EDITOR’S NOTE by Michael Seidlinger
When I first received Joseph Riippi’s manuscript, Because, I ended up reading it front to back in one night. I dove right in and was lost in the yearning and desire of the book’s short, punctual chapters. I think it was the novel’s structural device — a list of sorts — that made it impossible to stop. In the same vein of Joe Brainard’s I Remember, every line of the book begins with a declaration. Riippi’s declaration functions as bold and brutally honest desire: “I want.” Using these two simple words as refrain, Joseph Riippi cuts down to the core of the narrative. From the novel’s opening preface, he offers us an explanation, “Because I wanted to make something beautiful and figure things out. Because I wanted to write fiction, but I’m not sure that I did.” You see, the novel is just that: It’s a transcript of a personal search. It’s as much about understanding as it is an exploration of trying to be understood.
I want you to understand — and because Joseph Riippi wanted to understand why he felt the way he felt, he let the novel open up the emotional floodgates. Financial stability, failure, and the infinite promise of making good on all that might have originally gone wrong, the novel glows with the a quiet and heartfelt curiosity; its cadence worked its magic on me and forced me to inspect some of my own “wants.” I found in Riippi’s writing the clear message that we’re all in this together. We, the people, share the same fears, the same hopeful fantasies, and, most of all, we still draw hope from the very same places. Because became that book that reminded me why literature is one of our most important coping mechanisms.
I want to know beforehand that this excerpt will register in every reader the same sort of enthusiasm it did to me. I want to watch Joseph Riippi’s novel age with time, becoming its own antidote to life’s often strange and unexpected choices. I want you to read this.
I want to know what you think.
Publisher-in-Chief, Civil Coping Mechanisms
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I want to collect leaves in autumn on a brick college campus and press them between the pages of a paperback guide on arachnids. I want to spend a weekend trapped alone in a library.
I want to dangle from the minute hand of a clock tower at a quarter past the hour and listen through the ticking for approaching sirens.
I want to drive an ambulance at full speed down an avenue. I want to take it up on two wheels, screeching around a corner and running the red.
I want to carry a stretcher up flights and flights of burning stairs in a fire. I want to do chest compressions on the old woman in a brownstone while shouting, Don’t you die on me, Don’t you die on me, Don’t you die on me.
I want to cut someone loose from the belt they used to hang themselves. I want to catch them in my arms and say, It’s okay, it’s okay, as they gasp. I want to stick my fingers down the throat of a best friend who swallowed a bottle of pills. I want to hug someone tightly and have them hug me back.
I want to sit with my grandfather during the coldest nights of his war and comfort him with true stories about his future.
I want to deliver a baby in a taxicab.
I want to save lives and make new ones.
I want to change the tire of a stranger’s station wagon on the turnpike shoulder in a rainstorm.
I want to run across a four-lane highway and lie down on the yellow line and listen to the tires moving past. I want to know what it’s like to be hit by a car.
I want to know what it’s like to be driving the car that hits someone. I want to know what it’s like to cause a truly tragic, deadly accident. I want to know what it’s like to accidentally take life and keep on living.
I want to shoot target practice at camouflaged mannequins in a wheat field while magnolias sway pink and purple in the distance and a platoon of soldiers cartwheels past with melodic battle cries in their mouths.
I want to know what it’s like to hold a new baby in a hospital delivery room. I want to know what it’s like to hold a four-day-old baby in the middle of the night near a crib and realize the reality of fatherhood. I want to know what it’s like to be a newborn baby. I want assurances that I can and will be a good father.
I want to know the cause of crib death. I want to know how conscious a newborn baby is, if they are as conscious as adults can be, only without memory.
I want to go back to school to be a neuroscientist. I want to uncover the secrets of memory making. I want to peer into microscopes at neurons and axons and the sparks they make between. I want to watch the oldest memories like dusty home movies projected on a sheet hung up in an attic.
I want to see my first steps, my first words, my first kiss with my wife, my first time driving a stick shift, every one of my first days of school, my first dance, my first time holding hands, my first Christmas wake-up, my first morning with a new puppy, my first time wetting the bed, my last time wetting the bed, my first time using a toilet like a big boy, my first computer, my first smile, my first joke, my first sentence, my first book read to me at bedtime, my first book read on my own, my first swim, my first jumping jack, my first somersault, my first time standing up on water-skis, my first time pulling a trout from the lake at my grandparents’ house, my first time helping my grandfather build something, my first time helping put up the Christmas lights, my first time playing in a sprinkler, my first time playing catch, my first game of cards, my first basketball shot, my first swing of a baseball bat, my first time eating snow, my first play of my first football game under the bright lights of the stadium, my first failure, my first embarrassment, my first lesson, my first pride.
