How Should a Person Be?

How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers — in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux. Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?

I admired all the great personalities through the ages, like Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde. They seemed to be so perfectly themselves in every way. I didn’t think, Those are great souls, but I did think, Those are some great personalities for our age. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein — they did things, but they were things.

I know that personality is just an invention of the news media. I know that character exists from the outside alone. I know that inside the body there’s just temperature. So how do you build your soul? At a certain point, I know, you have to forget about your soul and just do the work you’re required to do. To go on and on about your soul is to miss the whole point of life. I could say that with more certainty if I knew the whole point of life.


I can tell that a lot of young people today are interested in being famous. I’ve often heard that while young people used to want to be doctors and ballerinas and firemen, now they want to win a singing competition. I do too.

In an hour Margaux’s going to come over and we’re going to have our usual conversation. Before I was 25, I never had any friends, but the friends I have now interest me nonstop. Margaux complements me in interesting ways. She paints my picture and I record what she is saying. We do whatever we can to make the other one feel famous.

How should a person be? I sometimes wonder about it, and I can’t help answering like this: a celebrity. But for all that I love celebrities, I would never move somewhere that celebrities actually exist. My hope is to live a simple life, in a simple place, where there’s only one example of everything.

By a simple life, I mean a life of undying fame that I don’t have to participate in. I don’t want anything to change, except to be as famous as one can be, but without that changing anything. Everyone would know in their hearts that I am the most famous person alive — but not talk about it too much. And for no one to be too interested in taking my picture, for they’d all carry around in their heads an image of me that was unchanging, startling, and magnetic. No one has to know what I think, for I don’t really think anything at all, and no one has to know the details of my life, for there are no good details to know.

It is the quality of fame one is after here, without any of its qualities.

In this way, I should be satisfied with being famous to three or four of my friends. And yet it’s an illusion. They like me for who I am, and I would rather be liked for who I appear to be, and for who I appear to be, to be who I am.

We are all specks of dirt, all on this earth at the same time. I look at all the people who are alive today and think, These are my contemporaries. These are my fucking contemporaries! We live in an age of some really great blow-job artists. Every era has its art form. The 19th century, I know, was tops for the novel.

I just do what I can not to gag too much. I know boyfriends get really excited when they can touch the soft flesh at the back of your throat. At these times, I just try to breathe through my nose and not throw up on their cock. I did vomit a little the other day, but I kept right on sucking. Soon, the vomit was gone, and then my boyfriend pulled me up to kiss me.

Aside from blow jobs, though, I’m through with being the perfect girlfriend, just through with it. Then if he’s sore with me, let him dump my ass. That will just give me more time to be a genius.

One good thing about being a woman is we haven’t too many examples yet of what a genius looks like. It could be me. There is no ideal model for how my mind should be. For the men, it’s pretty clear. That’s the reason you see them trying to talk themselves up all the time. I laugh when they won’t say what they mean so the academies will study them forever. I’m thinking of you, Mark Z., and you, Christian B. You just keep peddling your phony-baloney genius crap, while I’m up giving blow jobs in heaven.


Where did it come from — the Ugly Painting Competition? I don’t remember, but once I got excited, suddenly we all were. The idea was that Margaux and Sholem would compete to see who could make the uglier painting. I really hoped it would happen. I so much wanted to see what the results would be, and I envied them. I wanted to be a painter too. I wanted to make an ugly painting — pit mine against theirs and see whose would win. What would my painting look like? I had spent so much time trying to make the play I was writing — and my life, and my self — into an icon of beauty. It was exhausting and all that I knew.

Margaux got into it right away, but Sholem was reluctant. He didn’t see the point. The premise turned him off so much — that one should intentionally make something ugly. Why? But Margaux and I were persuasive and finally he gave in.

That very afternoon, he set about making his entry — so he wouldn’t have to think about it anymore, he explained to me later, or have looming before him the prospect of having to make something ugly.

He went straight into his studio, having already decided what he would do. He imagined it would be like this intellectual exercise that he could sort of approach in a cold fashion. He would just do everything he hated to see his students do. He started the composition smack dab in the middle of a piece of paper, since paper is uglier than canvas. Then he painted a cartoonish man in profile with fried-egg eyes, and he outlined things instead of shading them, delineating each individual eyelash. Instead of making a nostril, he sort of drew a hole. In the background he painted fluffy white clouds over orange triangular mountains. He made the background a gross pinkish-brownish grey, using mineral sediment dug up from the bottom of the jar in which he washed his brushes. For skin tone he just mixed red and white, and for the shadows he used blue. Though he thought that in the end there would some salvageable qualities to the painting, it just kept getting more and more disgusting until finally he began to feel so awful that he had to finish it quickly. Dipping a thick brush in black paint, he wrote at the bottom, really carelessly: The sun will come out tomorrow. Then he stepped back and looked at the result, and found it so revolting that he had to get it out of his studio, and he left it on the kitchen table to dry.

