I’m Pondering Being in the Midst of Things
INTERVIEWER- So, you know, I just want to get some of that real Charlie-Kaufman feeling here, to start out with.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Like…what…?
INTERVIEWER- Oh, you know. Like I want to get inside your head. What is Charlie Kaufman’s process? How does he approach a subject? How does he make all these intersecting lines connect into a whole? What’s his morning routine like?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Bagels and coffee.
INTERVIEWER- Oh. Nice. That’s great! Yeah. Basically, just stuff like that. The internecine struggle of the well-to-do, famous, and revered writer and his craft.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- God. Internecine?
INTERVIEWER- I’m adlibbing.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- We all are. Really, when you think about it. That’s our life, the way he interact with people…
INTERVIEWER- Sure. But we’re all scripted in our modes and modulations too. Muddled specks of flotsam agitated into all the abysmal jetsam. We have certain…um…tendencies that are like hardwired into us.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- “Hi.” “Have a good one.” “See you later.” “That sucks.” Those repeated patterns in our everyday dialogue. They’re there, there. But, well, I’d like to think I’m on to referencing, maybe-slash-perhaps, something more…profound?
INTERVIEWER- David Lynch explores massive quantities of Jungian subconscious material on a film-by-film basis, right?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Is that a question for me?
INTERVIEWER- I’m asking a lot?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Of whom?
INTERVIEWER- Probably myself. What gets you unstuck on a particularly rampantly out-of-control plot line these days?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Toast with a slight coating of nettle-leaf jam usually does the trick.
INTERVIEWER- Are we at the point in our relationship here where I can start using the familiar?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- No.
INTERVIEWER- Ok. Sure. So. Well. I get it. So.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Yes.
INTERVIEWER- What inspires Charlie Kaufman? What gets him out of bed and onto the next part of the script each day?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- I hit the save key quite often. I’m time’s message lost in a never-thrown bottle. Subway sounds calm me. There are snowstorms funneling up in my brain. Blizzards of frozen tundra that remind me that, yes, I am alive, here, now, and that’s all that there is to know. Um, can I think of an example? Um. Um. Well. Listen to this one. Here goes something, something like:
“there is a subtle knocking
coughed from the backyard construction
off behind the barb-wired-in houses
a metronome for the neighborhood to hold steady in
beyond the puttering clack of dropped boards and that spark-pule of cars starting
girdled for the duration
the creeping choke of erratic noise
the cratered street blessed to finger grasses and pebbles
that certain wobbly jangle of the mail carrier’s keys
the crepitating crush of gravel under turning tires on a driveway
‘ps — be careful how you tell Mckinley’s wife about all this.’”
INTERVIEWER- Got it. But us, we’re creatures of imagination’s pluck. We do things with our time. We have these…thoughts. Everything takes up space. Every individual moment unique, and on its own, we have everything and we have nothing.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- It’s all the same.
INTERVIEWER- Sanely so, to put it like that. I’d be venturing to a longshot guess though.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- It’s sometimes just like…
INTERVIEWER- Everything depends on that all-too-careful and wary placement of a semicolon?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- This is the sound I make when I chuckle. This? This is the sound I make when I guffaw. Wait. Those are just words we’ve crafted to describe certain events. Did I even make a noise? The part substitutes for another convexly mirrored part of what can never be the unfiltered whole. All I can hear is the taste of quiet. But my mind, it’s sloshed and cluttered with clear spaces. But my eyes, well, they’ve just got to look at something. Even with nothing to see, when they’re closed. But. But. Something’s got to be there dancing behind my eyelids. Our sense of sight all tangled up with our sense of belief, mangling it, cohabiting with our instincts. Shit. Always something, it always is.
INTERVIEWER- Prolific armaments be damned, right? Pretensions held closer than most folks hold onto their religion. You do, and you do, so you don’t have to get muddled in the thought of doing, the attempt. Am I close, at least?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- I am Charlie Kaufman. I write. When I am not writing…if you could ever say that I’m not, which is debatable because of how much time I spend tilling the ripest flowering lilies of my brain in preparation of it…but if I am not writing am I still Charlie Kaufman? And if not, who could say that I ever am or am not?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- I could. Sure. Sure. Yes. But what do I know about it, really? Fuck it, then, right?
INTERVIEWER- Fuck what?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- The present participle of it all, slash, who is ever really here, there…anywhere at all except bulldozing the ruins and runes of what’s happened and what will come. Following, always, linear constructions of post-fad rebellion-vis-à-vis-recriminations in our ways and means. Like the hounding of the present’s constant motion on what it really means to be in it, because, you know, you can’t ever, really, live in the present. It’s always becoming the past. Once it’s there, it’s gone. And we’re living in the future of the past, really. Snap. Poof. Nothing. I could really use a sandwich.
