Rachel Kushner
The Kushner Family Archive

letter volvo
The Kushner family car (Photo: Jake Kushner)







Kate Wolf
Los Angeles, March 2017
 

Dear —,

I think I’m someone who could easily be crushed by my own nostalgia. A few weeks ago, when I interviewed you about your former magazine, one of my questions was regarding the connection you had to other Los Angeles institutions of the late 1970s. I was thinking of Calarts and SCI-Arc, of performance art, punk music, the not one but two media collectives who had offices on the same block as you in Venice, the beatniks from the Temple of Man—also in the neighborhood—reciting poetry in their hot tub. I assumed you would say what an unbelievably rich time it was. But I was wrong. You said L.A. was a terrible wasteland then; you felt totally disconnected from everyone; and only now could you start to feel proud of what the city had become. It threw me, honestly, since I spend so much of my own time in a hazy, warm vision of the past. Related to this, I know I’m annoying to drive around with—it’s all a lament about this or that ugly new development and I recite the names of businesses I remember that are no longer open with a deep air of melancholy. I save shopping bags from shuttered record and bookstores. Any panel or book or exhibition that has something to do with the 1990s, when I was a teenager, I’m immediately interested. I think over and over of a block I used to work on in Los Feliz, the coffee shop I would go to there with the scraggly drug addicts sitting outside all afternoon, of sometimes seeing the writer Dennis Cooper walk by, and the much older former Jewish-Orthodox journalist who I went on some dates with and who only had three albums in his CD player (Doolitle and Loveless are the two I remember), which he told me he hadn’t changed for years.

There’s something a little sick about this constant backtrack, yet also intoxicating, like stewing in my own delicious stench.

Perhaps I collude things here, but I wonder how you’re able to avoid thinking about the terrain of your youth without the same kind of longing confusion as me. It seems to have served you well, though, there were hints that there might be some bad blood between you and other members of the magazine’s staff; I thought it was curious that you hadn’t talked to people you’d worked so closely with in over 30 years, but then again, you might ask, why should you when something is over and done?

Is there another option besides disavowal? I’m not a fool. The nauseating dog whistle of “MAGA” for instance, enrages me. I recognize the danger of blank nostalgia. But in my own life, I still treasure, without question, the shimmer of any personal relic, whether in mental or physical form, and this is starting to be of some concern.

What do you think?

Warmly,
Kate

Brontez Purnell
Oakland, March 2017
 

Dear Bradford Nordeen,

I know you think I'm totally full of shit but I still think we should get married. I know EXACTLY what yr thinking- yr thinking "every time two poor people get married God kills a baby angel in fury" (my friend Zac taught me that one)- I don’t care about baby angels. You have a bubble butt. I like that. That’s cool. Let me also say I have not been faithful. When I called you on Valentine’s Day you were in L.A. and I was in Oakland. I went out that night. I was drunk. I was lonely. I had sex with an Ethopian teenager in the basement of an abandoned house. He lived with his brother and he was closeted. It’s been raining like hell up here (I mean it IS Northern California right?) and so I scooped the basement out first cause I was certain there were homeless dudes probs in there. I felt like Nancy Drew with my phone flash light. No such homeless people were there so we had the full run. I bottomed. Then I met this Latino daddy at his house. Then this weed grower guy from Mendocino came over. He was HOT. He says he's up North seven months out of the year growing weed and when he comes of the mountain he's horny and can’t get fucked fast enough. His butt hole was clean but still smelled like wine. It turned me on. I think he was high. ANYWAY- I have had other infidelity's too. Can you find it in yr heart to forgive me. I was talking to my Aunt who lives in Harlem the other day and she is a HILARIOUS New Yorker. She has no concept of California geographic regions and California geographic separations. After 15 years of explaining it to her she still thinks that Oakland and L.A. are 30 minutes apart. I say to her “no Oakland is across the Bay from Saaaaaaan Fraaaaaannnnnnnciiiiiiiiico" (I say San Francisco slowly so it can sink in) underneath it all I know she still doesn't understand cause she'll say shit like "aren’t you down the street from LA?" or she'll say "what’s the difference between the cities" AND I’M LIKE L.A. VS. THE BAY is like Athens VS. Sparta (but I do think there are ways the two cites take turns being Athens and Sparta ) We have a rainy season and you guys have traffic. I don’t trip about it-it’s cool. The last thing I’ll say on the subject tho is that how come in the movie "Poetic Justice" it takes Janet Jackson, Tupac, and Regina King (and who ever that other dude was) 3 days to get from L.A. to Oakland? No one ever clocks that shit but I ain't sleeping on it. That shit ain’t right. SOOOO I’m about to premiere this new dance piece in New York at New York Live Arts. It's called "Chronic: A Dance About Marijuana" ITS GONNA BE DOPE (lol-get it?) Anyway I cant wait to walk right up to Bill T Jones and ask if I can borrow 20$ Omg, WHAT IF HE ACTUALLY GIVES IT TO ME?!?!?!?!??!?! Anyway, Bradford call me when you are feeling lonely, k? 510 435 8310 BRONTEZ.
xoxoxo
*hearts hearts hearts*