Sholem went to buy some groceries for dinner, but the entire time he was gone he felt like he was going to throw up. Returning home and setting the bags on the counter, he saw the painting lying there and thought, I cannot see that thing every time I walk into the kitchen. So he took it to the basement and left it near the laundry.

Then Sholem plodded into the living room and sent an email to the two of us, saying, This project fills me with shame and self-loathing. I just did my ugly painting and I feel like I raped myself. How’s yours, Margaux?

Margaux, the better artist, wrote back: i spent all day on my bed island reading the new york times.


That night, after spending several hours staring at my impossible play, I finally decided I would tell the theater to pull it. I had been laboring on it for so many years, never getting any closer to making it a thing of beauty. It resisted my every advance. I got up and left my apartment in frustration and went out to a party to celebrate three more books of poetry in the world.

The party was in a wide and cavernous room with a stage up front and the ceiling painted brown, hung around the sides with brown velvet. A large disco ball rotated in the center, and everything was polished wood, semi-formal and awful.

Standing alone by the bar, I wondered if I could love the boy I noticed at the end of it — the one with the curly brown hair, who looked like a washed-out, more neutral version of the first boy I loved. When he stepped outside onto the front steps, I thought, If he has gone out there to smoke, I will love him. But when I got outside, though I could see a cigarette dangling from his lips, I did not love him.

I went back inside to get myself a drink, and was standing by the bar when a man, slightly taller than me, stepped out from the crowd and moved toward me. My stomach lurched. I turned away. I felt so attracted to him, I couldn’t let myself speak. I knew him: his name was Israel. This was a guy whose girlfriend I had complimented the year before, running into her on the street and saying, Your boyfriend is the sexiest guy in the city. Later, when I learned that she was mad at me for saying this, I got upset. I had genuinely wanted to compliment her!

I had met Israel once before, several years ago, and never forgot it. I was married at the time, and was going down in an elevator in a building of artists’ studios. He entered on the same floor and stood there beside me. He had killer eyes, huge, jaded soul-sucking eyes, a nice, easy, lazy smile, big thick lashes, and the lips of a real pervert.

Watching his face in profile, I had felt faint at a sense of destiny between us — as though we were not standing beside each other in an elevator but were on the peaks of two separate and faraway mountains, a deep valley and gorge between us. In that moment, I felt aware in my body of how impossible it would be to cross that distance to get to him.

As we stood at the party, talking up close, a trembling was going through me. I started to worry about finishing my play. I had only just left my marriage and I needed to work on it, not cancel it! I needed to think about women, not men! I chastised myself: The flower of love soon fades, but the flower of art is immortal! But it was as if I was stuck to the floor beside him. When he asked me to leave the party with him, I startled myself by saying, “I’m celibate right now.”

His eyes came alive in a different way, and his grin was the grin of a bear.

“So you’re one of those people,” he said.

“One of what people?”

“One of those people who thinks they can control themselves.”

I blushed unhappily, then followed him out. I didn’t want him to think I was one of those people who thought they could control themselves.

We walked together through the chilly night air for two or three hours, all the way down to the lake. I felt, as we walked, I could walk with you anywhere. He noticed the shapes on buildings, other things I didn’t see, pointing out this and that to me. He disagreed with me when I said you could love anyone. “No you can’t,” he said. “It matters — the person that you’re with.” I felt delight run through me and took pleasure in the happiness of just being near him.

We passed an ice cream truck and he bought me an ice cream. Then we wandered back toward his place, which was on the way to mine. I told myself that I was only walking him home—that I would leave him at his door, let him go inside to change for his early shift at the bakery. But when we reached the door, I said, “I would like to watch you getting ready for work.”

We went up the dark stairwell to the top of a rundown boarding house. He had two rooms at the top of the stairs: one for his painting and drawing and the other where he slept. He had no other possessions than a table, a mattress on the floor, a few dishes in the sink, and a hot plate plugged into the wall. I felt like I could just close my eyes and lie down on that mattress and go to sleep forever. There were no chairs, so I sat on the messy sheets and watched him move around the room, then leave for the bathroom, then come back, showered and changed, coked up, his shirt open and untucked.

