.
JV: No, I didn’t.
JV: Yes, you did. You said—oh.
JV: Tee hee.
JV: So far you’ve told me nothing about yourself.
JV: What do you want to know?
JV: All the basics.
JV: Such as?
JV: Basic basics. Name. Rank. Serial number. Etc. Birthplace. First love. Favorite color.
JV: Doesn’t this website have an “About” section?
JV: They can go there.
JV: Rather cantankerous answer, but point made. All right, then, tell me the three most important things about you. I don’t mean about you now. I mean deep about you. Deep background.
JV: Is that a psychological term?
JV: Actually, I think it’s a journalistic one.
JV: All the President’s Men, and the like.
JV: It is?
JV: Sure enough.
JV: Three things?
JV: Only three?
JV: That’s not enough?
JV: Seems kind of limiting.
JV: Okay, three for now.
JV: I can work with that.
JV: Well, there’s one.
JV: All the President’s Men.
JV: What about it?
JV: Read it compulsively when I was a teenager. Loved that thing.
JV: Okay, so that’s hyperbolic.
JV: All the President’s Men?
JV: No, compulsively. But Watergate was the first formative political experience for me. I remember quite well that long summer when the hearings dragged on; everybody was talking about it, opining on it. Pro and con. The full range of Nixonian corruption has laid heavily on my mind ever since. So I had a natural connection to the book. Plus, it reads like a thriller.
JV: Any other books from your deep past?
JV: The Double Helix?
JV: Is that a question?
JV: It’s an answer. The Double Helix.
JV: Kind of before your time, right?
JV: It was on our bookshelf at home. Looked interesting, so I read it. It’s kind of a thriller too, but completely different.
JV: Yeah, the discovery of the structure of DNA.
JV: I realize it doesn’t sound like a very sexy subject.
JV: Well, I guess technically it’s not. But an important one.
JV: I didn’t really care about that. I just liked it.
JV: So is that one of the three?
JV: The three? No, of course not.
JV: Okay still three, then. Waiting on three.
JV: [ ]
JV: Still waiting.
JV: How about three irrelevant things? Irrelevant things that are, in any case, true. Because the deep background stuff sometimes isn’t. Even if it’s actual.
JV: Sigh. I was hoping for something important and meaningful. But all right, three irrelevant things.
JV: Okay, when I was getting my doctorate I took a one-semester crash course on reading German. It was offered on the sly by one of the grad professors—no charge to us and no credit to him—purely out of the kindness of his heart. If not for that course, and subsequently passing the German exam, I would not have been able to receive my doctorate. And I would not have a job.
JV: That’s not irrelevant.
JV: This was a while ago. It’s irrelevant to now.
JV: I don’t think it is. And what about Spanish? Never think of taking a crash course in a language that actually matters in the United States of America?
JV: I had Spanish already. I needed one more language.
JV: Ha ha. So you are fluent in Spanish?
JV: I can’t speak a lick of Spanish. But I took three years in high school; and because of that my college made me only take a year; and because of that my master’s program claimed I’d satisfied their (one) language requirement; and because of that my doctorate program said I only needed one more rather than two more languages.
JV: So you needed no Spanish for your doctorate because you took three years of it in high school?
JV: More or less. Fifteen years earlier.
JV: Frankly, that was a dodge. But continue.
JV: When I was young I rescued a black kitten from the end of our road. (We lived out in the country.) I didn’t own him long enough to do more than name him “Kitten,” before it disappeared.
JV: Mildly interesting, but bathetic.
JV: I did see him one last time before it disappeared. I saw him struggling along our driveway, looking in very bad shape, like he had come out the loser in a war with a raccoon. But who knows. Given where we lived it could have been a fight with a copperhead or a horse or a beaver. And then he snuck under one of our cars.
JV: So what?
JV: We only found him, much later, when someone moved that car and saw that the decayed corpse of a black kitten had been underneath it.
JV: Devastating, actually. I loved that cat.
JV: Sorry. Okay, I used to be very tall.
JV: You’re fairly tall now.
JV: I mean tall. Monstrous. I towered over people.
JV: What happened? Shrink ray?
JV: I stopped growing in 9th grade. Everyone else kept growing.
JV: Can we talk about something more important?
JV: Oui? What are you, a Francophile?
JV: I’ve become one, yes.
JV: For some reason, a couple of the books I’ve been working on in recent years have taken me to France.
JV: Weren’t you always deeply suspicious of the French, though?
JV: Like in grade school, high school, college, post-college, post-post college?
JV: If you mean “Did I, as an American, inherit a bunch of clichéd prejudices that were handed to us by the British?” then the answer is yes. You can trace almost every anti-French sentiment to the British. And virtually every one is based on thin air.
JV: Careful what you say.
JV: Why? Who’s listening?
JV: And aren’t you the big fan of English literature? Weren’t you like raised on it?
JV: I was. I happily admit the influence.
JV: Does this mean you like the old stuff?
JV: That’s not what it means.
JV: But you’ve read like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Tom Jones? The Prelude? The Merchant of Venice? Bleak House?
JV: I have not read Bleak House.
JV: For shame!
JV: Why, have you read it?
JV: Think about what you just said.
JV: I don’t like to think in terms of old or not old. But rather good and bad. Paradise Lost might be the single greatest piece of writing invented out of the mind of a human. But The Rape of the Lock is about the dumbest. Both of those are old.
JV: It’s so dumb it’s unreadable.
JV: Is that an aspersion on all 18th century English poetry?
JV: Yes, it is. All of it is terrible.
JV: What about the prose?
JV: 18th century English prose is fantastic, as is 19th century English prose.
JV: Some 20th. But the 20th century is really the century of America, and of Ireland. In fact, in terms of poetry you can just read American and Irish, and you’ve got a world-class education in modern poetics. Certainly experimental poetics.
JV: You’re sounding like an awful book nerd.
JV: I know. Let’s talk about something else.
JV: Read anything else? Philosophy? Theology?
JV: I’d like to think I could, but it never holds my attention for very long. I keep waiting for a story to show up. I get bored and go back to fiction.
JV: Narrative history?
JV: Absolutely. Love it. Nathaniel Philbrick is one of my favorite authors.
JV: What else?
JV: The morning sports page.
JV: Good god.
JV: Raised in a sporting family. And a newspaper family. No apologies. And I was one of those athletic kids in grade school.
JV: You look surprised.
JV: So do you.
JV: This sounds like deep background now. More please.
JV: I love to cook.
JV: If I get dropped on a desert island with a kick-ass kitchen I won’t starve, so there.
JV: I am serious!
JV: I thought you were the ascetic.
JV: I am that too.
JV: And yet you confess to be an epicurean.
JV: You mean a glutton?
JV: Is that what ‘epicurean’ means?
JV: I’m not sure, actually. But I don’t think so.
JV: I think you’re thinking of ‘gourmand.’
JV: Yes, there’s that word too.
JV: Are you a gourmand?
JV: I don’t think so.
JV: You don’t think?
JV: I guess not. It just never seems real after I eat it.
JV: Eat what?
JV: Eat anything.
JV: So nothing is real?
JV: No, anything isn’t.
JV: How do you walk around all day this kind of claptrap in your head?
JV: Funnest part of being alive, actually.
JV: Sounds like torture.
JV: Good thing you’re not a writer.
JV: Think about what you just said.
JV: So you admit you’re alive?
JV: Of course I’m alive.
JV: So you admit you’re real?
JV: I’m as real as rain.
JV: Can you be alive and not real?
JV: I‘ll resist the temptation to make a dumb joke about pop stars, and just say ‘Yes.”