A McSweeney’s Books Preview of Amy Fusselman’s 8.
Amy Fusselman’s first two books, The Pharmacist’s Mate and 8, weave surprising beauty out of diverse strands of personal reflection. Half memoir and half philosophical improvisation, each focuses loosely on a relationship with a man in the author’s life: The Pharmacist’s Mate with her recently deceased father, and 8 with “my pedophile” (as Fusselman painfully refers to her childhood assailant). Along the way, Fusselman covers sea shanties and artificial insemination, World War II and AC/DC, alternative healers and monster-truck videos. Fusselman’s “wholly original epigrammatic style” (Vogue) “makes the world strange again, a place where dying and making life are equally mysterious and miraculous activities” (Time Out New York).
Today we’re featuring an excerpt from 8. To purchase both books (two books in one!), please visit our store.
Understanding how things happen is not easy. I used to think it was simple: people perform actions. Things happen because an invisible force inside people—human will—makes its way outside people, thereby becoming visible. The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that human beings not only have the ability to do two things at one time, but that they have the ability to do two things at one time that are at cross-purposes.
People can read books and watch children at the same time, for instance. Of course, both the reading of the books and the watching of the children will be performed in a way best described as half-assed. If you want to read your book in a non-half-assed way, you have to wait until your child is in kindergarten, or you must pay someone to watch your child while you read your book. Even then, however, you must not read the book in your home because your child will find you and jump on you and make reading impossible. You must leave your home, leave your yard, leave your street. You must drive to a café in town to read your book.
You must run and hide from your child as if your child is serving you a subpoena.
This is not insane. It does not make you bad if you do this.
If you have a child, you already know this. You already know that you can’t watch your child and simultaneously read books because you must give your child everything. But not everything like you may have come to think of it: not every toy, every convenience, every whim; not every shred of yourself until you are resentful and exhausted. To be really healthy, to be really balanced, you are supposed to keep a little bit of yourself for yourself. Perhaps you are able to do this.
Let’s just assume, however, that you are not. You have not been able to keep from giving your kids every shred of your energy, your will, your time. Then most likely you are already aware of something else that has happened to you: you have become a robot. The number of times you are repeating the same few actions—doing laundry, picking up toys, wiping bottom, picking up baby, saying stop, saying eat, saying come here now, put on your shoes, etc.—is incalculable. It is hundreds of thousands of times per child.
You must be a robot because you care for a child. Children are wild! If they are under age five in particular—wild!
Out of their minds! They are only cute because they are small. If they were big they would be terrifying. They would be in jail. They are in jail now, really: cribs, exersaucers, strollers, high chairs. They are escorted, like prisoners, everywhere. And in their jail, which is your jail, you robot-sing them songs with robot motions: ABC twinkly spider bus. What play are you in, who wrote these words, these gestures? Is this a tragedy?
It could be a tragedy. The thing that keeps it from being a tragedy, that turns it into a comedy, or at least a musical, is your robot-self. You have to be very careful with your robotself. The way in which you perform your hundred thousand repetitive actions is incredibly important. You must become the most fabulous robot you can be. This is not easy. You can’t do it with your brain. You can’t read your way into it, I am sorry to say.
What do you do, then?
First, you must be aware of something: the way that humans learn. Humans learn through repetition. We are tied to time this way. We are shackled to it; we move through it. Even before we have a complete skeleton, we exist in time. Time is our name: nine weeks, twelve weeks.
Time is a greater mother to us than our own mothers.
Time is inside and outside us, it is the fantastic sea we move through, capable of the most astonishing bends and whorls and, of course, like most things that are magical and wild and inside us, we have reduced it to something small and controllable outside us. Time is not magical, we say. Time is the annoying thing I wear on my wrist. Time is the thing that ticks on without me. Time is the round sculpture on the wall with numbers that I look at occasionally to help me figure out where I am in my day. Time is like a map. I have to take it out of my pocket and look at it with my eyes and then I use my brain and I think about it and I do a little computation and that is that; I know where I am now. Thank you, Time.
This is the wrong model.
Time is inside humans and outside humans and they learn in it. Their learning cannot be divorced from it. Which is to say they learn—tick tick tick—by doing the same thing over and over until they are good at it or they abandon it.
This robotic/ robotic/repetition side, unfortunately, is usually discounted. No, you are not a robot, the books imply, of course you are not a robot, you are a human, a loving and caring and kind and wonderful and not unfeeling human.
The robot part is then explained as if the parents don’t know it already. The books say to robot this and robot that, put the baby on robot schedule, robot food, robot sleep, sing robot, poop robot. Attach robot.
I say embrace your robot. Embrace the repetition of this work. You are a machine your children love and fear. You are a robot god.
It is scary. Was your mother a robot? Yes.
But we are not robots, you say. We could be, it would be fine if we were, we are not afraid of robots. See? We love them! They are our pets!
They’re not us, though.
Look, this is not a problem to be fixed. Robots have fantastic attributes:
• The ability to bear loss without breaking
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