Talking Talking Animals

In her recently published second novel, Talking Animals, Joni Murphy creates a version of New York City that is populated entirely by animals (of the non-human variety). Her tale follows Alfonzo Vellosso Faca (alpaca) as he moves through mind-numbing bureaucracies and (potentially) emancipatory revolutionary spaces. In this world, sea creatures are vilified, and pedigree is everything. Though the cast of characters may look different, the issues in play are all too familiar—political corruption, xenophobia, climate change, and the near impossibility of finishing a damn thesis.

Murphy recently sat down with artist-writer and researcher Kristi McGuire to talk about her book, living in New York during a pandemic, and enduring trauma of neoliberalism.

Kristi McGuire: Welcome to our Zoom Room.

Joni Murphy: Zoom is the demon that I work for, basically. I mean, I work for Zoom through a university. So, I know all about it—and, damn, do I wish I didn’t.

Kristi: Well, it’s after five o’clock somewhere, and that somewhere is the Eastern Time Zone, where you are. I thought our reunion conversation deserved a mezcal and soda. I’m alone in Portland, and teaching a bunch of students who Zoom alongside me all day long. Some days I ask myself: should I just be high? I don’t get stoned anywhere near as often as I did in my late twenties and early thirties, but the first task on my list when I got here was to purchase a lot of boutique weed because it feels like the thing you do here, a requirement of citizenry, like conscription during the Civil War: send me to Antietam. The stereotypical ambivalence stems from that fact that I live in Chicago, and perhaps we perform “coping” differently there, but that’s a false equivalence at best—perhaps my own equivocating, even. Long story short: I convey this all to you during a walk to secure bespoke ice cubes from the freezer.

Joni: It’s after five here; can I drink? I’m getting one. It’s hard to drink now because we don’t do anything anymore except work. I’ve never been financially stable until this job—and I hate it so much. It’s funny to be in New York, and yet housebound. Previously, I didn’t have money: but I had the city. The last year for me has consisted of this and my dad’s death, so I’ve had a lot of time in my apartment with some money and a kind of sadness-brain damage, just looking at new pillowcases or other fancy things. Today I saw a fancy, very yuppie-like, new milliennial-esque pipe and I wondered, “Should I upgrade?” I can’t even smoke pot. It’s not that fun because I’m stuck in my house. But I feel I should have nice things because this is my little life cubical. This is my burrow. What else am I doing?

Kristi: I know. I remember—and not to make light of this in any way—but I remember living in New York City in my early twenties, and the moments when I first became aware of my body as a commodity connected to my livelihood. I’ve always been a late bloomer. But a series of oppositional moments quickly revealed themselves: I have no money and am svelte by default yet yearn for the participatory luxury of overpriced restaurant food, versus, I am flush with cash for a fleeting moment, but I hate my body and will align my solidarity with my precarity. The parable surrounding that binary has shifted in so many ways and mutated into different forms, but the money part is always there, because it’s about value, right?

Joni: Yeah. Yes, I feel all that. Rob [Note: husband] and I were joking recently about how we’re doing okay and yet we’re so sad. This is the first time I have any financial security, and I’m some version of healthy because I’m not going out and smoking or drinking. I would give all my money to return to what it was like before [the pandemic], when I was happier because I could be with people. Now it’s, “Oh, here’s some money.” But everything is miserable. Can I do anything with money? Okay, cool: I paid off my student loan like a sad nerd. That’s it. I mean it’s wonderful, but, I don’t even know what to do with that. I don’t know. It’s so fucking useless.

Kristi: I know. Every third week I longingly reflect on the time in my life when I had a middle-class publishing job. And I think about how I was so busy all of the time. I had no social life, no time for friendships, but I could occasionally take a plane trip someplace and use the company card to take friends and colleagues out to dinner. And somehow that sufficed. But the world has become such a fractal of itself that now I have even less time for socializing, and I work three times as much as a “part-time” adjunct as I did holding down a full-time job and teaching five classes/year as a form of thinking-based arts practice that generated a supplemental income. Yeah, I never have money. Regular long-distance travel via airplane feels like an ill-formed memory from a past generated entirely by failed free association: like dreaming of the Lindbergh baby. Not as part of the anti-vaxx platform, but in terms of the power of internalization, I wonder if all the inoculations we received from the pediatrician as children included heady doses of Boomer nostalgia. It runs so deep inside late Gen-X/Millennials that we are paralyzed against defecting from the postwar-surplus American dream, even if it’s the architecture of our own self-loathing. It’s there like a smallpox scar. There really should be a Wu-Tang song entitled, “Baby-Boom Rules Everything Around Me.”

