Nick Flynn: Storytelling As Illness


SEASON 2: EPISODE 7
Poet Nick Flynn talks about the ways in which he won’t die.

ABOUT THE GUEST
Nick Flynn has worked as a ship’s captain, an electrician, and a caseworker for homeless adults. Some of the venues his poems, essays, and nonfiction have appeared in include the New Yorker, the Nation, the Paris Review, the New York Times Book Review, and NPR’s This American Life. His writing has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, PEN, and the Fine Arts Work Center, among other organizations. His film credits include artistic collaborator and “field poet” on Darwin’s Nightmare (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 2006), as well as executive producer and artistic collaborator on Being Flynn, the film version of his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. His most recent collection of poetry, I Will Destroy You, appeared from Graywolf Press in 2019. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Lili Taylor, and his daughter, Maeve. http://www.nickflynn.org/

ABOUT THE HOST
Neil Goldberg is an artist in NYC who makes work that The New York Times has described as “tender, moving and sad but also deeply funny.” His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA, he’s a Guggenheim Fellow, and teaches at the Yale School of Art. More information at neilgoldberg.com.

ABOUT THE TITLE
SHE’S A TALKER was the name of Neil’s first video project. “One night in the early 90s I was combing my roommate’s cat and found myself saying the words ‘She’s a talker.’ I wondered how many other other gay men in NYC might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment. With that, I set out on a project in which I videotaped over 80 gay men in their living room all over NYC, combing their cats and saying ‘She’s a talker.’” A similar spirit of NYC-centric curiosity and absurdity animates the podcast.

CREDITS
This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund
Producer: Devon Guinn 
Creative Consultants: Aaron Dalton, Molly Donahue 
Mixer: Andrew Litton 
Visuals and Sounds: Joshua Graver 
Theme Song: Jeff Hiller 
Website: Itai Almor
Media: Justine Lee
Interns: Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho
Thanks: Jennifer Callahan, Nick Rymer, Sue Simon, Maddy Sinnock

TRANSCRIPTION

NICK FLYNN: I was driving my daughter to soccer. And she had a bike and I had a bike and we’d ride, even though it was a little cold. 

NEIL GOLDBERG: Yeah. 

NICK: But a guy went by on a bike and he had like a boombox, one of those boombox that plays, he’s playing like a podcast, like really loud, and it was so odd. We both just laughed. It was like, what is that? You’re just blasting a podcast going down the street, blasting. 

NEIL: This is fresh air. 

Hello, I’m Neil Goldberg and this is SHE’S A TALKER. I’m a visual artist and this podcast is my thinly veiled excuse to get some of my favorite New York writers, artists, performers, and beyond into the studio to chat. For prompts, I use a collection of thousands of index cards on which I’ve been writing thoughts and observations for the past two decades, kind of like one of those party games, but hopefully not as cheesy. 

These days, the cards often start as recordings I make into my phone. Here are some recent ones: I really love how Beverly pronounces ‘Meow’. It’s never appropriate to share scrap paper from home with students. I’m never sure what a simmer is.

I’m so happy to have as my guest, poet Nick Flynn. I have been a hardcore fan of Nick’s writing since his first book, Some Ether, came out in 2000 and was blown away by his memoirs, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and The Ticking is the Bomb. In the fall, he released a new book of poetry, I Will Destroy You, and in the next few months he has two more books coming out: Stay, and This is the Night Our House Will Catch on Fire. I met Nick briefly in, I think, the late eighties in Provincetown, and we reconnected recently via our mutual friend, Jacques Servin, who is on an earlier episode. Nick and I spoke in January at a recording studio at The New School near Union Square in New York City.

NEIL: Are you comfortable? 

NICK: Like on a scale of one to ten? 

NEIL: Like, you know those smiley faces, like if you’re in the hospital.

NICK: How much pain I have? Uh, I hadn’t even thought about it till you just said that. Now I’m wondering if I am, so. 

NEIL: I feel like I’m, I’m totally not, I’m not feeling any pain at the moment. 

NICK: No, I’m not feeling any pain. No, I’m feeling no pain. 

NEIL: That’s different from, feeling no pain is different from not feeling any pain.

NICK: That means if you’re kind of fucked up, I think. 

NEIL: Exactly. 

NICK: You’re feeling no pain. 

