Rebecca Fishow Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Thank you, Rebecca, for joining us at Connotation Press!
Thanks for having me! I’m very happy to be here.
“Ipseity Episolatory” is a richly observed letter series written by R, addressed to R. Considering R is the first letter in your first name and “ipseity” means selfhood, we assume this piece is to a degree an internal conversation (but what art is not!). What if anything inspired you to write this story (in the way that you wrote it)?
While the details and images of this story are not autobiographical, my intention was to try and put form to the way thoughts feel like they’re in conversation with one another. So often, when my mind isn’t engaged in some specific task, it defaults to the act of trying to solve some paradoxical problem, or create a cohesive narrative for the unnarratable. I wrote this story over a series of days by emailing and replying to myself, I suppose as an attempt to bring the fluidity of thought into the physical world in a different way than straight stream-of-consciousness style.
What film/ book/ artwork/ song has had an impact on you as a human/ writer?
That’s such a difficult question! I don’t think I could narrow any of those categories into just one example, so maybe I’m stick to recent experience. I recently watched the movie Swiss Army Man, which was such a beautiful/grotesque combination of surrealism, music, and image. Despite the copious amounts of posthumous farting, it resonated with me. The movie is a solid reminder of the fact that no ideas are off limits, no matter how strange, and that it’s all about execution of those ideas.
I’m influenced by nearly everything I read, and seek out literature that I suspect will expand my conception of possibility. I recently read Empire of Light, by Michael Bible, Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet, and An Almost Human Gesture Louis Jenkins, all of which had an impact on me. This summer, I also started getting into nonfiction a bit more than usual. I read a collection of essays called Feminist Theorists: Three Centuries of Key Woman Thinkers . It was both exciting and infuriating to learn about some essential historical figures, who I hadn’t even heard of before. The collection is also a good reminder that the fight for human rights is an ongoing battle that requires constant participation and work.
From your own writing, please share a piece that you are most fond of (or fond in a particular way), and why? (provide a url link, if possible)
Recently I’ve been interested in creating these hybrid prose poem/flash fiction stories that explore various emotional states and get pretty surreal at times in order to access those states. They’ve found homes at various journals. Smokelong Quarterly published three of them as “Three Ways of Getting Lost .” I think these are pretty representative of the series. I’m also really proud of “ Jailbreak ” at Monkeybicycle, which earned me my first Pushcart nomination.
Please finish this sentence: Writing a story is like…
…tightrope walking—it demands sensitivity to the smallest rotations of the wire—the slightest shift could throw things off balance. But it also requires finding a certain ease, and simplicity. A dangerous act, but awe inspiring if successful.
Please finish this sentence: Being a writer is…
…frickin hard! That’s not a new, glamorous or exciting answer, but it feels like the truest response that comes to mind. People say that writers write because they have to, and that might be true, but that doesn’t make it easier. The craft itself is difficult to learn, as is finding ways to maintain a writing life despite the demands and responsibilities of being a person. I’m always thankful for people who are passionate and dedicated enough to continue to write and publish, despite the challenges—my life is endlessly richer for it.
What’s next? Any projects in the pipeline? Any projects you’d like to steer towards?
Yes! I slow down a lot during the school year (I teach creative writing at a fine arts high school), but I try to find ways to keep it up. I’m putting together a collection of short stories that includes flash and longer work. I’m also working on a few new stories. One involves a severed head with possible healing powers, and another focuses on a woman who learns to levitate as a coping mechanism for her grief. Sometime soon, I hope to start work on a novel.
What would a text message exchange between R and R look like? Please write the exchange here:
R: Hey, I texted you five times.
R: Are you ignoring me?
R: There’s an ocean in the sky today. The sun rays coming through the water are beautiful!!
R: Want to get coffee?
R: But I’m worried about the birds.
R: I’m sure they’ll be fine.
R: …and the fish.
R: So…no coffee?