Joni: Oh, God, I’ve had two interview experiences with this book where an intern wrote the questions—and no shame to those interns, whatsoever—but when one asks something difficult, like, “Why are you a writer?,” I feel bad because it may not even be the current intern who crafted it; it could be something from three interns ago—

Kristi: Please allow me to marry the metric of time with the phrase, “Three interns ago.” I’ll credit you.

Joni: Three interns ago, as a unit of time. I measure time in interns. So, those questions continue to be: “What are you reading? What are you writing?” These are fine questions, but also not fine, because the way I write involves becoming obsessed with some knot that’s simultaneously personally felt and collective. For example: I’m thinking about the way white America influenced/rejected and then metabolized the Nazis, in particular how the atomic bomb was developed out of a fear that the Nazis would “get there first,” but then not used against them. This means the nuclear program in the United States relates to both fascist scientists and people who fled fascists, and much of that unfolded way back when [at Los Alamos and other institutes] in New Mexico, where I happen to have been raised. I think about how people end up where they are, and how far back I can reach or understand. How far back can I know a family member? For me, on the other side of my family, there was a lady who immigrated from Germany, because she was pregnant out of wedlock. She’s the farthest back I can reach and she did this in the twentieth century. What is my family in a fictional version? It’s that German lady and the atomic bomb. At the same time, while writing, I am aware of the need to purge or in some way contend with a nostalgic version of history. I need to ask if this has anything to do with me, or if I am running a little filmstrip of mushroom clouds and immigrants in New York, and, like, cue the piano music. You know what I mean? We’re dealing with the telephone game of Boomer nostalgia and the sense of trauma they inherited from their parents. The reason so many grandparents were the way they were was because of this super-undigested trauma from the World Wars, and because at some point— at least for my family—they were expelled from Europe. They were rejected, as, like, the slutty poor of Europe. So, some lady says, “Okay, I’m gonna become an American,” and then I end up here.

So, I’m thinking about how to write that while at the same time obsessing about how much we have forgotten the Iraq War, even or because it was so recent and so dominant. Then I spin out a little further and think about how, in lots of ways, Trump is trying to occupy the United States. I’m asking myself, “How do I write that rough thesis as a novel, like, the United States is Nazi Germany but also Iraq, as colonized by itself?”

Kristi: I mean, that’s incredible, mind-numbingly brilliant, and also: I know just what you mean. As if you just cited my course syllabus for Conspiracy Theory this fall. Perhaps it’s our generation speaking, but I really know exactly what you mean. [Note: we were both born in 1980.]

Joni: Okay. That’s it. And what’s sad is we know it’s true, right? It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s what happened.

Kristi: Absolutely. On my list of things to talk to you about today is now what I consider one of the smartest overheard social media posts I’ve been privy to circumstantially read, which comes from someone I’ve never met in person, who I maybe slightly knew via Twitter. I don’t really know anything about this person. I hadn’t thought about him in the five years or so since I was last a regular Twitter user. And then I logged-on to some cross-pollinated form of social media maybe eight-months ago, and I saw his off-hand comment, which I thought was really brilliant: something, like, “the fulcrum point of life is overcoming your parents’ symptoms, or realizing life needn’t merely be experienced as the totalizing effect of your parents’ symptoms.” And I was, like: yes, yes, yes. For theories of history and time, that means something very specific, which is also why, at the end of the day, one of the most revolutionary films about conspiracy theory is the Boomer-nostalgia-as-time-travel-biopic, Peggy Sue Got Married. But how can we begin to talk about these things? I feel so far away—and I think you share in this sentiment—from submission to an academic lit-crit kind of thinking. We don’t even have the language to broker this epic contention we’ve had—which is that we choose to dismiss and detach from a triumphant narrative of progressive linear time, yet paralytically: here we are. How do we even acknowledge that? I don’t know. The only way we can do it is say, like, “History is sad.” That’s also the plot of The Giving Tree, or better: the character of the Giving Tree calling into a Red Roof Inn and placing a reservation under the name “Cappuccino Guggenheim,” to borrow from Talking Animals. It’s our own appropriation of a glitch sensibility in which we are all “left-wing trash alpacas.”