NEIL: Um, I’m so happy to have you, Nick Flynn, on the show, SHE’S A TALKER. 

NICK: I’m happy to be here, Neil Goldberg – 

NEIL: I, you know –  

NICK: on the show SHE’S A TALKER. Is the ‘She’ the cat?

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: That’s, that’s who the ‘she’ is. 

NEIL: It is, yeah. I, you know – 

NICK: I guess I got that. Yeah. 

NEIL: Well, you know, in 1993 when everyone was dying… Everyone is still dying, but just differently. 

NICK: I remember that. Yeah. 

NEIL: Yeah. Uh, you know, I did a video project where I interviewed, it turned out to be, like about 80 gay men all over New York City in all five boroughs who had female cats, combing their cats and saying “She’s a Talker.”

NICK: They were combing the cats? 

NEIL: Combing the cat. It was just almost like, it was like a stealthy way to like, not stealthy, but it was a way to document a lot of gay men who felt like really imperiled, and it was my first video project. And, I don’t know, when I decided to name this, that came up for me. But subsequently I get a lot of like, what does the word ‘she’ mean at this point?

NICK: Right, right, right. Yeah. 

NEIL: Maybe I should rebrand it. What should I call it? 

NICK: Uh, you should stick with it, I think. Hmm. 

NEIL: Uh, when, when you’re looking for like a short hand, like you encounter someone on the proverbial elevator and are looking for like a pithy way to describe who it is you are and what it is you do, what do you, what do you reach for?

NICK: I say I’m a poet. 

NEIL: Period. 

NICK: Period. Yeah. Yeah. Cause that usually gets a pretty dead-eyed stare like the one you just gave me. Like that’s it? That’s it. 

NEIL: When someone is confronted with poet, silence, do you ever feel like helping someone out? 

NICK: Well, it depends on like, often, that’ll pretty much be the conversation-ender. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: So it does nothing to help cause they’re gone right at that point. 

NEIL: If your folks were around, how might they describe who it is you’ve become?

NICK: Wow, that’s a, that’s an interesting one. Would they, would they still be, are they like idealized, my, like my parents on their best day or on their worst day? 

NEIL: Oh, I wouldn’t mind hearing both if you don’t mind. Like the… 

NICK: Ah, like, you know, there’s the idealized version of your parents. Then there’s the, not the reality, but the, you know, but recognizing at a certain point that they had some rough days, you know. In my mind, it’s hard to deny they had some rough days.

So, um, it’s a little, it’s a little harder to pretend. Yeah. Uh, my father, he knew that I’d published books and he was sort of, you know, strangely proud of that. Uh, but proud just in the way he knew I’d be a good writer because he was such a great writer, so I got it all from him. So he took all credit for any of it.

So I imagined he would still take credit for any accomplishments I’ve had or that he perceives I’ve had. I’ve, I’m trying to think if he had like on a good day, that’s sort of like a not so good day. Yeah. On a good day, he did have a couple moments where he was able to just recognize the struggle it had been, uh, between the two of us, uh, to actually acknowledge that. And I think that would be like, he’d say like, yeah, this was, this must have been hard, you know? So I think that would be. That’d be a good day for him. 

My mother’s a little more enigmatic, like it’s actually, when I think about it, like, cause I mean, she died before he did. I was younger. I didn’t know her as well, probably. So, although I grew up with her, but, um, I sort of studied my father more, and my mother’s more of a, uh, a construct of the imagination in some ways. Although, I mean, we spent so much time together too. It’s strange to say that actually, I don’t know if that’s true. 

You know, I, there’s always the question like, what would my mother be like now? So I’m, I look at women that are my mother’s age, that would be my mother’s age now. Like I don’t know how, how she would be. So either way, I think she’s, since she, from her backhouse sort of WASP-y Irish background, she probably wouldn’t say directly anything. I’d have to decipher what she said.  

NEIL: So it would be cryptic in terms of her estimation of you, or? 

NICK: I mean, she, I think she’d say, “Oh, I’m, I’m proud of you.” But the deeper levels of that I think would be harder to get to. 

NEIL: Yeah. I see you came in, you were, you had a bike helmet, which I connect to. Um, on your bike ride over, did you have any thoughts? 

NICK: Wow. Thoughts as I was coming here – the sort of meta thing is I was listening on my headphones to SHE’S A TALKER. And you’re talking to someone about riding a bike over the bridge. 