Miranda July
Los Angeles, March 2017


Dear M,

When you called today I think it was to wish me a happy birthday — but you got carried away with describing everything you were doing in Denver. As I listened I resolved not to remind you, thinking: If we can make it to the goodbyes and hang up without you remembering the reason you called, then that will be a sort of gift (the gift of being able to tell everyone you forgot to wish me a happy birthday.) As the call drew to its end I got nervously excited, hoping it wouldn’t all be ruined at the last minute — but no, you never remembered. I’ve been able to add this story to the fact that we are all sick and no one gave me a present. Quite a tasty soup of self-pity.

I didn’t really explain how sick I've been, because of our long history of me trying to elicit comfort and you exploding with anxiety instead; sometimes even becoming perversely angry at me as you sense your own failure. For safety, I tuck myself neatly away, into my perfectly self-created world. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how hard I’ve rocked that dynamic, how much I’ve managed to get out of it.
Wow.

And now, since it is still my birthday, let me indulge myself, in this theoretical letter to a theoretical woman: on Saturday I had a fever of 103 and couldn’t find anyone to help me, so I was alone with Henry, who didn’t really understand why I was such a bad playmate. The greatest challenge was taking the sheets out of the dryer and putting them on his bed. After each corner I had to lay down and rest on the mattress, the room spinning and my body throbbing with aches. The whole process took me about 30 minutes; I kept telling myself: this is ok, it’s just taking longer, but I’m doing it. That night it seemed like my whole life had been this hard and always would be, but that it didn’t matter, all that mattered was doing one thing after another until each thing got done. And in fact, this is true — my whole life is like that. One foot in front of the other. How could it be any other way, anyone’s life? I had to act a bit with Henry; I made my voice reassuring to let him know everything was fine even though I couldn’t really stand up.

The next day he was sick too and this was actually easier because he was less spirited. We listened to audio literature; Anne Hathaway reading The Wizard of Oz. If I ever meet her I will have to commend her on this work. Her reading of The Wizard himself was particularly off the wall — being far creepier than it was written. For example Oz would be described as saying something “meekly” and Anne would read it in the voice of a child molester riddled with perversion and only pretending to be meek. I wonder how much she got paid for this was my reoccurring thought. I could never do it (not that anyone’s asked me to) because I don’t know how to read from my diaphragm. I can barely read aloud to Henry each night before my throat gets so tense it hurts. Just one of many things I keep meaning to get on top of. But will I ever? I can only keep trying.

Yours, of course, and love, of course, despite everything,

Miranda
Dodie Bellamy
San Francisco, March 2017

Stephen,

I don’t know what to call you. If Aeliana is a stage name, or if you’re asking people to call you that. Do let me know.

I was able to email myself a link to your video. When I tried to open it via Messenger, Youtube wanted me to sign in to prove I was an adult, and I had no idea . . . so during my class break today I had a student copy the link for me from Messenger and I used that to email it so I could watch it on my computer.

Your video is crazy and vulgar and absurd but then also scathingly political on so many levels. You really unpack all the nuances and ramifications of Cheetos, the whole Trump-cock-Monsanto triad. Delightfully fucked up. Did your partner really piss on you? The yellow was convincing. I noticed that after he did that you stopped eating the Cheetos in the bathtub. I was googling Sylvia Plath right before I watched it, actually googling Ted Hughes, and I came upon a photo of her suicide, her sticking out of the oven from the waist down, and it was so kinky. She was wearing a dress and strappy high heels and little white gloves. It was on several sites, including in an Italian newspaper article labeled as “Sylvia Plath 1,” so I’m pretty sure it’s the real picture. If I were to stick my head in the oven, I think I’d just wear my bathrobe or a T-shirt with food slopped across it. She looked like she was dressed for church or a ladies' luncheon.