Joni: I have had confusing moments with Talking Animals where I’m, like, this isn’t really a metaphor—or is it? It isn’t really a parable. Or maybe it is. I’ve realized it may throw people off because it involves animals. That’s an area where people have a lot of literary blockage. As I wrote it, I thought: it’s just like our lives. But the internet already makes us into animals, or it generates the animal layer that we’re all living in. Making every character an animal somehow both pushed out and incorporated the animal. I think there’s so much animal content on the internet because it’s a way to look at ourselves askance, like look at that cat spinning records, what a beautiful fool. But we’re enchanted because we’re so fearful about losing nature, so fearful of losing it in ourselves, and in everything else. But people read it as a parable or as something cute, and I don’t know how to correct the record. It feels too fresh.

With the first book [Double Teenage], I wanted to talk to about it. With this one I feel a bit mopey, like, “No one understands me.” But I knew better. It’s the New York publishing world. And now that I peeked in, I’m, like: “Oh, right. This thing, this absolute fucking machine.” I had to write a book dedicated to New York, but this is a book about the absolute present, about Bloomberg, but also de Blasio and Giuliani, smooshed together. In my mind there’s no specific time when this book is happening, but that also doesn’t mean it’s an entirely different history. I think it’s happening in the 1970s. Or, you know: it’s happening in all the times of the last forty years, but compressed into one. Since I started thinking about Iraq, I’ve been wondering how much it relates to the sea [in Talking Animals]: both involve the construction of an enemy and the absolute poisoning of an environment out of nothing.

So, then I thought, “Oh, this is a book about the 2000s in New York, or the 2010s,” but then I realized I don’t know when, but the book is somehow about all of it. And I’m, like, “I think this book is good.” But every time I talk to people, I’m scared that the stuff I was working on is not coming through.

Kristi: Everything you’ve just said is clear as day and reminds me that fables are for the living—they were never for children to begin with, yet we attach to them, and can’t let go of genre-based devices like allegory or morality plays because pedagogy itself is a kind of conspiracy theory. It’s a meta-narrative, and by that, I mean a narrative that refuses to be normalized because of a need to assert itself. I’m thinking back to a moment in our late 20s when Wikipedia was really becoming a thing, and I stumbled onto the “Roald Dahl” entry. And as soon as I learned he grew up down the street from a Cadbury Factory and was caned by elementary-school teachers and that Everlasting Gobstoppers were a real thing, then I better understood pedagogy as a surface sob narrative for one’s own mortality. I’m so interested in how you’ve brought Iraq into this conversation—my own thinking wasn’t adroit enough to go there, or my own instincts unrefined, but I have felt we’re on the verge of a new diagnostic run, outside of academic life, and your piecing that together about a self-colonizing Iraq gives me hope. Part of the reason I love this book [Talking Animals], in addition to the fact that it so aptly references me and everyone I care about, is how you make the case so bluntly that everyone who has been affected by academic life is either still crawling through the pipework of The Undercommons, or, like, nursing some pretty serious petty trauma from the other side. And in many ways, it makes me—

Joni: Weep?

Kristi: Yes, for sure. But part of the magic of Talking Animals acknowledges that our language—syntax and semantics, even—are gutter-punked by residues and measures of capital. How can we tell a story? Okay, so one thing we have to discuss is our dearly departed, David Graeber. I’ve never felt so uprooted about the death of someone I didn’t know, and though I held conflicted feelings about some aspects of his work, for sure he was a person whose thinking changed my life, right? If anyone’s thinking did, it was his. And I know you share in this. When reading Talking Animals I was actually thinking about an interview he did shortly after Debt came out, where he chastised the interview for repeatedly asking about one’s “debt to society” or “debt to nature.” DG insisted that we have no debt to nature because we are part of nature and there’s no exchange to be made. We are the cosmos, etc., not equal parties in a contract. We are intertangled such that there will be no untangling. And somehow this connects with you wanting to write a love song to New York, but contained within “New York” are all of the New York’s that were or will ever be, because time is a map, not a straight line. Basically, I’m saying Talking Animals is “Adam Curtis’s Hypernormalisation but make it a love story only coincidentally featuring Ali McGraw.”

Joni: I made a joke on Twitter, or I should say I made a version of a phrase I thought was funny. You may not be privy to this since you’re not on there, but I feel like so many jokes circulate there as a formula and a million good versions bubble up. So, there’s this one particular Twitter statement that goes, “Some of you have never _______ and it shows.” Such as: “Some of you have never read The Undercommons and it shows.” But it could be fucking anything. So, I wrote, “Some of you have never watched the complete works of Adam Curtis while high, and it shows.” That’s a marker of our generation. David Graeber and Adam Curtis are foundational texts in matters of, “Okay, what are we dealing with?” And I think we know Curtis’s work can be flawed, conspiracy theory as film, but there are many moments when he’s also getting at something deeply true. Pointing towards the right people, directing the gaze.