He got on the bed and put his hand on my thigh and rubbed it up and down, then got up and walked around the room and forgot what he was doing. Then he came back and kneeled beside me, and said close into my ear, “I’ll decide if you’re celibate or not.”


I arrived at home, chaste. I was determined to finish my play. I am writing a play. I am writing a play that is going to save the world. If it only saves three people, I will not be happy. If with this play the oil crisis is merely averted and our standard of living maintains itself at its current levels, I will weep into my oatmeal. If this play does anything short of announcing the arrival of the next cock — I mean, messiah — I will shit into my oatmeal.

Who among us will be asked to lead the people out of bondage, only to say, God, I have never been a good talker. Ask someone else. Ask my brother instead of me. There is no way to accomplish what I feel I must accomplish with this play. There is no way in heaven or on earth! I am the wrong person to do it. Look at the shitty red hoodie I am sitting here in. Look at my dirty running shoes. I have such small breasts. God, shouldn’t you call upon a woman with great big knockers, who the people will listen to? Why do you call on me, who doesn’t have the cleavage to capture the world’s attention? Ask my sister instead of me, whose big breasts are much more suited to doing your work.

May the Lord have mercy on me, for I am a fucking idiot. But I live in a culture of fucking idiots. I cannot be saved if not everyone is saved. If everyone around me talks nothing but shit, how can I hold myself aloof? My fate is not separate from everyone’s fate. If one man or one woman can stand up and call themselves saved, that means we all are. And I know I’m not, so no one is.


The next evening. The bar is dark and mostly empty of people. Margaux and Sheila sit at a small table near the picture window up front, Sheila’s recorder between them. A halo of light emanates from a street lamp across the road; a fuzzy, translucent white crystal against the dark sky, sort of like descriptions of the artist Robert Irwin’s luminescent disks, which people once went rapturous about, calling them moon-silver, incandescent, ethereal, dropped from heaven.

Sheila

How can these artists we read about — who have been married five or six times — how can they have enough time for all that life, and also make art?

margaux

And have a heroin addiction?

sheila

Either there’s something I’m not understanding or that was another point in history.

margaux

You know, I think visually, I always understood that looking at a Pollock or looking at a brick wall, like, the brick wall might be more Interesting for me. But because the brick wall might be more interesting for me, I never quite understood why it was important to make things sometimes.

sheila

(triumphant) I made something!

margaux

What?

sheila

I’ll tell you . . .
Sheila grows scared and changes her mind.
You know, at the hair salon today, Sholem came in —

margaux

I saw him this afternoon, buying new clothes.

sheila

He feels dirty because of the ugly painting he made.

Then I told her about how Sholem had gone about his ugly painting — making a list of all the things he found ugly, then putting them in a painting. Margaux shook her head.

margaux

That’s what I was afraid of. Sholem should have been ugly with all of his heart — from his center, not from a list.

sheila

He told me he thinks you’re in the middle of a painting crisis.

margaux

What! He said that? Oh my God, I’m so totally not having a painting crisis! Just ’cause I don’t automatically have respect for paintings. But Sholem does! He’s so reverent: Oh, it’s a painting! Well, so what? Frankly, I’m surprised by his total interest in it.

sheila

But that’s natural, isn’t it, for someone who’s a painter to be interested in paintings?

margaux

I’m interested in meaning, not paintings. Paintings can be pretty meaningless, you know. Like, we’re insane! I want to create complete meaning that’s even better than political meaning! And Sholem wants to make the most flawless paintings in the world. And you — you want to be the human ideal. We’re crazy. We all want such big things.

What was so crazy about wanting to be the human ideal? I felt hurt.

sheila

I woke up this morning feeling sad. Then I went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up feeling happy.

margaux

Yeah, the little movies in our head really change our emotions.

sheila

Have you made your ugly painting yet?

margaux

Not yet.

sheila

Why not?

margaux

I don’t know! Ugly, beautiful — it’s so not important to me. I don’t even understand what those words mean.

sheila

Then why did you want the competition?

margaux

I’m doing it for him! I thought it would be interesting for Sholem, because when there’s such resistance, as there was —

Having found my courage, I pulled from under the table an envelope. “Take this,” I said excitedly, pressing it into her hand. Margaux held it, curious. “I’m almost done with my play!”

