Evan Lavender-Smith: 21st Century Man of Enlightenment or Snow Leopard?

Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks is a wildly self-aware collection of big ideas that obliterates distinctions between fiction, philosophy, poetry and autobiography. Witty, sweet and often brilliant, the book is structured around thematically linked one-liners, personal anecdotes, story pitches, self-reflections and ruminations on what it means to be intellectually alive in the new millennium.

Short story about someone living inside of a piano.

At its core, F.O.N. aims to come to terms with the author’s lost youth (as a voracious reader and porn connoisseur) and his evolving adult identity (as an ambitious young writer and loyal husband-slash-father). Yet, as Lavender-Smith says himself: “Death is the glue that holds the book together.” His obsessive fear of death, pet-acronymed F.O.D., drives the narrative forward, and the cumulative effect of his avalanche of comic-sad revelations feels rich, real, human.

Short story about a world in which fear of death is physically infectious.

There’s copious name-dropping throughout (Deleuze, Ligeti, Joyce, DFW) which, perhaps despite appearances, comes across less like an act of highbrow elitism than heartfelt homage to the author’s heroes. Make no mistake, Lavender-Smith is a serious intellectual. But more importantly, he’s also a goof, who enjoys a good bit of potty humor — “Bathroom as private refuge from family” — as well as healthy doses of smoking, drinking and polyamorous drugging (Welbutrin, Valium, Zoloft, Zantec, Proselic and so on). So while he’s likely better read than most of his readers, and his work is formally inventive, insightful, thought-provoking and rigorous, Lavender-Smith’s also just like you and me: simply a good guy trying to get by and make sense of it all the best he can.

Story about a mother who develops an allergic reaction to her kids.

This is what makes F.O.N. such a pleasurable reading experience. It’s like hanging out with a brainy buddy, talking Truth Shit until the sky cracks open and the Light rains down, then we laugh out loud or pause in Deep Thought before weighing in on another curious angle. Echoing Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood, the book is a dynamic conversation, a rowdy three-way between reader and author and text.

I suppose I’m asking the reader to treat me like a text, bully me around a bit.

Happy to oblige, that’s exactly what follows:

Reality television show in which ten writers living in the same house compete for a two-book deal.
So You Think You Can Write.

“It makes no difference to me where or how I live so long as I have my family by my side, my wife and children.” Meditative pause. “And of course my books.” Another. “And my porn.”
21st Century Man of Enlightenment?

“I need to sit down and catch my breath, i.e., have a cigarette.”
I need to clear my head, i.e., do a bong hit.

Short story on fire, i.e., afire.
Scorch Atlas.

How I used to imagine women peeing in a deluge rather than a stream.

How I used to imagine women coming in a deluge . . . empirical investigation is cool.

A great work of art that does not aspire to greatness.
A literary novelist who aims to write unliterarily.

Derrida for Dummies
Foucault for Retards

Lavender-Smith for Literary-Salivators.

If someone put a gun to my head and said, “Suck your own dick or I’ll put a bullet in your head,” then would I be able to?
The number-one Deep Thought that’s haunted man since the beginning of time. The close second: if I would if I could, does that make me gay?

Short story anthology of stories left unfinished at death of authors.
Unfinished.

I feel like a jerk when I use her as my indefinite singular possessive pronoun, an even bigger jerk when I use his, and a deaf-mute when I use his/her.

Emasculation of the postmodern, postfeminist, 21st Century Man of Enlightenment.

When jazz musicians have symphony orchestras at their disposal.

Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, Anthony Braxton.

Carmen and I have very few opportunities for sex, and often resort to having sex with Sofia on the bed with us, sometimes asleep, more often than not awake, breastfeeding, watching.
Not exactly the menage a trois I had always hoped for.

I draw the curtains and kick the cat out of the room. I feel immodestly exhibitionist with a roommate on the other side of the wall. I need light and space to move around and make noise, unmolested by third-party interference or surveillance.
The menage a trois is better fantasy than reality.