As the term has become more widely used, I think there’s this dismissal of “neoliberalism.” Like, “Oh, you don’t even know what that means, or it doesn’t have much meaning.” I disagree with that idea one- hundred percent. It has been the dominant ideology for all of our lives. It’s a phantom but it also has a history, it has followers, it has schools. There is a trajectory of people who studied with other people and they brought policies into reality.

Iraq is perhaps its fullest testing ground but you could also talk about South America, etc. I wrote about being an animal walking around with all these things in your head and in your body, yet who also has to go to work and see their friends and be alive. We’re simultaneously existing in so many frameworks, while also being in the world we touch and feel. We’ve separated ourselves from animals in part by building up fantasies we’re not of the world, so the world becomes something we can trick, or overpower, or make a contract with. Only after writing the book did I realize how hard it is to write about animals as us, or us as animals. As I turned everyone into animals, I first tried to be very matter-of-fact: “I treat everyone the same; the alpacas and mice and the cats and us . . . we are not different.” I still get feedback or questions focused on symbolism or parable. It’s probably a losing battle with a lot of people. But I continue to wonder: How do I shift my mind away from the human as not an animal? Or the animal as not not a human?

Kristi: You do in so many different ways. I was trying to come up with a word and I decided on “slippage,” because I looked into the etymology of “slip. ” And I was into what it meant to move softly and quickly as a way of describing these moments in the text where the animal and the human, the narrator and the plot, folded into each other so fully that it produced a moment where a righteous copy editor from another decade or the kind of reviewer who wants to write exactly the kind of review you don’t want to read, would lose their mind. One that comes to mind: Alan, a cat, is described. “He would smoke a lot of catnip and stay up all night watching nature documentaries,” which is exactly what we do. No substitute for nature required even. It would lose traction if you said he stayed up all night watching Q-Anon documentaries with a cast of baroque gerbils. But those moments. That enfolding seems to me the only way to write about pure contemporaneity. Accidentally, but not: momentarily, because all moments are accidents. I know you and I both share affection for the work of Walter Benjamin. And the idea that technology wields revolutionary potential in only the most fleeting of moments when it might call together a public. Maybe this is about getting older. I think about Graeber and Curtis as late Baby Boom/early Gen X-ers, or prayer cards even. Bookmarks. And it becomes a question of who can we turn to, who else is speaking to this? I feel a longing for Garfield. Like, I think about Garfield all the time. I’ve never even read Garfield. It’s because I’m lonely. And I Garfield is my peer because the last time I felt joy was like making lasagna two weeks ago.

Joni: Well, I mean—

Kristi: Or, how about this? I think about how my sister really loved Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. And as a child, I was like, fuck, that show’s boring. Now there’s so much hagiography of Fred Rogers, and I get it and wish I would have gotten it then, but one of the reasons I thought the show was boring was because every time they went to the Land of Make Believe (is that what it was called?), I couldn’t remember what happened. It was just so-and-so wearing a crown on their head, and, like, an object fell from a tower. It feels like that speaks to our sensory understanding of the world right now. We know it involves thousands of trips to the Land of Make Believe, but we can’t retain what actually happens there. I’ve tried to teach a linked series of grad seminars over the past few years and I came up with the first one because I woke up one morning and I was, like, “I don’t think I have a moral compass anymore.” The realization that I didn’t know how to live my life felt totalizing, like a teenage mixtape.

Joni: I think the container of a book, or the container of a mixtape is very comforting. Containment is comforting and necessary. We need boundaries. I still really believe in books because of their limitations, when so much feels totally uncontained. This year, it’s been a lot of remembering, then forgetting, and remembering afresh, or like the Freud essay: remembering, repeating, working through.

