In approaching my Q&A with RM VAUGHAN, I lifted some questions from a ‘self-interview’ article that appeared as “Nocturanal Turnings” in Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, in part because I love the piece and simply because whenever I think of RM I think of Truman. Genius. I sent RM the questions and he responded from Berlin. Kirby, July 2015.
“Genius is volume” wQr&A: RM VAUGHAN
What frightens you?
On a very primitive level, horses. I am terrified of horses. I will cross the street before I will let a horse come near me. I once went to a Tarot card reader and, honestly, without a single mention even of animals, she looked up and said “Oh, that’s interesting … you were stomped to death by a horse in another life …”.
On a more metaphysical level, I have no fear of the usual, and important, stuff, such as death or aging or career anxieties, but I have a chronic terror of accidents. I am always convinced the piano is tumbling toward my head and I have not heard the cries of the poor bastards hauling it up the side of the building.
What, of your own experiences, have been the most frightening?
I am not prone to fear so much as worry. I have been alarmed many times: a car accident, appendicitis, no end of sticky darkrooms. When I was about 11 or 13 I somehow convinced myself that I was possessed by Satan, while on holiday in Florida with my family no less, and every time we went past an Orange Julius stand, which used a little red devil as its mascot at the time (and may still, I dare not look), I was certain that that was proof I was infested with evil spirits. How silly, and how very real it was.
What makes you chuckle?
Anything to do with animals being silly gets me right in the gut.
What are some of things you can do? / Some of the things you can’t do?
I am resourceful. I think I would do pretty well in an apocalyptic situation. On the other hand, I can’t fix things. Mechanical challenges make me furious, teary and furious. I used to think I could dance, but I have seen the evidence against. I can sort of sing, and sort of paint. I cannot for the life of me do long division.
Do you have a “motto”?
Genius is volume.
I have said that “No one writes a better opening paragraph than RM Vaughan.” Would you agree? Is there one in particular that delights you (in “Compared to Hitler”)?
I don’t agree, but thank you. I am fond of the opening paragraph of my essay on Mariah Carey. In general, the first paragraph of any bit of writing is just hell. If I can get the reader even remotely interested in the paragraph that follows, lure them in, I figure I’ve done my best.
Do you consider conversation an art? Who are your best conversationalists? Who might you seek to converse with?
Hmmm. Not an art. I think calling basic human skills “art” makes them too precious and also unavailable to people who may not have been lucky enough to get an education that gave them a sense of “art”. Conversation is a trade off. You listen, you respond. In that way, it’s more like sex. Best? Again, another loaded term. But I am lucky to be surrounded by quality talkers: J.R. Tennyson, Keith Cole, Jared Mitchell, Kirsten Johnson … I could go on and on here. My late mother was a true chatty person. She could and did talk to anybody, anywhere, any time. I’m an Atlantic Canadian, and one of the stereotypes I don’t mind is that we are all natural story tellers — we’re not, of course, but why not let people think you are? And then, if you are being quiet, they will wonder what they’ve done wrong. Win-win.
Has bitchiness lost its bite?
Bitchiness without insight is just blithering, or, worse, bragging. But a bitch armed with information can change the world.
What, if anything, really pisses you off?
Being excluded and/or overlooked. In other words, being a Canadian writer.
Do you have any favourite spectator sport?
The only thing worse than playing sports is being forced to watch other people play sports. I have never understood what people get out of sports, especially as spectators. Why not just do it yourself? Or do anything else. I am a sissy through and through.
Do you have many sexual fantasies?
Have you ever considered suicide?
You mean today?
Do you believe in God, or at any rate some higher power?
No. I believe in people.
If you could shapeshift, what three things would you become?
A grand old house, a baroque coffee set, in gold, and then gold itself, liquid gold.
What surprises you? Delights you?
I am lucky in not many ways, but I am at least fortunate in that even the smallest things can delight me and subsequently I am easily amused. Very little surprises me, and when it does it is usually something shitty and life-altering. There’s a reason we give kids “surprise bags” full of stale popcorn and toys that fall apart — they need to learn hard and learn early that surprises are a rip off and should stay in the damned bag.
I, too, share a fondness for the cover of your book (I nearly pissed myself laughing. It is spot on.) What’s your take on why some find it off-putting? Is it a Canadian thing?
Oh, people find everything off putting today. What can you do? Anybody who does not get the obvious Charlie Chaplin reference on the cover, who does not get that I am mocking the idiocy of comparing a cultural commentator/hack (me) to a murderous dictator (Hitler), really ought not to read the book. I was asked a similar question when the book first came out, and here’s what I said (kind of, because I forget exactly what I said): Canadian “politeness” is actually policing. Canadians finger wag each other into silence. And I guess it works — that book barely got into stores.
What are you reading? What book would you take to a book swap?
Right now I am reading The Empire of Necessity, which is fascinating. I’m assuming you will hyperlink to the book so I won’t waste your readers’ time explaining the book.
I never keep books. I read them and then give them away. Subsequently, if invited to a book swap I bring a bag of chips.
Is there anything you wish for?
No. Wishing is too much work. One has to be so diligent and consistent, with all that shooting-star-watching and dandelion blowing. I’d rather cast a spell and just wait and see.
If there’s a question you’d like to add/answer, feel free.
Am I being paid for this?
(I always ask)