NEIL: Right, yeah. 

NICK: So like, yeah. I mean, at the moment I was riding over the bridge. I was listening to you talk to someone else about riding over the bridge and then thinking that I would soon be here talking to you, and I brought my helmet it, I didn’t – usually I lock it on my bike  but maybe I brought it in so you would ask me about it. It’s possible, but I think I just brought it in cause it was cold, it was so cold outside. I wanted a warm helmet when I went back out. So. 

NEIL: Aha, you didn’t want to put on a cold helmet. I never thought about that.

NICK: What I thought about on the bridge was that it was way colder than I thought it was. It was the wind, it was like howling and I had a hat in my bag and I kept thinking, I’ll just stop and put my hat on under my helmet and I didn’t stop. I kept thinking, I’ll warm up at some point, but I just kept getting colder and colder the further I went. I just never stopped, I just kept going. 

NEIL: Well, let’s, um, go to some cards that I curated for you. 

NICK: You curate these for this conversation? 

NEIL: Yes. Yeah. 

 (Card flip) 

So the first card is: the specific, tentative, hyper-attentive way one tastes something to see if it’s gone bad.

NICK: Um, what I usually do is I’ll, I’ll, I’ll cook it and then give it to my brother.

NEIL: Mikey likes it? 

NICK: Yeah. And then if he can get through it then it probably hasn’t gone so far bad. Cause he’s pretty sensitive actually. I mean, while I’m presenting, it sounds like he’d just eat anything. No. He’s quite sensitive. So he’s like sort of the. He’s, he, he, he’s a Canary. Ah ha. Yeah. So I’ll just fix it up and give it to him and then, cause he’ll, usually, he’s quite happy if I make him something, give him some food, then if it’s no good, then, then I throw it away. Yeah. If he eats it, I’ll eat it. 

NEIL: He’s your taster. Um, where, where does your brother live? 

NICK: He lives upstate, New York. 

NEIL: Oh, okay. Yeah, but he’s your older brother, right, if I’m remembering?

NICK: But why did you say, “but.” Because he lives upstate? 

NEIL: No, because of the scenario of like, your brother, the implication. He’s an implied younger brother in the story. 

NICK: Gotcha. Yeah. Yeah. He’s an implied younger brother in life too.

 (Card Flip) 

NEIL: Next card. When a toddler falls, that space before they start to cry.

NICK: Well. My daughter was, uh, three. And for us, like three was really like, spectacular meltdowns and just like, you know, tantrums and just like wildness, just like absolutely wild, like wild animal, just screaming and frustrated and like, you know, furious. And one day she, uh, she was in a tantrum, she fell and she hit her cheek on the corner of a staircase and it split open and like bled. It sort of woke her up. Like it was right at the end of her being three, she was going to turn four. It was a Sunday night. And my wife and I were like, Oh, what do we do? Like, I’m like, I guess, do we take her to her doctor or do we like, you know, just like, like leave her with a scar for the rest of her life?

And so I butterfly-stitched it, you know, like made a little butterfly thing, to hold it together to squish the skin together, you know? And, uh. That’s what we did. We sort of looked up t see like how big and deep it had to be to go to a doctor and stuff and to need a stitch, and it was sort of right on the edge. So I butterfly-stitched it, and then. Yeah so now she just has this pretty little scar on her face and she’s perfect. 

NEIL: Wow. And does she know the story of the scar? 

NICK: Oh yeah. I would say it’s a part of her myth, part of her origin myth. The wildest, the wildness poured out of her cheek. Yeah. Yeah. 

NEIL: Uh, can, can you share – 

NICK: Did that answer your question?

NEIL: Yes and no. That’s always the, um, I think it’s beautiful. I have the idea, I’m not a parent, but when I see a kid having a tantrum –

NICK: I wasn’t either before that. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: It comes on kind of suddenly. 

NEIL: But how did you deal with tantrums? 

NICK: I, I’ve been sort of attentive and amused by the whole process. Like I feel like we’re really lucky. She’s a really good kid and just a really interesting kid and like, so I just sort of like see it, like, I admire the tantrums in a certain way. Like, I think everyone should be like, just screaming, running down the streets, you know, most of the time. Like this sucks. Um, so there was something very, uh, wild about it.