I know and I have known, for my whole life, that there isn’t a political group made up of adults, who will be good, who will do anything good. And yet, I have still been refreshed in my rage. We’re living in a hysterical moment where a bunch of people need and want to believe that there’s a good person, that there’s a good adult, somewhere, who will return us to something. And they shame everyone else to get in line behind the “good adult” that they desperately need. But this process has led us to worse and worse places. And yet, the shaming framework comes back again and again— like behave yourself and do what you’re supposed to do, so the adult can come in and make it right. I was so incredibly angry while writing this book. I was freelancing and bouncing around in the underbelly of universities while dealing with the mythology that school is meant and designed to make you a critical thinker, who will then grow up and do good things and, like, be involved with goodness. And then at some point you realize, “No, it’s not; it’s actually not any of those things. It was never any of those things.” Yet I’m not ready to totally give up. Somebody out there is doing something and I could belong or model myself or participate in some way. Because otherwise I’m just—I can’t go on. In the book, [the main character] comes to the end. And it’s not that he doesn’t believe in the potential of a government or the potential of schools, it’s just that they’ve been so evacuated, and, like, cannibalized. It’s not an anti-government or an anti-university sentiment. But rather a rage at corporatization—or, can I say: neoliberalism—in the universities. For many of us the university was this refuge, a life raft that floated on a little longer than some others. We got on in a time during a time of mass financialization, yet also when the instructors were still old-fashioned, in the liberal arts sense. We got the traces of twentieth-century analog art and politics, and at the same time, locked into $500 a month student debt. I have a lot of anger because I feel like the good adults kicked the ladder with government, with education, with a livable world.

Someone said, “Talking Animals really ends on a hopeful note.” And I was, like, I guess I needed that because I have never been so sad and angry. But perhaps that’s a lie. I’ve been sad and angry a lot. It’s probably why I write.

Kristi: The world provokes us. Like, “How in the hell are you supposed to write a story about me?,” with all the tinnitus of individuation and atomization gonging off the naturopathic ear caliper that is making a commodity of our own false consciousness. I was trying to think of the right word for temporal associations you make in the book—characters listening to E.M.U. instead of R.E.M., for instance. It’s not a pun, but I remember researching this in the early days of the Trump administration, when the special prosecutor was named Ty Cobb. There’s an actual term for that kind of historical recurrence and naming that would otherwise strictly play out as absurdity. And I can’t remember. But I feel like we’re living in a in a moment where the most powerful nominalization we have left is disambiguation. Or, that’s, like, the only tool we’ve ever had in our box.

Joni: The boiled-down absurdity is so hard to take, as is the sonic or historic resonance: like Tom Cotton? Hope Hicks? Get out of here with that nonsense. The confusion of symbols and words right now is both so twisted and so pure.

We went upstate recently, to Beacon (New York), which is only about an hour and a half away, home of DIA:Beacon. It makes me laugh because it’s this huge former factory that has very few rotating galleries, just permanent Donald Judd, permanent On Kawara, permanent Warhol. It’s so boring, but also so pleasing. You’re, like, “Oh, God, it is restful and empty.” Then we stayed in the town, and like so many towns upstate, there is a very clear political hostility or tension. An older guy driving an Uber was telling us about how New York is descending into crime and anarchy. Are we talking about 1990? And he’s driving us through neighborhoods where there are either Black Lives Matter posters or Trump flags in every yard; the symbolic polls are highly defined. And this happened to be the weekend when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Rob told me not to look at the internet, but I couldn’t help myself. The hagiography drove me crazy. Here is another figure with the kind of wild ego it takes to be turned into an avatar—the collars, the little tiny weights, the whole thing—at the expense of the things she was meant to represent. We are told she’s one of the good ones. But I don’t feel inspired. We are involved in a fight for power and people are out to destroy life. She could and should have retired when Obama was in office. We are in this dire situation because she was too egotistical to make way for the sake of the bigger political project—to actually survive these monsters. But it makes me nervous to say these things because the “good adult” need is so intense. I’m losing my fucking mind.

Kristi: Bless. One person I texted was my college roommate, one of my best friends from college, who has worked for Legal Aid in NYC almost entire adult life, and she was, like, “Get the fuck out of here with that ego.” But this is as fine an example as any other: a fleeting moment of public commons we whiplashedly experience, often ushered in by celebrity death, which swiftly becomes a mechanism exactly for what you mentioned earlier, the flip side of “Oh, one person can move us into tyranny.” One good adult can undo the horror of the world. And Merrill Lynch and Lululemon stand with me in my grief.