Without porn for a week. Longest stretch since childhood.
Serial monogamist from early teens to late thirties. After breakup of latest long-term (eight-year) relationship, finally breaks down and orders high-speed Internet. Never commits again?

How I was brought in as a reliever in the Las Cruces Little League Championship and called for a balk before throwing my first pitch.

How I choked at the plate on a full count with bases jammed and two outs in the bottom of the last inning in the Midget League Championship, swinging while ducking from a wild pitch that almost nailed me in the head.

Only after opening one’s seventh Miller High Life of the evening can one honestly say it tastes like champagne.
After the first sip of Eye of the Hawk, one can honestly say it tastes better than champagne.

An act of parenting is an act of forgetting.
“Selective ignorance, a cornerstone of child rearing.” — Garrison Keillor

When I’ve reached that point at which I no longer fear going naked in public, I imagine I will also have reached the point at which I’m no longer consumed by F.O.D. That is to say, never.
Perhaps fear of death cum public nudity is related to one’s proximity to large bodies of water. There’s no shortage of clothes-free fashion or Buddha-like acceptance of the life-death continuum in San Francisco, even on wind-swept beaches that guarantee shrinkage.

Short story about an artist composing thirty or more major works simultaneously.
Anthony Braxton.

If Wittgenstein were an animal, he would be either a dolphin or a chimpanzee. If Nietzsche were an animal, he’d be a velociraptor. If Heidegger were an animal, he’d be the same animal as Kant. Derrida would be a bird. Schopenhauer would be a bear. Freud would be a rooster. Deleuze would be a plant.

Lavender-Smith would be a snow leopard.

Story entitled “Futureless” about a nostalgic 29-year-old part-time instructor at a community college who begins shooting heroin with one of his 17-year-old students after class.
Half Nelson.

Death can’t get me while I’m watching football.

Because you’re already dead?

The condition of madness and the condition of parenthood have more than one thing in common.
Science says the brain on love and the crazy brain are one and the same. Thus, it follows that the love parents have for their children drives them insane.

Homo sapiens, the miscarriage of evolution.
Humans are the aberration of nature.

1) Think always about sex. 2) Have a family. 3) Think always about death.
1) Think always about sex. 2) Read “No One Here Gets Out Alive” (at 14) and commit to a life of girlfriends, music and books. 3) Think sex and death are two sides of the same LP.

The existence of God is as obvious as the flatness of the Earth.
My dad insisted from kindergarten on that I go to college, yet he never understood when I rationalized the Church out of my life.

Intellectuals Anonymous.

1st Commandment: Read less, fuck more.

God endowed the universe with an infinite number of signs, but only one fact.
Yeah yeah… death. Whatever.

I feel like I should save the bottle once I’ve finished it, as a sort of battle trophy.
Empty bottles of Jim Beam, Smirnoff, Wild Turkey and Bacardi lined up like soldiers alongside old baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse trophies on the dresser in my basement room in high school.

Being is a bump along the smooth surface of non-being.
Non-being is a treasure map, being a pirate.

Which entry is really me? Always the next one.
There is no solid, fixed self. “Me” is fluid, molded in the moment by the accumulation of all moments.

I suppose the ultimate goal is being okay with not knowing what being okay means.

Yes! Acceptance… then you die.

–Jesús Ángel García is the author of badbadbad, a postpulp transmedia novel about sex and death and selfhood in the social-media era, coming in May 2011 on New Pulp Press.

0

About the Author

More Like This

Cyrus Grace Dunham on Turning the Body Into a Home

"A Year Without a Name" explores gender transition, queer desire, and our unreliable bodies

Nov 14 - Ayden LeRoux

Jana Casale Says You Don’t Have to Kill ALL Your Darlings

The author of "The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky" answers our questions about teaching writing

Nov 14 - Electric Literature

7 Books About the Struggle of Being a Writer

If you're a tortured creative, these novels will speak to your soul

Nov 14 - Gnesis Villar