Thanks so much, Rebecca, for your time and excellent fiction!
Thank you!! It’s been a pleasure.
Sitting by the sea at a dockside restaurant, in a new country, a colossal Jesus statue across the bay, you realize that your insides are not contained within you at all. Instead they surround you like your mother's once had. The sky is your durable, protective skin. The ocean is your brackish blood. The air, your lungs. The food you eat tastes of fish and spice, but you are only biting into your glands and nodes, swollen a little in fever. When did this begin? Your body past its prime, contracts around the joints.
Once, your people thought the sun was a breed of god, but you knew better, you told them so. The sun is only something you coughed up. Your lover caught it in a tissue, tossed it askance.
No stray dogs skulk here. No wandering cows. Surely, there is life in the water, but when you look down, you see only a floating cigarette butt, and piece of severed seaweed, nudging its way to a fissured shore that need some stitching up.
Something is falling amidst the rain. A blue-green sadness that tastes of chalk. Who still cares to consider the sky swelling up, ready to overflow itself?
At some point in my life, I contained infinite bodies, lovely as seashells each, coiled and clamped around a living thing.
In my new apartment, rain sounds like the silence I left in my childhood bed while I was surrounded by the warm halo of my nightlight. I left silence in so many places, in all those wrong turns I made driving to the country fair. The rabble there kept its distance and frowned. Bearded ladies and tattooed strongmen. Desperate clowns and vendors hawking color candied popcorn, later dropped into the dirt. They were all in cahoots against me. Perhaps they did not understand the freak of my unspeaking.
As I lifted to the top of the ferris wheel, the carnival music warped and turned menacing. It was not the music, but my ears that contained the possibility of danger. My ears and my eyes, which, so high and alone, could map all the wrong turns I made driving myself here.
Accidentally, I shined the lamp light into the cat's face. It was a minor act careless violence. I only wanted to fathom him better, know what he would do. He squawked a quick, disturbing sound, an almost-human intonation, and I suddenly understood why someone might say the path to the universal is through the individual.
It wouldn't be the first time I scared something off. Half of me always scaring away the other half. My body and my mind, my limbs and my torso. It's like that bullfight I saw in Mexico where clowns pulled two fools from the audience and plopped each onto a side of a seesaw, then released the bull. On frightened person sprung into the air while the other was pushed down. I'd seen this before, I ’ d lived it.
I keep thinking something is about to change. I don't know exactly what, but it ’ s immense. Maybe they'll have to evacuate California because the earthquakes, the big ones, will finally arrive. Maybe they'll colonize Mars, and I ’ ll go too. I'd like to be one of the first to drag my foot through all that red, to look down over the quiet earth and understand the smallness of my own absence.
Maybe someone will listen when I say, it was always going to end like this, and so it ’ s already ended. It ’ s only human loneliness you feel, after all. It's only the kind of betrayal that's bound to itself and desires nothing.
I poured myself a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon. My body and my mind hurt so bad, I thought fuck it. Then I watched an inspirational video where a woman told me to never dim my light. She was very persuasive. She had a voice like a god. She said, turn it up, shine your light, like a lunatic or a saint. I have to say, she made me feel better. She made me feel like I could do anything. Throw myself off a six-story building and survive. That's the funny thing about feelings. They're so fickle they almost mean nothing.
I'm living in a valley between two mountains, thinking about all the wild weather that occurs. But snowstorms and lightning aren't what really stand the test of time. Not even these two mountains will make it. Someday you won ’ t look at me the same.
I can hide all almost everything about myself, but the aging of my face can't lie. There's always Botox, I suppose. I could try to be a statue made of stone.
Can I visit you soon? Leave the echoes of this valley, meet you at your seaside dock? L et’ s try this: we crumble together. I'll hold your best pieces in the palms of my hands, and you can hold my hands when they fall off. I’ll be surrounded by all that you contain, and you can throw my map of wrong turns deep into the sea.