After a sub-par interview with an actress of high esteem, and after a very good date with someone with low self esteem, I realized that I needed to treat my interviews like dates because I was so good at treating my dates like interviews. I don’t mean “date” like in a creepy way, but in the way where I would want to engage them and be engaged with them about whatever we were talking about. Foster a certain kind of respectful intimacy where you learn about the person, what drives them, what their passions are, so you’re not just getting sound bites. Sound bites aren’t good on a date, and they have limited functionality for interviews. The more engaged the person is, the more likely it will be mutually beneficial, regardless of the context.
For me, my interview method has been defined by nerves and nausea, and I’ve learned that I’m much better at talking to directors than I am actors, because directors tend to be, like me, intellectual narcissists. They can ramble on about little details about process and production, and asking about their vision (with more specificity than someone in a crowd at an audience Q&A asking, “WHAT IS YOUR VISION, GRAND POOBAH?”) is effectively asking them to talk about themselves.
That is what you want, sort of, on a date, right? That intimacy, engagement, and narcissism, if you’re a masochist like I am. So I overwhelm my date with a barrage of questions: How did you start doing what you do? Where do you live? What fictional character do you most identify with and why? What was a moment in your life where you needed validation but didn’t receive it?
These questions don’t only serve as forms of engagement but, for me at least, tests and gauges of potential partnership longevity. It reminds me of the time I tried to make my own James Bond fan club with an entrance quiz that required an 80% score or higher. So it’s like that, but a fan club for me. Another couple of my favorite questions are, “Do you read any articles in print or online? Do you like reading or being read to?”
I’m an awkward person and I only like talking about myself insofar as talking about movies, so I try to veil my anxieties in questions so the pressure is mostly off me. Hopefully it’s back and forth, volleying with follow ups between us, but sometimes I’ll get one of those people that, I don’t know, is worse at interacting with human beings normally than I am. Those awkward people are the best to watch react to the words, “My father died when I was in high school, but I don’t think I need another therapist.”
Just get it over with, is my motto. Rip the band aid off. The worst they can do is run screaming, and were that to happen, that would be my next solipsistic personal essay. Such impulses are why waiters have texted me to thank me for the flattery even though they’re straight and why I spent an ungodly amount of money buying a Death’s Head Moth for my best friend Amber as a graduation present. Like Nike told me to, I just did it. It’s the only time I will pay attention to a sports thing, unless Messi’s butt is involved.
In spite of the lag between when my words reached his ears and fell from my mouth, or vice versa, reading to each other was the strongest and most ineffable *thing* connecting Conner and me. Separated by time zones and coasts, we Skyped regularly; and when we couldn’t Skype, we called each other on the phone, and when we couldn’t talk on the phone, we would send audio messages. The sound of our voices compensated for what remained untouched, and all the tactility that one wanted was reframed aurally.
We started to talk in 2014, brought together by our mutual contempt for Ryan Murphy, a proclivity towards using the term “queer” as a verb, and an adoration for Pushing Daisies. Our meeting was serendipitous; we almost went to the same college, but my mother was too afraid to let me go to school in Chicago — where he was when we started talking — lest I fall out of her verbal firing range. And for the two or so years we Skyped, called, and texted, he poured an appropriation of his soul and his heart into pilots, spec scripts, short film ideas. He would read to me parts of them, or read excerpts of books that inspired his writing, or merely essays he thought I would be interested in. He read them with fervor, his tongue occasionally tripping over the words.
I would do the same. And even though I don’t write fiction, I would want to read to him all the articles that piqued my interest or that challenged me or shaped my writing, my ideas, my life. I also read him things I knew we would both hate, so we could complain about them together. Our dynamic was founded upon as much petty disdain for bad writing and worse ideas as it was mutual passion for thinking critically about culture.
Our breath would become tired after talking and reading for hours, like gasping for air. We would wheeze a little, after dancing to a collective melody, chest thrumming with energy. We both got to be a part of each other’s thought process, we shared the things that interested us, and even though we weren’t necessarily always reading our writing, we were sharing a part of ourselves. As a gateway into someone’s head, it was okay! We were climbing into a hotbox of neuroses, a sauna of self-doubt.