Joni: It’s systemic. A few weeks before this, at the end of August, I did a really deep clean of our apartment, and tried to contend with the possibility that Trump could definitely be the president for four more years. Obviously, I don’t want that to be the case, but I had to shift my thinking to take in the possibility that we may already be living in a fascist authoritarian state. I’m not sure if I’m projecting into the future or the past. But at the same time, we don’t know where we are in time. I don’t want to pretend I know the story. There are so many versions of that: a leftist projection, a liberal assertion, a right-wing version. The idea of going back or repeating, versus an unknown. It’s so easy to act like an asshole if you think you know. I want to be humble in the face of the truly terrifying unknown. I want to resist the feeling that we already know what’s going to happen, or how we will behave. There’s so much self-certainty that acts as a cover for deep uncertainty and terror. I’m probably diagnosing myself, acting like an asshole, because I’m terrified.

Kristi: Not acting like an asshole. I think about this a lot. I have one deck of tarot cards that I really like. I keep them in a weird vase in my living room and I brought them with me to Portland when I came here three days ago, along with my two cats, on an airplane. Tarot: I’ll get really into it, then not think about it for years, then get really into it again. But over the course of the past year, I find myself pulling a card almost daily. Never a reading. Just a card. And sometimes if I don’t like that card, I pull a couple more cards to ask for help in understanding why I pulled a card that I didn’t like, to begin with. I started to become more fascinated, because I would frequently pull very minor arcana, like Eight of Cups, Six of Wands, and I would start to see them repeat thematically. And I realized I was developing some sort of lens for understanding temporality in a way that wasn’t really about the past or the future (unless future is something so exclusionary that it can only be excavated from one’s own idiosyncrasies) but about going through the motions to settle myself into the present. So, it’s the need to draw the fascism card to digest what’s readily apparent. But, like, don’t fucking tell me about Cassandra. I crawled on my hands and knees under Greek translations of “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” signs at Delphi for a photo-op. Heard of her, yes.

Joni: The United States is a big entity that relies so much on an enforced innocence or forgetfulness. It’s in a state of perpetual forgetfulness. We don’t know what we know and that turns into weird trauma that’s oppressed and repressed. That reminds me. What’s her name? German writer? Hold on one second. [Procures copy of Cassandra by Christa Wolf.]

Kristi: Oh, Christa Wolf. That’s also on my shelf in my home, that same edition, with the same outfit.

Joni: Such a good outfit, such a good color. I feel we’re at this point when it’s not even about telling the future. It’s actually about the person who’s telling the past and no one believes them, which is maybe a quality of getting older. You say, “This happened,” as if it were a prophesy. You’re old enough to remember it. And then your audience says, “Oh, that’s a crazy story.” And you’re, like, “No, literally it happened.” It sounds like what is to come, but it’s exactly what already happened that has been forgotten.

Kristi: That’s brilliant.

Joni: was thinking about this when you were talking about our relationship to Gen-X. I was friends with people five to ten years older than me when I was younger. So, Gen-X people had a lot greater effect on me that my peers or younger people. I wonder how far back you can reach in time, like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but with influence. How far back can you reach before you’re not touching it at all?

My favorite teacher in Vancouver was in his late 70s when I was there. He would talk about Benjamin and Krakauer, but also Europe in the 1960s and ’70s, but also the 1890s. These threads wove back through generations, and he was reaching back before our eyes. He would give 90-minute lectures that you had to strap in for and hope you could follow, doing this free association or sampling where he’s, like, sure, we’re going to talk about the essay I assigned, but I’m also going to talk about every other possible thing that I—as a 78-year-old—am thinking about. That was the best educational experience of my life.

So, I don’t know, there’s human transmission, even whatever we’re doing with Zoom right now— that I do think that keeps us alive.

Kristi: My favorite thing about this interview is not talking about the book, to talk about the book. But we need to close on something. This prompt is transhistorical and image-based. Let’s pretend medium-specificity in the moment isn’t a thing. You have a Polaroid camera. At any given moment, anytime in New York as we have known it or New York as it has been or New York as it will be, you can take a picture of something. What Polaroid do you tack up on your fridge?

Joni: New York really moves me. It’s cliché, but also: it truly has something mystical. Anyhow, during Labor Day weekend I was on this street that leads to Prospect Park, by way of the Brooklyn Library. Because of COVID, it’s blocked-off to traffic and so people were sitting in the middle of the street: eating, playing music, kind of treating it like their yard. And it was this clear perfect fall cusp day. I think New York in fall—everybody knows it’s fucking magical. And so many of the protest marches this summer had gone right through this intersection. It had this powerful yet easy energy and I had a kind of stereoscopic or stacked sensation of all these moments collapsed together. There was just a monumental and yet everyday energy I found very moving.

Kristi: I just asked you that question so I could take a screenshot of you answering. And I think that’s a good way to end.

Joni: Little hand gestures.