Like just to see like, wow, like you can just do this. You can just go and like, you can go to a store and just pull a whole rack down. If you don’t get your Popsicle, you don’t fucking. She, she used to fire me like every day as a father. She said, if you do not give me that Popsicle, you will not be able to kiss me. You will not be able to hug me. You will not be my father. 

NEIL: What did you say to that? 

NICK: I’m like, Oh, that’s really hard. I’d be sad not to be your father. She was like, you will not be able to, you will have to go to Texas and never come back. 

NEIL: Crafty. 

NICK: Yeah, she was good. Yeah, but I, you know, I was onto her though. Yeah. I’d be her father like in half an hour later.

NEIL: Did you ever say –  

NICK: She’d rehire me like half hour later. Yeah. 

NEIL: Was there a re-intake process? 

NICK: No. No. We just pretended it didn’t happen. Yeah, it was all moving forward. It was all the continuous present. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: You just kept this present moment. This present moment had no connection to the other moments whatsoever.

NEIL: Did you ever join your daughter in a tantrum? 

NICK: Did I ever join her in a tantrum? Oh, wow. Yeah, I did. Yeah. I remember one night, like early on when she was like six months old and that. The beautiful hallucination of early parenthood where you just, you just don’t sleep. You just like, you’re just awake for like months.

Like just not sleeping. And you just fall asleep in the middle of things. Just like, you know, you can just barely do anything. Everything’s filthy and like, you know, you just wash all the clothes and immediately they’re filthy again, the food is just taken and thrown to the floor. I think the dogs eat it. You just give up in a certain way.

There’s one night I was up with her at like three in the morning and she was just screaming. And I was just like, I think I filmed her screaming with my phone. I’m just like, okay, just scream. Just scream. I’m going to make a movie of you screaming. I was like, I don’t know what to do. So I just made a little movie of her.

NEIL: Wow. But you didn’t, but, but it didn’t call on you the feeling of like, now I am going to lose it myself and cry? 

NICK: Um, well, I think I viewed, it’s like, you know, I’m from like a sort of WASP-y Irish background, and so we don’t really show that stuff. And I’m sort of always like that, but it don’t, I don’t, I try. I think no one can see it, but I think everyone actually sees it. 

NEIL: So always you’re, you’re crying always.

NICK: Melting down, yeah.

 (Card Flips) 

NEIL: Okay. Kids with artist parents. Because both you and your wife are artists. Like to me, the idea of like, two artists come together and they have a kid, well that’s going to be a super kid. And then that kid maybe, will –

NICK: Be with another artist, yeah.

NEIL: It’s almost like an artistic eugenics kind of vision or something. 

NICK: Um, yeah. I always think it for our daughter, like Lord help her. Really. I don’t think like, Oh, you’ve been, you’ve won the lottery. Like, like, this is the card, this is the hand you’ve been dealt. Good luck with it. You know, we’re both like, yeah, we’re both a little. I, I don’t know, I don’t know if neurotic is the right word, but like, you know. You know, we’re, we’re sensitive. We’re like, you know, in some ways not made for this world, we’re, we’re awkward where other people are comfortable, we’re, uh, you know, we found our place to, to survive, which is really lucky, you know?

And also, you know, in a culture, like I’m a poet too, I’m not, like, it’s not that like, this is like some hugely respected artistic position in our culture at the moment. You know, like, that’s why I say that I, I say it perversely if someone asks me, with the elevator pitches, like if they ask me what I do, I say I’m a poet.

And just because it’s perverse, it’s like it’s so perverse, you know? You know when, if you go to a doctor’s office, I write it on a form. I write ‘poet’, just, you might as well ride hobo or something. Right? That’s not right. I’m a wizard. So it’s not like, it doesn’t feel like that she’s suddenly being dealt like this, like, like a superhuman. Like, what are you talking about? 

NEIL: Right.

NICK:  It’s just unfortunate. Like, you know. Artists get attracted to artists because we can vaguely understand each other, maybe. You know, we’re not like, you know, I’ve tried to be with civilians before and it’s like, not easy, you know? I really, I feel less understood, you know? I barely feel like I fit in now. To this world. So you know, you find someone who you feel like, yeah, you also don’t feel like you fit in. So that’s a kind of connection. 