Anyway, I needed your video as an antidote.

I miss you not being on FB, but you’re not missing much there. It seems like you’re doing okay? I want things to be well for you.

I’m flying to San Diego tomorrow. I was going to then drive to LA and go to an opening at MOCA but decided I was feeling too chaotic/ungrounded. 3 trips this semester. Reading at Brown in April.

Not writing, not because of lack of time but it’s like my will is sagging. The world is so fucked but it’s like I’m free-floating and I can’t get started, it’s like I need to click my ruby slippers and plop back down to earth.

KK and I have been getting along well, a general sweetness there. Relationships can be so up and down. We’ve been commissioned to do a couple of collaborations, which can be stressful, we go at things so differently. I’m a slow boil in working at stuff and he’s like this instant magician flashing lasers. He can have something practically done before I’ve hardly begun. I guess the universe is paying us money to learn how to work that out.

Hopefully I’ll see you this summer.

Much love,
Dodie
Kevin Killian
San Francisco, March 2017

Dear Elijah and Richard,

Reading “Sperm Cult” (Los Angeles: Bad Dimension Press, 2017) and looking at the pictures you evoke in it, I stagger to my desk and revamp my novel that began with the little excerpt Andrew published of it, “The Story of a Stolen Kiss.” I’ll relate what I know of its larger structure.

The two brothers Jimmy and Vinny are seen through the eyes of Jimmy’s friend, a boy of strong will called Chris. Vinny is somewhat older and rather like a god to the two younger teens, who worship him like Brandon de Wilde worships Warren Beatty in Frankenheimer’s “All Fall Down” (1962). When Vinny dies in a tragic accident, falling off a church steeple in Smithtown, Long Island, the two younger boys establish a cult in his name, determined to bring him back to life, like the “Maximin” cult that surrounded poet Stefan George in Weimar Germany.

This distraction struck him at prime moments, but also at the worst times imaginable, when he was out on the court, in charge of the ball. He might be up for a basket, in mid-plunge into the screaming, fertile air, and then it seemed like he was in freeze mode, stuck in the air, his right arm forever attached to the ball, and he was thinking, is this what I want? To be a showy showoff for Smithtown? The girls kept screaming and the dads kept pounding the bleachers with their big dress shoes, but he was stuck in mid-air. When Chris was, maybe 12, there was a big Walt Disney film he’d seen a dozen times, had Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons playing a small town scientist people laughed at, even his wife, for he was so forgetful, they called him the “Absent-Minded Professor.” The laugh was on them because Absent Minded invented an anti-gravity rubber—the “goo that flew” and called it “Flubber”—the opposite of the element rubber. With his sneakers made of Flubber Chris could sail to great heights and Smithtown won every game, but was it what he wanted? These thoughts crawled around his mind like starving prisoners looking for a way out.

There was a cute chimp in the sequel, “Son of Flubber,” but by the time that came out Chris was embarrassed about his Walt Disney enthusiasm. –But he should have watched both movies better—for how did he get down?

As the cult develops, Jimmy and Chris begin a program or ritual sacrifices to Satan, aided by a sinister teacher at the local high school with a little black book of his own. This is George Dorset, who played a similar role in my earlier novel Spreadeagle, and takes him into his prime as a Satanic leader who calls himself Mocata, when not teaching elements of darkroom photography to the students at Smithtown High School..

While Chris and Jimmy plan their resurrection of Vinny, they find themselves disaffected from their steady girlfriends and wind up turning to each other. They are so angry with the 1960s—the book takes place in 1965. The year of Ariel, Dune, In Cold Blood, Totempole, Stoner, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” Everything that Rises Must Converge, The Homecoming, Up the Down Staircase. Chad & Jeremy, Ain’t That Peculiar, “Be True to My School” by the Beach Boys, Phil Spector.