“How’s that?” she asked, turning the envelope as though it might reveal its contents. “I remember you were thinking of quitting it.”

I shook my head. I explained about how the other night, arriving home, I had written about our time together at the art fair in Miami — the conversations we’d had, everything I knew about her relation to painting and to me. Though what I gave her wasn’t the play, I hoped it would help me finish the play — like a blueprint of sorts. By looking at our lives, maybe I could learn from them — discover what they had that my play lacked, and use them to fix this lacking.

A look of horror crossed her face and she forced it back into my hands. “I don’t want to see it! I don’t want to see my words.”

The expression on her face startled me. It reminded me of a feeling I’d had one afternoon as a teenager, hanging out with my first boyfriend. We had been sitting on a couch at his father’s house. Suddenly and without warning, he unzipped his pants and pulled out his cock. I had burst into tears of shock — it was the first adult penis I had ever seen, and without ceremony or warning — and I left the apartment, furious. I remained angry at him for the next two weeks. Then I came to love him. Years later, I would never be able to forget him.

“I need you to see it,” I said, thrusting it toward her, hurt. “It’s about me and you. Only you can tell me whether I got us right.”

She reached for it, reluctant but willing.

Then a feeling of satisfaction and peace rose in my being. I couldn’t imagine she would feel any way but as impressed by its power and beauty as I was.


Many years back, there had been a painter in our town named Eli Langer. When he was 26, an artist-run gallery presented his first show. The paintings were gorgeous and troubled, masterful, all done in rich browns and reds. They were moody and shadowy with old men, girls, and plush chairs, windows and naked laps. A sadness clouded the few faces, which were obscured by darkness and lit only by faint moonlight. The canvases were very large, and they seemed like the work of someone with great assurance and freedom.

After the show had been up for only a week, it was shut down by the police. People claimed that the pictures were child pornography. The canvases were confiscated and they were sentenced to be destroyed by the court.

The story was reported in newspapers all across the country and the trial played on TV for an entire year. Prominent intellectuals and artists became involved and spoke publicly and wrote editorials about artistic freedom. In the end, the judge ruled in Eli’s favor, partly; the paintings were returned to him, but on the condition that no one ever see them again. He left them in a corner of his mother’s attic, where they remain, covered in soot and mold, today.

After the trial was done, Eli felt exhausted and shaken. When he stepped before a canvas, brush in hand, he found that the spirit lay dead in him. He left Toronto for LA, where he thought he might be able to feel more free, but the images still did not come as they had before.

Crushed with a new insecurity and inhibition, he applied to his now tiny canvases only hesitant whites, or whites muddled with pink, or a bit of yellow, or the most apologetic blue — so that even when you stepped really close to the paintings, you could barely make out a thing. For the few solo shows he managed to complete in the years following the trial, he created only deeply abstract work, not anything even remotely figurative.

Several times a year, Eli would return to Toronto for a week or so, and would go to art parties and talk about painters and the importance of painting, and would speak confidently about brush strokes and color and line, and would do coke and be sensitive and brutish. On his forearms were tattooed twelve-point letters — the initials of local women artists he had loved, none of whom would speak to him anymore. The male painters embraced him like he was a prodigal son, and word always got around: Have you seen Eli Langer? Eli’s back in town!

Late last winter, Margaux talked with him for the first time. They sat on an iron bench behind a gallery after an opening, surrounded by snow, warmed by a fire burning in a can.

Margaux worked harder at art and was more skeptical of its effects than any artist I knew. Though she was happier in her studio than anywhere else, I never heard her claim that painting mattered. She hoped it could be meaningful, but had her doubts, so worked doubly hard to make her choice of being a painter as substantial as it could be. She never talked about galleries or carried on about what brands of paint were best. Sometimes she felt bad and confused that she had not gone into politics — which seemed more straightforwardly useful, and which she thought she was probably suited for, having something of the dictator inside, or something of the dictator’s terrible certainty. Her first feeling every morning was shame about all the things wrong in the world that she wasn’t trying to fix. So it embarrassed her when people remarked on her distinctive brush strokes, or when people called her work beautiful.

Then that night, around the fire burning in the can, she and Eli spent several hours talking about color and brush stroke and line. They went on to email for several months, and she was briefly converted into the sort of painter he was — a painter who respected painting in itself. But after two months, her art crush dematerialized.

“He’s just another man who wants to teach me something,” she said.