NEIL: How does your, how does your daughter describe what, what you both do? Does she unabashedly say – 

NICK: Well, it’s a little easier for Lily, for my wife. I mean, cause she’s like, you know, people actually will sometimes recognize her on the streets and stuff, so she’s a little prouder. 

NEIL: But him, the hobo. 

NICK: And my dad’s a poet.

 (Card Flip) 

NEIL: Okay. Next card: the fetishization of storytelling. 

NICK: Yeah. Right now there’s a, there’s a whole storytelling thing going on, right? Yeah. There’s a whole sense of revival and stuff, and I don’t exactly get it. I mean, I, I admire it, like I’ve gone to The Moth, I’ve participated in a couple of storytelling things. It’s a, it’s a strange form for me. It’s a strange art form for me, and I admire it when it’s done really well. I admire it. The ones I’ve gone to, that I’ve been part of, they were, kind of felt a little closer to stand-up, which is another art form too. But I’m like, the line is a little blurry and a little like strange and, and it makes sense that stand-up would be part of it. Cause they are sort of like, like jokes in a way. They’re sort of packaged. I mean it’s a packaged form. It’s like improv is more interesting to me. Like where you don’t know where it’s going to go. But where, if you know where, I mean, like I say, people that do it well, it’s really beautiful. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: It’s just not what I do. It’s like memoir is not storytelling. Uh, it’s another form. And storytelling is like one part of it. You sort of tell the story, but then you sort of have to turn over the story and say like, why am I telling this story? Like what am I trying to present in telling this story, ignores all these other realities that are happening or all these other things I don’t want you to know. People will come up and say like, you know, how’s it feel to like, have that people know so much about you now? Like, well, you only know what I want you to know. You’re gonna get some glimpse from a book. 

NEIL: Right. Yeah. 

NICK: From storytelling, I don’t know even what glimpse you get, you get a glimpse of how they tell a story I guess. I want to know about other people. I want to know like what their, the interior life is of other people, what the landscape is. Which is why I like read… Or, why I, why I do anything. Like go see art. Or just to sort of like have that, so you’re not so, so you recognize it’s not all, all ego, you know? It’s not all, like everything isn’t sort of springing forth from within me. You know? 

NEIL: Right. I’m not interested in other people’s stories generally. 

NICK: Yeah. 

NEIL: Specifically too. I’m not interested in other people’s stories, but I’m interested in hearing people think, which is what this podcast is about. So like the way their thought processes reveal themselves. That interests me. I don’t know, but I’m, I’m, I’m not interested in the content.

NICK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I understand. Yeah. I teach creative writing and often it’s like, I’m much more interested in like, the stuff around the content. It’s not about the content, like it’s more about the stuff around like how you’re like, like, you know, how this one thing transformed something else or how you chose to make this weird sentence, or how like these things that have sort of moments of excitement. The story itself can be rather deadening. 

NEIL: Right. 

NICK: Yeah. Because, I think because it’s somewhat packaged too, it is a lot of times, yeah. 

NEIL: But I also, the thing I really resist is this, like: “We’re about stories.” You know, like the, this fetishization of storytelling has creeped into like how, how stories are talked about. It’s like, we bring you stories da da da, stories. It’s like, it feels infantilizing too. 

NICK: Well, you know, I was just talking about this with one of my, some of my students, uh. You know, the, what’s the most famous Joan Didion line? “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” 

NEIL: Right, right. 

NICK: And, yet, The White Album goes on. That’s the first line of The White Album. That’ll probably be on her tombstone. Uh, you know, they make bookmarks of it in bookstores, and yet if you actually read The White Album, that essay, she totally just doesn’t believe it and contradicts it and says like, why? Like this makes no sense at all. And like that this is, I thought I could do this. Like I was, I was desperately trying to create a story that would protect me from something and it, none of it worked. And it just dissolves, the whole thing just all is like, so to take that one line out of context and say, this is actually a truism is so strange.

It doesn’t make any sense at all. And there’s a  thing, my therapist came up with this thing of the, I don’t know if he came up with it, but we talk about my, one of my disorders, uh, one of my many disorders is a narrative affect disorder where I’ll create like stories like, but you know, it’s not stories like you’re talking about, it’s creating books and creating like versions of what happened, um, in order to contain it and to be able to hold onto it in a way that seems safe, so I don’t have to feel the actual emotional intensity of it. 