He didn’t really care for the feel of George’s dick in his mouth but he steeled himself not to blink when he saw it coming in, for this was his place in the world, to become the receptacle for his wisdom. He had gone to Black Mountain College for god’s sakes, and he had been part of the Forster working. George didn’t expect him to throw a rod himself, that wasn’t required of him, thank God, but he was getting good at the game of always keeping his mouth open in class so George could study his mouth and groove on it thinking that, afterward, he could keep him after school and get a blowjob.

It was all a game—the grandest in the world. There was that one movie “Kim” with Dean Stockwell, and he was an Indian boy helping English rule, or an American boy pretending to be a beggar, and the spy counsel brought him into a room with one thing in it and made him remember what it was. Let’s say it was a thermos. They sent him out and another guy in the anteroom quizzed him. “What did you see?” He said he’d seen a thermos. Then they gave him a hearty English breakfast of kippers and mash, tousled his hair, stuck their hands down his dhoti, had a good feel. Next day they sent him into the room and there was a thermos and a mousetrap. Kim looks at it and memorizes them, then goes out and earns his breakfast by reporting on the two things he’d seen. Third day, a fishing pole is added, or a buggy whip, or a hive of bees, and he remembers three things. You build a kid up like that, he can remember 365 things after a year is up and by that time he’s too big for that little loincloth and they buy him some Boy Scout shorts. He’s a hero to everyone. It was called the “Kim” Game and Vinny was learning it too, but an American high school version and the year was 1965, the last year of the world according to the complex algorithms George referred to, his whole dick balls-deep into Vinny’s throat…. but even if your mouth is full the ears of a smart boy can hear beyond the bullshit.

I kind of like it when they come into my mouth, he thought. It was the real “Goo That Flew”!

Guys, you’ll be hearing more from me as the chapters mount up, but you’ve already told the tale, a hundred times before, Richard Hawkins, Elijah Burgher. With your Chicago crew you’ve lived out every page of my book. But you weren’t there, in Smithtown Long Island, in 1965, so you don’t quite know where the bones are buried, a secret I share with you gladly,

Love from Kevin Killian
Martine Syms
Los Angeles, March 2017

Dear R,

I finally read the book you sent. It’s filled with terrible advice. I agree with her on the cruelty of the silent treatment, but once you’re no longer in a relationship? Once the bond has been broken? Some people should be shunned!

DO NOT ENGAGE!

The other half of me was like am I shunning C? What is my responsibility to another? I wanted to bang. They didn’t. Now I have to text back or I’m an asshole. Boooo. It’s twenty-seventeen. I love saying the year like it means something. It’s 2017!

Sidenote: Put on DJ Deeon’s Let me Bang (Original, obviously) because hashtag mood. This is my current anthem. Wish you were here chairdancing with me.

Also, the part where she talks about trying to befriend the black woman at the residency. OH MY GOD. I would’ve punched her ass too. I literally wrote NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in the margin. I was so disturbed by the book I had to talk about it in therapy.

Next time I want something with zero traces of self-help. I’m instituting a moratorium on self improvement literature. I’m still trying to become my best me or whatever but I’m done reading about it. It’s like when I only ate Soylent for three months. I’m ready to put my body on the line.

V keeps telling me to read the Ferrante books. I refuse. Just because every beautiful woman in New York has it on their coffee table doesn’t make it good. And the covers, jesus christ, does she know me at all? Right, right, it’s “intentional.” I’m still only reading women because DOWN WITH THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY.

Anyway. Miss you.

Sidenote: Can you believe C texted me that!? What a psycho. I think they meant to type “[I] miss [the attention] you [gave me]”

Maybe my best self is a cold, hard bitch. Now playing Lil Kim.

Love,
Queen Bitch,
Supreme Bitch,
Alexander Keefe
Los Angeles, March 2017

15-III-17

A, but I found you out – spotted your little spurt of hummingbird shite fall like a surrender scene – or was that supposed to be an offering?

