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The Library of Congress breaks down your book into these categories: Children of drug addicts—Massachusetts—biography—drug addicts. What genre would you put your book into?

I really dislike reducing any work of art to a DSM-IV listing. My mother was more than her addictions and mental illness. And I am more than her daughter.

RUTA_WithWithoutYou_trP R O L O G U E

Glass

My mother grabbed the iron poker from the fireplace and said, “Get in the car.”

I pulled on my sneakers and followed her outside. She had that look on her face, distracted and mean, as though she’d just been dragged out of a deep sleep full of dreams. She was mad, I could tell right away, but not at me, not this time.

Her car was a lime-green hatchback with blotches and stripes of putty smeared over the dents. The Shitbox, she called it. We called it, actually. My mother hated the thing so much she didn’t mind if I swore at it. “What a piece of shit,” I’d grumble whenever it stalled on us, which we could gamble on happening at least once a day, more if it was snowing. Far and away the most unreliable car we ever had in our life together, it was a machine that ran on prayer.

828-3886. I recognize the number when I see it flash up on the screen. It’s one of the few phone numbers that I know by heart. We’ve been friends for twenty-two years. Hers were the last digits I learned before we all outsourced our memories to our cell phones. All the other numbers from my past have lost relevancy or don’t connect to the living: street addresses for homes we no longer own, birthdays of grandparents, channels of TV stations, pre-pregnancy shoe size, and of all those landlines long abandoned—hers was the last working phone number.

828-3886. I answer the phone. “Hey, Robin, what’s up?” When you’ve been close friends for over two decades, you can hear the bad news in the sound of their breath. “Oh no,” I said, bracing for the news. “I have cancer.” “What kind?” “Pancreatic.” “Pancreatic,” I repeat with a voice I don’t recognize. Or maybe it’s a finality I haven’t heard in my voice until now. It had started as a slight pain in her abdomen earlier in the year. The initial diagnosis was gastritis.

endofevecoverLung Cancer Noir

Two months shy of the death date my mother had written on her calendar in red pen, Sol and I sublet our studio apartment to an art student for the school year. We’d keep the shop space downstairs.

“Your situation is interesting,” the art student said as he signed the lease agreement. “If there’s a gay kid in the family, it’s always the gay kid who has to take care of the sick parent. I always thought that was because the gay kid wouldn’t have any children of their own. But that’s obviously not true for you.”

I shrugged. “Always great to be the gay kid.” And we packed up the car again for our move across town.

“Let’s make a pact,” Sol said as she turned the key in the ignition. “If we start plotting to murder your mother, we have to move out.”

I laughed. “Agreed.” But I knew she wasn’t kidding.

cooper.t.photo © Ryan PflugerDon’t you just love writing?

Yeah. It’s so fun, quick, and easy.

 

Were you surprised to be included on The New Yorker’s 20 under 65* list?

Yes, totally. That was crazy. Such an honor. Although in truth, I would gladly give back the honorific to be five inches taller. It sucks being a short dude (except when I’m in Miami, New York, or Southeast Asia). See the chapter entitled “40 Successful Men of My Stature or Shorter” (pg. 215) in Real Man Adventures for further explanation.

 

Instead of just telling me to go read a chapter in your book, why don’t you tell me about Real Man Adventures.

I have a lot of them in the book.

realman_pb_cover_FINAL_PRWhy They’re Called Passports

Partial transcript of a telephone conversation I had with a representative of the U.S. Department of State ¹ [after having my passport renewal application rejected and returned in the mail]:

ME: I don’t understand what the problem is. You have my fee, you have my correctly filled-out application, and you have a letter from a surgeon saying that I had sexual reassignment surgery and have lived as a man for several years.

Dani Shapiro credit Kate UhryReally? Three memoirs?

I know.

 

So what is it? A narcissistic disorder? Or do we need a new category for this in the DSM-IV?  Memoirmania, maybe? 

You don’t pull any punches, do you? Okay. So I wrote three novels. Then a memoir. Then another two novels. Then another memoir, which was a total surprise. That one—my memoir Devotion, nearly knocked me over. I literally almost fell down when I realized what I was doing. A spiritual memoir? Really? After that book, I thought I was done with the form. But now I’ve gone and written yet another memoir, sort of. I say sort of, because Still Writing, my new book, is about writing.  But stories of what formed me as a writer found their way in there. So, yeah.