Is that what reading to another person is? Sharing a part of yourself?
Director and actor, liar and truth teller in one. How your voice sounds on certain phrases and words changes, even slightly, the meaning or tone of the text. Endearing, fraught, libidinous. Acting without the stage. Confession without the barrier. The ageless image of a parent reading to their child, not only passing down storytelling, but giving a part of themselves to the child. The most honest performance, tailored directly to one person. The “ear” in queer. The sharp “o” in the first part of his name. The languorous “eye” in mine.
So much of our relationship had to be predicated on textuality. Our most intimate and most tempestuous moment were in the words we said to one another, or the ones we read, or the ones we wrote out.
Coziness is not exactly the right word to describe what I’ve wanted out of reading to someone new, or having them read to me. What is it when you feel like you’re falling, the crisp air sliding past your face, and you land in a bed?
I have listened to audiobooks at bedtime since I was 6. I have a separate iPod for them. Dracula, Harry Potter, Tina Fey, Agatha Christie, and lots of David Sedaris. The familiarity of their dulcet tones is comforting and safe. My mother would often yell at me at 3am because I was deep into Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, without stop. She would come into my room and say, “Look, I’m glad I’ve raised such a literarily inclined child, but it is 3 in the morning, and you don’t want mommy starting her day off with mimosas, do you?”
Right now, it’s just David Sedaris. Sedaris’ voice is twine like, bristling on sharper vowels, wrapping around consonants, only ostensibly weak. The duality to that voice is like a claw happy kitten, sculpting his essays with bite, the sentimentality of his final likes resonating as a cocktail of astringent and tenderness. He is the perfect person to read his essays not merely because he wrote them, not only because he has perfected the comic timing, but because his vocality embodies sonically what those essays read like: bittersweet, caustically romantic. No wonder why he loves Billie Holiday.
I’ve felt lost in life, as any twenty-something does, and lost in love, except while reading. I’ve felt I have lost a lot, as well, and I cannot tell how accurate that is. Pretending that is not the reality has been a daily game; mentioning my father’s death nonchalantly — he, who was a big reader of true crime and to whom I would read movie reviews — a card to put on the table, automatically trying to dismissing maudlin loneliness.
I remember when Conner would soften his voice, the cadence, a slow waltz on the beach. I remember when my pride for my reading ability would give way to the verve of the article, sharpening, glistening with earnestness. I remember recording my voice for him, a chapter from a book about queer people and opera, not worrying about the number of takes, not worrying about my breathing technique. I remember playing his recording on the commute home, lulled.
It’s something that keeps me and my best friend Phuong together. When we’re not sending each other memes or complaining the indignities of a mini-Niagra Falls down our back during a summer in London or New York, respectively, we’re convening at a 24 hour McDonald’s reading about queer theory, or the loneliness of the city, or a cum-filled peach.
In the opening montage of Frances Ha, the title character sits with her best friend, Sophie, on their couch, Frances’ legs bent like a triangle, taking up two thirds of the space. She read to her best friend. Frances reads, “To praise a work of literature by calling it sincere is now, at best, a way of saying that although it need be given no aesthetic or intellectual admiration…” From Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity, Frances reads this like it’s a part of her, a piece of her she wishes to share with Sophie. Sophie knits, their routine reaffirmed.
I was most honest with Conner years after whatever we had fallen apart like a tattered, yellowing page in a used book, and after many starts and stops to remain friends, after being angry and depressed, and then tender again. I told him, “I’ll never love anyone like I loved you. I’ll love someone else differently, certainly, but not the same.” The perfect thing to tell someone while they’re in the waiting room waiting for their quarterly STD test. But it’s true. No one shared themselves with me like that before. And I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
I will look for someone whose voice I will hear waking in the morning before I go to work. I would like to imagine their voice when I read something in the Times that day at work. Reading to someone, being read to is routine and secure, a whole oceanic world, and words come off the page and drown in your mouth. And I want to drown in someone.