Don’t walk on the ridgetops, old chum, don’t piss in the wind – that’s what I been told – andhā cūhā, ṭoṭe dhān – the blinder the rat the spoileder the grain.

just my luck on the radio this morning I caught the tail end of the worst, Elton John and Kiki Dee’s bicentennial bad faith anthem Don’t Go Breakin My Heart – the song is a fucking curse you know – the “Kiki Dee jinx” they called it – after six number one singles, Elton John didn’t have another hit for 21 years. It took Candle in the Wind – a discount dirge stitched together in 1997 from finger bones and fish hooks, a lyric grown like shrooms in walmart dirt – feeding on the phoney and the dead, outlasting its creator and someday feeding on him too no doubt.. what a jinx-busting black magic though – an eternal celebrity-corpse-fucking requiem and, with it, fame – stygian fame! – dank, with an expanded contemporary photo collection as a bonus; better seats; fewer forced appearances alongside members of the band Styx -

and for Kiki Dee? Only that colossal truth: nothing ever leads to anything, nothing ever adds up to anything, and nothing ever goes anywhere. The gold you seek turns to shit (Yépez). Abandon your investments and leave. Some syncopations just don’t add up to fucking jazz. And anyway there never was such a thing as “affectionate pastiche” – I don’t care what “Carte Blanche” says – blue-eyed is bullshit. Either this is all Sha Na Na or none of it is.

I can’t keep this up so let’s have it out once and for all – either that or it’s 8 and all good numbers to you buddy – from the bottom of my ‘heart’

jāte hue kahte ho qayāmat ko milenge what a relief; here I thought it was today

tab tak – nobody knows it – kisses and candlesticks,

your only only A
Silke Otto-Knapp
Los Angeles, March 2017

Dear E. B.

I could never be a writer.

You wrote about a hundred poems in your life. I figure that’s about two every year between the ages of twenty and sixty-seven. I find myself distracted so much of the time. The only exception might be when I’m in my studio painting. I don’t have internet there, so I listen to NPR. even if the programs start to repeat. A while ago, I Iistened to an interview with a writer who had just published a new book on your life. It began with a recording of you reading the poem ‘At the Fishhouses.’ I noticed the specificity of your introduction. You called it a ‘Nova-Scotian’ poem, about the east coast of Nova Scotia, south of Halifax. – You stopped short of naming an actual place, and naturally I wondered where exactly you had in mind. Nova Scotia is part of the Maritimes, on the east coast of Canada, along with New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. For a few years now, I’ have been visiting nearby Newfoundland, so when I listened to your description of the fish houses, a connection began to appear between my studio in Los Angeles, this farflung region on the North Atlantic, you reading in 1977, and me making paintings today, in 2017.

(….) Cold dark deep and absolutely clear, the clear grey icy water… Back, behind us, the dignified tall firs begin. Bluish, associating with their shadows, a million Christmas trees stand waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones. I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones, icily free above the stones, above the stones and then the world. If you should dip your hand in, your wrist would ache immediately, your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn as if the water were a transmutation of fire that feeds on stones and burns with a dark grey flame. If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter, then briny, then surely burn your tongue. It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free, drawn from the cold hard mouth of the world, derived from the rocky breasts forever, flowing and drawn, and since our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

You read the poem with a flat voice that sounded both impersonal and intimate at once. It was casual, but each word was articulated with care and precision. The poem has the same quality. I like the way you describe how the water meets the stones. Looking closely shapes your thoughts and choice of words.
Sometimes I think of a particular radio program or audio book when I return to work on a painting. I’m sure the painting’s been influenced by it but I can’t seem to make out how, or any of the details. It’s frustrating, like trying to recall a dream after lying awake for a while.

Most of the program following the poem was about newly accessible letters you had written your partner, Alice, some close friends, and your analyst. The appearance of these letters had convinced the author that it was time to write a biography. Apparently, they reveal details of your private life complicated relationships and emotions that you seem to keep outside of your work, in spite of the fashion for confessional poetry among your peers in the 60s. The writer explained that at first she felt the need to protect you from such an intrusion into your private life, but later decided that the same apprehensions didn’t seem to apply to reading and making public the intimate letters of male writers.

Personally, I prefer reading letters and biographies of women artists and feel slightly embarrassed about how keen I am to know about their lives. As if I could apply this information to my own in some way? I want to ask you about your influences. Were you ever interested in Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, Florine Stettheimer and Gertrude Stein? Did you find them too bourgeois and European when you decided to travel to South America in 1951 instead of Paris or London? Would you have known the work of younger artists based in New York, like Yvonne Rainer or Joan Jonas, in the 1960s and 70s? You grew up in Canada and later moved from New York to Key West, then spent 15 years in Brazil before moving back to the US for the last years of your life. Oceans both North and South and peoples’ lives close to them are at the center of your work. A moose crossing the street, observed from a bus, a waiting room in a doctors office, a cold morning, a lightning storm at night, a conversation– scenes observed and described with a formality that let’s me hold on to them long after reading the poem.