Justin St. GermainYour book came out two months ago. Are you finished with your book tour?

We should probably stop calling it a “book tour.” I only did five readings, and I only had to get on a plane once. Although I’m going to the Texas Book Fest next week. I’m excited. I’ve never been to Austin.

 

That’s surprising. It’s in the Southwest, and you’re a Southwesterner.

The question of whether Austin qualifies as the Southwest, and/or where in Texas that dividing line falls, has occupied hours of my life. I might survey some Austinites (Austinians?) about that. I think I’ll know better once I’ve been there. Southwesternness is like pornography: you know it when you see it.

sonofaguncover

Soon after we learned that our mother was dead, my brother and I went to a bar. We’d already worked the phones. Josh had called our grandparents, who’d been divorced for forty years but both still lived in Philadelphia. Grandpop said he’d book the first flight he could, but air travel was snarled from the attacks nine days earlier. Grandma was afraid of flying, so she stayed in her rented room in suburban Philly, wrecked and helpless. I called my dad’s house in New Hampshire, but he wasn’t home. Eventually he called back. I told him she was dead and a long pause ensued, one in a litany of silences between my father and me, stretching across the years since he’d left and the distance between us, thousands of miles, most of America. Finally he said she was a good person, that he’d always cared for her. He asked if I wanted him to fly to Arizona. I said he didn’t have to and hung up.

widget_custom_image_1_1371909154“No, push them over.”

“David, sing ‘Rainbow Connection.’ I knooow it’s your favorite.”

“Hey, David,” said my sister’s friend Tina Cosgrove, who already had an amazing figure. “I hear you like Beth Vandermalley.”

The other girls made teasing Oooo sounds at me. I tried to defend myself. “Oh yeah, Tina, I hear you like Phil Kincaid.”

Everyone shut up. Tina burst into tears. Her pile of girls fell and they all started patting her back.

“David, what the hell?”

In Transit

By Dan Coxon

Travel

London Map

Our home slumbers in pieces, in boxes, in brown paper wrap. Room after room of brown paper wrap. Ridiculously oversized parcels block the corridors and doorways in the shape of sofas, free-standing multi-purpose bookcase units. Then there are the boxes. Towering, teetering stacks of brown boxes, their contents pared down to single words on the side. Bedroom; bathroom; kitchen; lounge. Check.

HeroinesIn the eighties, we began to see writers popularly crafting new prose types—namely the one we now call “Creative Nonfiction.” More specifically, we began to see quite a few women (though fewer men) embarking on what we’d recognize as personal and autobiographical criticism.

PottyMouth-1

It was ten a.m. and already the temperature was ninety-seven degrees. Waiting at a stop light in Scottsdale at a very affluent intersection, I could see the heat rising off the asphalt like a moiré. Arizona heat, even in its infant stages before the temperature hits one hundred degrees, is unforgivable. It makes you feel like a piece of meat about to be thrown on a grill. Even I was sweating, sitting in my air-conditioned car that hadn’t yet been able to recover from the hours it had been baking in the driveway since sunrise.  I had nothing to complain about, however, because directly across the street on the corner was a short man holding a giant sign for a shoe and luggage repair shop in the strip mall behind him. His head was tucked under the crook of one arm, trying desperately to shield himself from the relentless, white heat.

emily_rapp_ronan

Emily Rapp is the guest. Her new memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, is now available from Penguin.

 

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Pool-Cue-and-Cue-Ball

I was arrested on April Fool’s Day, 2001, for OVWI, “operating a vehicle while intoxicated.” I crashed my jeep into a chain-link fence and a tree, narrowly missing a telephone pole, while coming home from downtown Indianapolis. It was cold and wet outside and the tires didn’t grip. For a long time after the crash, I put the blame on the weather. The reality is that I was drunk, I was driving too fast, missed a turn and blacked out, but the car kept going. I woke up to a face full of airbag.  Opened the door.  Fell out.  Landed on the wet grass. My nose hurt from the impact, and the air stank of sulfur from the deflated airbag. I was twenty-two years old, drunk and depressed, sitting on the wet ground sometime after 3 a.m. I would’ve run away from the scene, but I could hardly walk.