NEIL: Right. 

NICK: Um, and I think it’s, it is a type of illness. I think storytelling is a type of illness, uh, that keeps you from actually feeling.

 (Card Flips)  

NEIL: Next card: often when I leave the apartment, I think, is this how I’d like it to be found if I die today?

NICK: I think that one’s more about you than me. I think. Um. 

NEIL: You don’t think that when you leave? 

NICK: Well, I don’t think I’m ever going to die. I’m pretty sure.

NEIL: Do you really believe that? 

NICK: Yeah. Like I, yeah, no. I have a thing where like, I’m, I’m, there’s, well, I just know the ways I’m not going to die. 

NEIL: Okay. Let’s hear it. 

NICK: I’m not going to die in an airplane crash. I’m not going to die by getting eaten by a shark. Might die by getting hit by a car on a bicycle. I mean I might, so I have to be careful. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: But I can swim for miles in the ocean filled with sharks. I’m fine. Yesterday I was on a plane coming from Houston and, uh, it was just like, like being on a ship in the middle of a, of a nor’easter. Like it was just wild, you know, like it really, like it was almost spinning. Yeah. I was fine. I’m like, Oh, this is cool cause I’m not gonna die in a plane. Like, you know, so I just have these sorts of things. They might be, you know, just delusional. You know, I mean, how could I possibly know? But I’m almost positive I’m not going to get eaten by a shark.

NEIL: Uh huh. 

NICK: Which really, which really helps in Provincetown. Cause there’s a lot of sharks there now and a lot of people don’t swim in the water. And I’m like, ask yourself, are you going to get eaten by a shark? Do you really think that’s the way you’re gonna die? And most people would say no. I mean, wouldn’t you say no? Like no.

If you know, on a rational day, like that’d be really, and if you did, that’d be so cool. Like how many people, how many poets get eaten by a shark? That’d be so excellent, right? Like it’s a win-win. I have a poet, there’s a poet, Craig Arnold, a really great poet that died a couple of years ago. He was writing a whole series of poems on volcanoes. Traveling the world, like got a grant to travel the world and look at volcanoes. He’s just gone. He just vanished one day. He vanished. We think he fell into a volcano and died. Like, that’s like an amazing story. Like it’s terrible, terrible, awful. But I mean, there are a lot worse ways to die than falling into a volcano. 

NEIL: Oh my God. How would you feel about being bitten by a shark and surviving it? 

NICK: That’s cool. That woman, that, that surfer that only has one arm, she’s cool. 

NEIL: You’d be okay with that? 

NICK: If I could surf like her.

 (Card Flips) 

NEIL: Um. 

NICK: I really killed this bottle of Perrier. 

NEIL: Oh, awesome. I love it. Um, good job. Uh: the ambiguity of “It’s downhill from here.” 

NICK: Oh. The whole idea of like, you know. There’s a few things. Yeah. The opposite is all uphill from here, right. It’s all, so downhill sounds pretty good, right? But it suggests like we’re sliding into the grave, I think.

NEIL: Yes. 

NICK: Like it’s all like we’ve reached the peak. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: That was the peak. It was really hard to get to the peak. And as soon as you get to the peak, you start going downhill. Yeah. You know? Uh, and, uh. Yeah, I often joke, yeah, I’m on the other side of the, on the other side, now, you know, that you somehow that the, the, the greatest work and the greatest, uh, notoriety so that was a while ago. Um, and. 

NEIL: But also maybe the greatest struggle, no? 

NICK: Was a while ago. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: Yeah. Oh, I dunno. But I, I joke about it. I just, I don’t really believe that. The most recent project I’m doing just feels completely, uh, uh, fulfills me. You know, I’d have this other book coming out, this book, Stay, coming out, which I’m, I worked on a lot last year and I’m happy with that. And another book coming out after that. So there’s like, you know, I don’t really worry about it, but it’s, it’s almost a thing. It might be sort of Irish too, like just so you don’t want to sort of, uh, be too full of yourself. You know, you want to like sort of be somewhat, you don’t want to show how many fish you caught that day cause then you have to give half away. So you sort of downplay it. You downplay it. So the downhill side is where we sort of live. We live on the downhill side. I don’t know, it’s a strange metaphor. 

NEIL: It’s, it’s ambiguous.