INTERVIEWER- Oh! Great! What does Charlie Kaufman consume for his midday meal?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Ok. Here you go. Or there. Or don’t. Shit. Human interest is such a fucking fickle nature to depend on. I guess we need it. It’s of us and in us. In our DNA. In our dirtiest thoughts. But finishing things is of the utmost importance. Accomplishments. Tiny motivations to go on and on and on and on. Building a place to do your existing in. A dump truck for all of your misgivings and marveling. Tying everything in together, no matter how disparate the parts and pieces might seem, and putting them all in their proper place to construct the whole.
INTERVIEWER- Cleaner, you, then, than all of your surroundings.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Damn it. The cat just took a massive dump in the litterbox. Can you excuse me for more than a moment?
INTERVIEWER- Baked Alaska.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Insert bland non sequitur here.
INTERVIEWER- Exactly. Like people reading aloud movie reviews in strange voices that are not quite their own. Where does something like that come from, that idea for the ordinary in the absurd?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Uh. I mean, ugh. I can’t answer a question like that with this stink upon me. Hold on. I’ll be back in much more than a jiffy here.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Sorry about that. Much better. Damn cat. Now he’s cleaning himself with his carpaccio-like tongue. Long, generous licks that complicate nothing. Sensible, carefully careless, the caught-off-guard struggle that ensues is like some ripped clipping of a wash drawing. Anyway, I am very at peace with my decisions that have brought me to this point.
INTERVIEWER- That’s got to be pleasing. So, what’s the great Charlie Kaufman reading these days? What kind of bed does he sleep on? The NY Times-featured Charlie Kaufman. The famous and well-paid author and screenwriter and director, Charlie Kaufman. The fancy award winner. The stranger. What feeds his idea machine? What’s his process look like? What gets his goat? What’s his go-to beverage of choice on a hotter-than-blazes afternoon when there isn’t much around to do but sweat and ponder and slowly go insane?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- I want less than most and, in different ways, more than a lot.
INTERVIEWER- In the ways they want or in what it is that they desire?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Same difference. The object becomes the subject at some juncture in the travailing. I am in the process of shoveling my inner-coal into the oven of refined contentment.
INTERVIEWER- Sounds aggravating.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- To some, maybe. Me. I see ovoid sectional land grabs and closed burlap factories and flattened housing complexes and pink pageboy wigs on dusty marble-eyed mannequin heads and riveted attention deliriously spanning the shortest amount of time possible to squash my consciousness into. Conscientiously, of course. And, also, never a bit obtuse or supercilious or opaque. I am crookedly straightforward. The drawn line gets from its beginning to its end, just a bit more circuitously than one might expect. And it…maybe it, that eternal infernal it, it, it happens all at once and not spread apart like we’re so accustomed to thinking of it. Maybe we are the changing weather, and time…time…time is the stone sculpture. Maybe it’s going to rain hammers without nails tonight. Everything’s a fractional component of something larger complexity. I don’t know. The weather’s beyond me.
INTERVIEWER- Ah. The appearance of expertise is just a front then. It’s not real deep-down hard-won knowledge. Its burnished surfaces brushed with gleaned and shiny factoids. Distraction from the emptiness of the perceived gut-stuffed middle. Oh. Wait. I forgot to ask, does the inimitable Charlie Kaufman have one of those street-side mailboxes or one that’s attached nearer to his front door? Or, shit, maybe what I want to really ask is if, well, if the vaunted Academy-Award-winner, pretentious-reference-maker, regular-guy extraordinaire Charlie Kaufman really exists at all?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Finally, a decent question. I’ll have to think about that one. See this? This is me in deep contemplation.
INTERVIEWER- Showing off for absolutely nobody in particular.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- That might some up a lot of my free time. But me, I’ve got no idea how Charlie Kaufman feels about any of this. I can’t even venture a fucking guess.
INTERVIEWER- Always left wondering if there is something deeper there to look into. Something less bashful to go on about.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- A move without a piece.
INTERVIEWER- Genius starves, right? I mean, real genius. Not the kind that these pop-culture aficionados lap up.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- But you, if there really is a “you” there, are asking yourself the questions, really, if you think about it more than you normally would. Getting phased out. And the cameras roll, and none of us can stand the gaze for long. It’s too much to take. All those others looking, seeing you, defining who it is that you are. Others. You become their vision. You become…them.