Several weeks later, I went to see a group show Paul Petro curated. I only planned to drop in for ten minutes, then continue on home. When I arrived at the gallery, a small crowd of people was standing by the front doors, smoking, A girl I recognized turned to me with a friendly air. She said there was a really funny painting inside that Margaux made and told me to go upstairs into the back room and see for myself.

Once inside the white-walled space, Paul came up to me and smiled. He asked if I had seen Margaux’s painting yet. I said no. I’d had no idea she was in the show! He found a beer for me in the back and I followed him up to the second floor. He led me into the bigger room and we stood together facing the largest painting Margaux had ever made.

I took it all in in a glance and felt sick and horrified to see it, and I turned away.

She had depicted herself as a fat, smug Buddha figurine — her face and body made of glistening porcelain, with jewels and coins covering her arms and fingers. She sat cross-legged, her peroxide hair falling down over her shoulders, and her expression was one of smiling, greedy self-satisfaction. The title of the painting, printed on a small card, was Self-Portrait as Future Buddha.

I grew worried. She had never painted herself this way before. Paul laughed, sensing nothing, but I knew how Margaux felt about things. She saw no glory in being Buddha. Buddha was the one who turned his back on the suffering of the world to sweeten himself with good feelings — privileged feelings of peace and Nirvana, just like her worst fears about what it meant to be a painter: that it was decadent, narcissistic, meaningless, and vain.

I had done this to her. I didn’t know how to undo what I had done by showing her what we looked like.


All right, israel, cum in my mouth. Don’t let me wash it out, so when I talk to other people, I can have your cum swimming in my mouth, and I will smile and taste you. And if you see something you don’t like, you can correct me later. You can take your hands and bruise my neck, keep pushing till you feel the soft flesh at the back of my throat, so the tears roll down my cheeks like they do every time you thrust your cock to the very back of my throat — like it never was with any other man. I never had tears always rolling down my face. Even when you hear me gagging you don’t stop. It is your unconcern that makes me want you to do whatever you want to my body, which can be for you while yours cannot be for me. I can see that your body must be for many women, and though I once thought the same of mine — that mine must be for all the men who wanted me — I can just tease with it if you will keep on fucking me. I wouldn’t want your cum wasted on just one girl, not when there are so many girls to take your disinterested thrusting. Fuck whichever sluts it’s your fancy to fuck. You will find me in our home one day, cooking or doing your laundry, as you wish, washing your slutty underwear that some girl slutted on while you were out. I’ll make you your meals and serve you them, leave you alone to paint while I go to my room. Then in the morning when we wake, you can look down, touch your cock. It’s hard. Do you need me then? Tell me, as you did the first time I woke in your bed, I like to have my cock sucked in the morning.

I don’t know why all of you just sit in the libraries when you could be fucked by Israel. I don’t know why all of you are reading books when you could be getting reamed by Israel, spat on, beaten up against the headboard — with every jab, your head battered into the headboard. Why are you all reading? I don’t understand this reading business when there is so much fucking to be done.

What’s there in that book anyway? What is there to be learned tonight when you could learn to suck Israel’s cock? What is there to think about when your brains could so easily be smashed against the headboard, in which case there is no way to think of anything?

I don’t see what you’re getting so excited about, snuggling in with your book, you little bookworms, when instead Israel could be stuffing his cock into you and teaching you a lesson, pulling down your arms, adjusting your face so he can see it, stuffing your hand into your mouth, and fucking your brains right out of your head.

I don’t see why you walk down the street so easily, not noticing that you are living half a life — or how you move up to the counter to order a tuna sandwich like there is nothing else in the world — when there is only one thing in the world to be paying attention to right now, which is that you are not getting your brains fucked out of your skull by Israel, and don’t you think that’s a problem, you stupid brain-dead slut?

I am just saying — because I was watching you there and I thought, This stupid fucking know-nothing slut needs her brains scrambled by the cock of Israel. Her throat has never been bruised down its back by him — is all I was thinking when I saw you ordering your sandwich. Tuna fish, lady? Do you have no dignity? Is your body a limp half-body? Or is it impossible to have any dignity unless you are getting nightly reamed by Israel?

If you would like to call your mother, go and do it. The sun is shining, it’s half past noon, the time for tears is now. Please tell her I said hello and that I think her daughter’s a stupid cunt if she thinks she can go around the world with her priss-ass high in the air like a queen on a throne while not having known the humiliation of being fucked by Israel.