NICK: Yeah, it’s a strange metaphor. 

NEIL: But I’m also thinking it’s a paradox, too, and, as you talked, because take the downhill part. Um, it does get easier. 

NICK: Yeah. 

NEIL: I think, I mean, my life, I will say, and anything could change at any moment, has gotten so much easier, you know, now that I’m clearly on the other side.

NICK: Psychic. 

NEIL: Yeah. 

NICK: Psychically. Yeah. 

NEIL: For sure. 

NICK: Yeah. Yeah. 

NEIL: Um, yeah. It’s also, I am sliding into the grave. Yeah. I mean, hopefully it’s a long slide, but… 

NICK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Mortality. The cold wind of mortality does start to, you start to feel it. At a certain point. 

NEIL: In your back. 

NICK: Yeah. You started, you know, it’s blown in your face. Yeah. It’s like, it’s like you feel it, which I, you sort of thought you felt it in your 20’s but you really, you could have, I mean, we know a lot of people that died in their 20’s, sure. It was not like this. This is like the real thing. Yeah. This is like, yeah. There’s no, like, there’s no choice in the matter. So like, yeah, maybe I’ll just overdose or something, you know, or, or, you know, or I’ll just be reckless and didn’t die. Now it’s like, yeah, no matter what I do, doesn’t matter what I do, I can, I can eat kale, I can eat kale the rest of my life. 

NEIL: Yeah. I don’t have to coax the process and it’s still going to happen.

NICK: Yeah. 

 (Card Flips) 

NEIL: The existential space of the clipboard.

NICK: Well, I mean, clipboard, I think when you say clipboard, I was thinking of just like first of a blank clipboard, but then I was also thinking of the thing you put clippings on, that you put other things on, combine things together. 

NEIL: I’m thinking of the clipboard, the computer clipboard. Like when you cut something. That space. 

NICK: Well, what do, what is it? What is that on the computer? 

NEIL: The clipboard.

NICK: Yeah. What is that? I’m not sure what it, what do you mean? You cut and paste stuff? Or…

NEIL: Anytime you, surely you do Command X and Command C, right? 

NICK: You mean like copy things and then cut things? Yeah. Yeah. Cut. Yeah. 

NEIL: So when you copy something – 

NICK: And Command V. 

NEIL: Oh yeah. 

NICK: Yeah, yeah. Can’t forget Command V. 

NEIL: Absolutely. When you do Command C –

NICK: Yeah. That copies it. 

NEIL: Into the clipboard. And then that command, do Command V –

NICK: It takes it off the clipboard. 

NEIL: Yeah. Well, it stays in the clipboard, but it also pastes the inside. 

NICK: See I don’t think, I never knew that. Yeah. I never would’ve thought of that. 

NEIL: I’m acutely aware of the clipboard.

NICK: I never thought where it went. Oh. Oh. Well, this is a tough question cause I’ve never really thought of this before. So, uh, existential, I mean, that’s kind of heavy to suggest it has to do with life or death. Um, uh. 

NEIL: You don’t think about your text in that kind of liminal state between when you cut it and when you’ve pasted it?

NICK: I figured it just, it goes away. Like it doesn’t, like if I, if I cut something else, then that replaces the thing I cut before, or if I copy something else, replaces the thing. So I just assume there’s not a clipboard holding all of them. 

NEIL: No, it isn’t. That’s part of the existential condition. 

NICK: Cause it just vanishes once you put something else on top, once you copy something else. 

NEIL: Yeah. It’s fragile. 

NICK: Yeah. I make a lot of copies. I try to, I try to like, save things as much as possible and like, yeah, like I’m, and print things up. I, I prefer to write by hand first. Uh, really. Um, and then to print it and then to write by hand on the thing I’ve printed and then to keep going back and forth like that.

I like writing by hand. There’s a, there’s a young poet, um, who created an app called ‘Midst.’ It’s hard to say midst, like in, you’re in the midst of something. Yeah. I don’t know how to – midst. M. I. D. S. T. It’s very hard to say for me. 

NEIL: Yeah. Me too. 

NICK: Can you say it? 

NEIL: Uh, yeah. I feel like it’s going to intersect with my sibilant A-S. Let’s try it. Midst. 

NICK: Yeah. Oh, you do feel very well. 

NEIL: But a little gay, right? 