INTERVIEWER- I am Thomas Alva Edison. I am Batman. I am James Dean. I am Elvis. I am Wanda Jackson. I am Don Johnson. I am Fritos. I am Miss America. I am Norma Rae. I am Amazon. I am Nicholas Cage. I am Charlie Kaufman’s brother. I am…Charlie Kaufman.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- The time it takes to not need to have any time at all. And the politics of just trying to be yourself, whoever that is.
INTERVIEWER- Not me. That’s all I know. That, and that the toilet seat will stick to your sweaty ass when you get up off the pot and it’ll slap back down when you get to fully standing on a sweltering day of not enough ice and too much perspiration…you know, all the barnacles and elbow grease that talent is really made of: the heaving sweaty folds of laborious chipping away. And, well, I know that you…you…you are not me.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Wait. So who is the master-of-dereliction-and-dedication Charlie Kaufman?
INTERVIEWER- The here-and-never-there, self-indulgent-to-a-T Charlie Kaufman?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- The Charlie Kaufman of whom I’ve never heard?
INTERVIEWER- The many and only.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Mine and nobody else’s and everybody’s too.
INTERVIEWER- To do what we all will with.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- It’s out of all of our control.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Sure. It sure is. Sure it is. And then we get to fall, or dive, or bow deeply in and out of love all the goddamn time, always constant and myriad variations in the already variegated skein of time’s delivery method for inoculation to the absolute best and worst of it all. We are what we consistently do…that being, as well, also, and, well, what we have and are going to do too, all things being that somehow bifurcated, old-fashion Time Present eventually…or would that be always?
INTERVIEWER- Of course. The timeline, it’s more like a spheroid, maybe an oblate one. Yeah. One that is evolving and arching back and forth, an ever-lost-and-lonely parabola of circumstances, rearranging and transmogrifying over the pace of change’s lapses. Oh, and we’re challenging others to be our own self-assumptions, too, right?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Fuck that.
INTERVIEWER- Really? That’s a concrete stance, if not…
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Absolute?
INTERVIEWER- Sure. But who’s asking?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Baptism comes late for some souls and folk. Too late? I guess. And the question marks and furrows of doubt follow.
INTERVIEWER- Hang on. Hold up. Wait just a goddamn second.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Trouble. Trouble follows wherever I go. The apotheosis of struggle, that never-completely-fulfilled lack of purpose that comes and goes along with being The Great Indefinable Perpetually-One-Move-Ahead-of-the-Game Charlie Kaufman. Medusa is my middle name.
INTERVIEWER- Ah. One of them fair-maiden-Gorgon types, huh?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- And so it goes, “The Gorgon was made out of the terror, not the terror out of the Gorgon.” That sums up the soft pewter and glossy marble of existence right there, doesn’t it? I mean, who are we to scream poems at grocery store clerks?
INTERVIEWER- Ah. Those vasty and clattering Rube Goldberg machinations of masochistic introspection. Sounds self-aggrandizing, doesn’t it?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Or like an unrelenting nuisance. It’ll all be decent again in some way once again some concomitant worry-less Tuesday evening with nothing to do but feel good about being able to be rid of that old-nee-new Charlie-Kaufman feeling. We are always less with more.
INTERVIEWER- As you were. As we all were. And stepped-aside to it, laboring under the ignoring eyes of the world.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Wasn’t that supposed to be, “Scrubbed dirty in the bathtub of the world?”
INTERVIEWER- Probably. We’re out of stock on specifics. Time wanders, and we’re splashing in its puddles in order to do our own version of standing still, which, of course, is always a pose. Phony as much-sought-after grant money coming in. Phony as perpetual hope or downtrodden with the blues too. Just buck up? Shit. I’ve been stuck in that pose for so long that I’ve forgotten how to…ahem, “Act….naturally.”
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- How does one attain that certain, um, Charlie-Kaufman feeling? I’ve got really no idea. I am, as they say, at a loss.
INTERVIEWER- Dealt out of everything but clichés and tropes and fashionable quips and ways to say goodbye.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- A secure connection to the etherized transition period from numbness to clarity. But me, I’m not ringing any bells about it. I’m sure-footed in my instability. I am at east with discontent.
INTERVIEWER- And maladjusted to it all we fly and dip and hover and gasp. And soon there’ll be no Charlie Kaufman to compare yourself to.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- You mean that Old-Old Bemoaned Charlie Kaufman I’ve never heard of?
INTERVIEWER- That’s it. That’s what I meant all along, I guess.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- What was your name again? When is this? Who’s here?
INTERVIEWER- Nobody. Nothing. Not a thing at all. Zero explaining to do.
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Well, that’s a relief. I’ll go back to my refraining ways.
INTERVIWER- What else is there ever but everything of nothing much at all?
CHARLIE KAUFMAN- Cut!