It is afternoon. It is evening. All the people are going to sleep except Israel, who is a working man — but sleep has no friendship with him this week; his sleep is being slaughtered and slit.

It’s Sunday now for all you lonely fuckers, but for me it is always Sunday afternoon. There is nothing but Sundays and three in the afternoons for me now — and even midnight is as leisurely as a stroll, all the leisure of being battered and bashed by Israel. You poor beautiful lonely suckers whose lives I never wept for until now, whose sorrow I never noticed until now, whose dreariness I never dreamed of till now, till now. Enjoy what you can of a life without the magnificent cock of Israel.


The three ways the art impulse can manifest itself are: as an object, like a painting; as a gesture; and as a reproduction, such as a book. When we try to turn ourselves into a beautiful object, it is because we mistakenly consider ourselves to be an object, when a human being is really the other two: a gesture, and a reproduction of the human type.

Now we find ourselves in the knowledge of what is cheating. It is cheating to treat oneself as an object, or as an image to tend to, or as an icon. It was true four thousand years ago when our ancestors wandered the desert, and it’s as true today when the icon is our self.

We proceed from the story of the Jews wandering through the desert, thrown from the land, for as soon as we did settle, we made an idol to worship. Our punishment was to wander and be like gypsies without anything except the necessities for living, which we carried on our backs. So the story of wandering and being expelled is told, and is an old one.

My ancestors took what they had, which was nothing, and left their routine as slaves in Egypt to follow Moses into the desert in search of the promised land. For forty years they wandered through the sand. At nights they rested where they could, against the dunes that had been built up by the winds. Waking the next morning, they took the flour from their sacks and moistened it with their spit and beat together a smooth dough, then set off again, stooped, across the sand, the dough spread across their backs. It mingled with the salt of their sweat and hardened in the sun, and this is what they had for lunch. Some people spread the dough flat and that dough became matzo. Others rolled tubes and fastened the ends, and those people ate bagels.

When I strip away my dreams, what I imagine to be my potential, all the things I haven’t said, what I imagine I feel for other people in the absence of my expressing it, all the rules I’ve made for myself that I don’t follow — I see that I’ve done as little as anyone else in this world to deserve the grand moniker I. In fact, apart from being the only person living in this room, I’m not sure what distinguishes me.

Yet there is one character in history who is reassuring me these days: Moses. I hadn’t realized until last week that in his youth he killed a man, an Egyptian, and buried him under some sand. The next day he saw two men fighting. When he tried to stop them, they said to Moses, “What? And if we don’t — are you going to kill us too?” He became afraid. He thought, Everyone knows what I have done.

Then he fled town.

And he is King of the Jews — my king. If that is what my king is like, what can I expect for myself? If, when God addressed him for the first time, the king of my people had to be told by God to take off his shoes for he was standing on holy ground, I should not worry that I — who have never been addressed by God — am all the time standing on holy ground with running shoes on.

I used to worry that I wasn’t enough like Jesus, but yesterday I remembered who was my king; a man who, when God addressed him and told him to lead the people out of Egypt, said, “But I’m not a good talker! Couldn’t you ask my brother instead?”

So it should not be so hard to come at this life with a bit of honesty. I don’t need to be great like the leader of the Christian people. I can be a bumbling, murderous coward like the King of the Jews.

More from Issue 10

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

The MFA beast has at last been offered a look in the mirror, and may finally come to know itself as it is.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

Today it’s the bearers of culture rather than the wielders of power who are taxed with elitism

Issue 10 Self-Improvement
Issue 10 Self-Improvement

The crack-up of the country’s wealthiest, most populous state has been long in the making.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement
Issue 10 Self-Improvement
Issue 10 Self-Improvement

Jonathan Franzen’s novel is a feeling-machine.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

The good people of America choose electric cars when given the chance.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

After my two years of war I’ve never been so free, I own nothing now, not even my real name

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

Now, Oates’s colleagues don’t just watch television. They write books about The Sopranos and teach courses on The Wire.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

We are always in search of fiction that is willing to meet the world as it is.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

There’s no way around it: Commonwealth is an irritating book.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

Reform and revolution may turn out, then, to be allies rather than enemies.

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Issue 18 Good News

A certain lack of self-centeredness, belief in one’s own innate genius, and faith in hard work, long hours.

July 20, 2009

My relationship with Annie changed hues. I was still an Annie fan, but I really was more of an Annie colleague.