NICK: I didn’t, I didn’t say that. I raised one eyebrow, but I did not say it. 

NEIL: When straight men raise one eyebrow, it somehow doesn’t look gay. Midst. Midst. What’s Midst? 

NICK: Well, it’s a, it’s a program that she did where you can, where you write a poem, I guess you write anything, but it sort of keeps track of all the cutting and pasting you do and the, the process of making it. So you ended up, you send her like a final poem, but then she can press a button and can see all the stuff you did to make it. Um, so I have to try it though, but I usually, I really usually write by hand first and she’s like, no, you have to write it on the, you have to compose the whole thing on the thing. I’m like, okay, so I just haven’t quite done it yet, but I’m, yeah, I’m planning on it though. 

NEIL: But this is basically, this isn’t a useful tool. This is a tool to create a kind of – 

NICK: To create a thing. She’ll publish like a magazine that shows, like you look at a poem and then you press a button and it all sort of like, maybe it goes in reverse and dissolves back to the first word or something. 

NEIL: Yeah. I just am not into those kinds of things. I feel like there’s a lot of that peripheral to the art world. These things that kind of like perform a process or reveal a process. I’m just not into that. You know what I’m saying?

NICK: No, but that’s okay. I mean, I try, I believe that you are not into it. I’m just like, process is nice. Like I love, I love, I love seeing the process. I love seeing, don’t you love like, like thinking like Michelangelo’s slaves, you know, on the way to the David, right? 

NEIL: Oh yeah. 

NICK: We get to see the slaves like coming out of the block of marble and everyone says that they were like incomplete. 

NEIL: Yes. 

NICK: Yeah. We just said, which is such bullshit. Like if you think about it, like what, he did twelve incomplete at the same stage, like they’re half out of the block just, Oh, I’m just gonna stop them all here. 

NEIL: Right? 

NICK: Like, it makes no sense at all. Like you couldn’t finish one of them?

NEIL: Right.

NICK: Like he clearly saw that it looked cool for slaves who were pulling themselves out of what they’re stuck in. And that, I find it so much more interesting than David, which is complete and perfect. I think, I think that’s the meta thing where it’s like all about process. That’s like the process right there. 

NEIL: Huh. 

NICK: Yeah. So I try to think about that. That was just sort of a highfalutin way to counter your anti-process. 

NEIL: Doesn’t feel highfalutin. I think my thing was like faux highfalutin.

 (Card Flips) 

What keeps you going? 

NICK: Um. Uh, just wondering what’s gonna happen next. Yeah. Yeah.

NEIL: Poet.

On that note, thank you, Nick Flynn, for being on SHE’S A TALKER.

NICK: Thank you, Neil.

NEIL: That was my conversation with Nick Flynn. Thank you for listening. 

Before we get to the credits, there were some listener responses to cards that I’d love to share. In my conversation with artist Tony Bluestone, we talked about the card: That moment when you forget what you should be worrying about and try to reclaim it. In response to that card, Jamie Wolf wrote, “A single brussel sprout rolled under the stove, and I wasn’t gonna let Shavasana get in the way of my at least remembering to retrieve it.” John Kensal responded with what I think is a haiku: Please sit or flee, my wee and quiet executive function disorder. Another card Tony and I talked about was: Fog is queer weather, to which Jonathan Taylor wrote, “To me, fog is transgressive because it’s like a cloud. So it’s either you or it is not where it’s supposed to be.”

 Thanks to everyone who wrote in. If you have something you’d like to share about a card on the podcast, email us or send us a voice memo at shesatalker@gmail.com or message us on Instagram at shesatalker. And also, as always, we’d love it if you’d rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or share this episode with a friend.

This series is made possible with generous support from Stillpoint Fund. Devin Guinn produced this episode. Molly Donahue and Aaron Dalton are our consulting producers. Justine Lee handles social media. Our interns are Alara Degirmenci, Jonathan Jalbert, Jesse Kimotho, and Rachel Wang. Our card flip beats come from Josh Graver. And my husband, Jeff Hiller, sings the theme song you’re about to hear. Thanks to all of them, and to my guest, Nick Flynn, and to you for listening.

JEFF HILLER: She’s a talker with Neil Goldberg. She’s a talker with fabulous guests. She’s a talker, it’s better than it sounds, yeah!