I want to capture each of my memories and wants in a jam jar like a child catches fireflies, and I want to keep them in glowing cabinets, ready to open whenever I feel like reliving.
I want to be everything.
I want to be a farmer. I want to be a teacher. I want to be a surgeon. I want to be a mechanic. I want to spend a summer weekend working on a car in a driveway. I want to listen to a baseball game while drinking beers. I want to open the hood of a steaming car and know what’s going on. I want to be handy. I want to fix plumbing. I want to be self-sufficient. I want to be self-motivated. I want to be a football coach. I want to invent new ways of training with tractor tires. I want my football team to tow a train engine along a track for a mile. I want to yell at them to dig in. I want to yell at them through an orange traffic cone. I want to inspire the minds of the youth. I want to change someone’s life for the better. I want a life coach. I want a personal trainer. I want a gym in my apartment building. I want a doorman. I want laundry in my apartment. I want a bigger pot for my ficus. I want original moldings and perfectly level floorboards. I want a waffle iron like those in the college dining hall. I want to do college over again as a history major or religion major. I want to be a pilot. I want to be an astronaut. I want to go to Space Camp. I want to be a film director. I want to be an actor. I want to be a photographer, cinematographer, documentarian, video artist. I want to be on Broadway. I want to be a dancer. I want to be a ballerino. I want to take up the violin again. I want to take up the piano again. I want to take up model rocket building. I want to not have given up the violin for basketball when I was in the seventh grade. I want to play professional sports. I want to care about professional sports so that I have something to talk about with the men at parties or in the office who just assume that I know these things. I want to fish more. I want to learn to be a better fisherman. I want to learn every language. I want a fish tank of lake trout. I want a fish tank of catfish. I want a fish tank of algae and crawdads and perch, two of each, a male and female, like a tiny ark. I want to learn to bake bread. I want to break bread with a million others. I want to be a stay-at-home dad. I want to be a great father. I want a bigger apartment before I become a father. I want my child or children to love me and respect me.
I want my son, when he is in the sixth grade and asked to write, as I was, an end-of-the-year list of favorite things, I want him to write My Dad, as I did. I want my daughter to write My Mom on her list of favorite things. I want them to have difficulty deciding between my wife and me.
I want our children to never go hungry. I want our children to research both our families to find a shared lineage. I want our ancestries to cross at some ancient time. I want our ancestors to have been of some same village in Scandinavia half a thousand years ago, our so-many-great grandparents to have been great childhood friends. I want to go back in time and watch them digging up farm soil together and laughing. I want to watch them carrying well water in wooden buckets and singing folks songs at each other. I want to see them separated by war or climate, only to be brought back together again this many centuries later, in the sprinkler-splashing and backseat-singing of our children.
I want to tell you more about my grandparents who lived in the lake house, with the cedar trees marked with nails in the yard. I want to tell you how their faucets and showers spit water only from the lake for so many years, water you shouldn’t drink, they said, but was fine for showering or washing your hands before eating. I want to tell you how when they visited us in our house upon the hill they would bring big plastic jugs to fill with water from our garden hose. I want to tell you how this was the same hose I was told not to drink from, not because it wasn’t drinkable but because my mother didn’t like it when we drank without a glass. I want to tell you how, when I asked my father why grandfather filled those jugs with hose water every time he visited, he said it was because my grandfather was secretly in charge of making sure the lake didn’t run out of water, and it hadn’t rained enough lately.
I want to tell you how I used to imagine my grandparents out at the end of the dock when they got home after their visits, pouring water from our house into the lake in the middle of the night. I want to tell you how my grandfather would tip the jugs one after the other while my grandmother stood guard to make sure no one saw. I want to tell you how in the summertime when we went swimming with the neighbor kids, I felt like our family owned more of the lake than they did, because we had filled it ourselves, because the lake was something our family had built and maintained, how it was something our family loved most, how it was our shared secret.
I want family to be my favorite thing.