Me vs. the Audience

I Came, I Read, I Conquered

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Phillip Fivel Nessen

Before my reading at Elliott Bay Book Company on July 31, I kept saying out loud to people that I was afraid and nervous, and it made me that way. I'm not always afraid at readings.

But in Seattle, I was very afraid. There were many people. I read two stories. People who asked questions got free CDs, which I threw at them. I threw them high so they wouldn't hit their faces. It was safe. But it made them afraid, which made me less afraid.

I pointed at people and they asked questions. I like being asked questions at readings because it is exciting and feels risky. A young man asked if I thought it was ever good to be lonely. "To know what is good, I would need to know what my goal is in life," I said. "And I don't know that. So I don't know what is good." I defeated him. I think he thought I would talk about the virtues of loneliness and then feel proud like I had defeated Oprah or someone, which is nice of him—to set me up for something like that—but I did not. I did not defeat Oprah. I defeated him.

Another young man asked if I wrote allegory. "If people see a dolphin in the ocean they don't say, 'What is the significance of that dolphin?'" I said. "They just accept the dolphin. My writing is like that. It is inside of life. It is not a separate thing." I defeated this person also. I knew I would defeat him because I used this same answer at another thing against 10 people and it defeated them all at once.

Matt Briggs (who reviewed me in The Stranger) asked how many writers I had defeated in battle and what I did with their bodies after I defeated them. I think he defeated me with that question because I felt confused and afraid and then pointed at a girl in the front row and said that she should pretend to be me, and answer the question for me, and that I would give her a CD to do it. She said she had defeated seven writers and that she put them all in a hole. I threw a CD at her. I had planned a few days ago to make people answer their questions. The audience didn't know that. I felt bad a little and kind of wanted to tell them that I was not being spontaneous, so they would not think I was smarter than I actually was, but that was too complex to convey and also would be awkward so I blocked it out.

An elderly woman in the front row asked why I only use "said" and never anything like "replied." I began to answer and realized I would not be able to articulate a true answer without five minutes alone to think quietly. I knew I had articulated exactly why I only use "said" on my blog or in an interview somewhere, but I could not remember the reasons. I felt about to be defeated badly. I said some sentence fragments and the word "interpretation" and then said, "I forget why. You can read it in some interview somewhere on the internet." The audience laughed. I stared around nervously with a sense of victory. The elderly woman seemed satisfied. I thought about giving her a high five.

Then a younger woman with a serious facial expression asked me about narcissism. She said something about how all my writing was about people focused only on themselves. I felt she was attacking me and being mean to me even though I knew she was not being mean at all and not attacking me as a person. I answered with something that didn't make sense because it was off topic, and she nodded a little and said something about how depressed people aren't capable of insight, I think. I wasn't completely sure what she said because when I am nervous, excited, or afraid and someone else is talking I don't hear every word, only a few, which I use in combination with the person's facial expression to create an idea of what they are probably trying to convey to me. "There are two kinds of depressed people," I said. "The kind that is dramatic and doesn't do anything. And the kind that talk shit about themselves. I think the kind that talk shit about themselves are capable of insight." I looked at her and saw she was defeated. recommended

Tao Lin is the author of the short story collection Bed and the novel Eeeee Eee Eeee. His blog is


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i would have related to this back when i was fourteen, maybe fifteen.
Posted by solidox on November 24, 2008 at 11:57 PM · Report this
i disagree. i related to this now, i think, and i am older than fourteen or fifteen (i am twenty-six). i thought this was a funny, interesting and insightful article.

you are defeated.
Posted by james yeh on February 12, 2009 at 3:43 PM · Report this
are you disagreeing with the idea of him relating to something in the past? were those comments from the same person? I dont comment on internet things usually, this week has been a big exception. You all probably still live in Seattle. That must be nice.
Posted by peter on March 9, 2009 at 4:17 AM · Report this
i like.
Posted by lucie on March 10, 2009 at 11:52 AM · Report this
hi peter,

i was disagreeing with the implied disapproval expressed by the commenter before me -- that s/he would have related to this back when they were a teenager, but not now. i disagreed with that because i thought this article was/is something that i related with now, today, as someone who was not a teenager.

i live in nyc, not seattle. it is nice, though. sorry you had to move
Posted by james yeh on May 4, 2009 at 7:44 AM · Report this
Hilarious, honest, seemingly effortless, dead-on, brilliant...typical Tao.
Posted by Jeff Tigchelaar on February 11, 2011 at 11:02 PM · Report this

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