I think this might be a good point to end my letter. I didn’t even mention your paintings of street scenes and interiors. Next time I want to talk to you about your use of color. Also, your paintings don’t ever seem to have figures in them. Why is that?

Silke


Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer
Los Angeles, March 2017

Zooey,

You have existed inside my body for 36 weeks now. The gematria is auspicious and there are signs that pre-labor ripening has already begun. Actually it’s slightly less because the doctors start counting from my last period which was a bit before the egg that would become you was pierced and launched to life. I’ve learned that the closer you get to things, the harder it is to say when they began; it turns out beginnings are rarely clear-cut and probably the best thing about them is that they tend to keep sliding backwards. For example, the egg that became you has existed for quite a long time, in fact it already existed more than 33 years ago before I was born when I was what you are inside my mother’s body. How much of your personality-to-be was already inscribed in the egg that predates my own birth? For a lot of this time that you have been growing and becoming, you were not yet you, you were me. You’re still me, but now you’re also you. The turning over from me to you is so foggy, impossibly foggy and I suspect not adequately encapsulated by the dramatic and obvious moment of crowning and then birth which is coming soon. You are the biggest you’ve ever been and when you move it feels different: sometimes like a rumble or shivering, a short internal earthquake; sometimes like a weird low, heavy heartbeat or rhythmically plucked string when you hiccup, which is daily; sometimes like a shift or drop of something like shifting weight from one leg to the other; sometimes like a long tingling pressure under my bottom left rib; and sometimes like a slow pushing or turning or revolution when a limb or side of your body presses out in a pivot or sweep. This last feeling is my favorite, it is the most massage-like and it is when I am most able to envision sensation as spatial visualization; I guess I like most things slow. I can also see some of these movements now as swelling and disturbance on the surface of my big belly. You are unknown like the ocean, for sure there and churning under the sea but mostly unseen, invisible. As much as I wonder about your great reveal and all that will come after, I also want to savor and expand this last phase of being before-you, of you-yet-to-come.

Zooey,

Again I call you in my head to say and hear it—your name. You will be called Zooey and I will be called some version of mom, how strange and distancing that seems. I have to pause and look at the letters because it is still so new to see them as meaning you who I have yet to meet. How long to get used to it, until it fits naturally? Will it fit when we see you? We wanted to put a zoo in you, like maybe you could be an arc or lifeboat or guardian, which is just what the world and its animals will badly need. I love your Greek etymology and hope you will one day love etymology as I do. You will be animal life and will not feed on its death. We also wanted you to have good writing built in and Salinger is the best, your daddy’s favorite, who also had mixed parentage of Jewish and (ex)Catholic backgrounds. You will be Jewish, if you choose; that much responsibility to long histories and difference I do feel and strongly, it gives me great pleasure and deep grounding, perspective. You will have another name too that will tie you to other important anchors (there are too many I want to point to), but we don’t know what yet. Thinking about your name over these 36 weeks or more has organized a lot of thinking about other things and ideas I want to name and encode and pass on and share with you over time—so much.

          It is hard to talk but good to write to you. Your daddy sings to you as close as he can get, skin to skin. I will try to talk more. Until then, think chin to chest and back to belly button. And be gentle with me

          Love,
          Me, you, the house you live in


Aram Moshayedi
Los Angeles, March 2017

Dear Aram,

My name is Aram, too. I still remember how this joke played out when we first met. Up until that point, the cover of your father’s book had always appeared at the front of my mind whenever I would introduce myself to someone — “My name is Aram” — but I never imagined that I would one day say the same words to the book’s namesake. You were quick to point out that your father, William Saroyan, simply liked the name and he chose it for you six years after My Name Is Aram was published.

I’ve come to learn that your father was not alone in his appreciation of the name, that Aram seems to be a favorite among Armenians. My Armenian dry cleaner, for instance, has been known to give me the occasional order of laundered shirts on the house. “There are no bad Arams, you are like us,” she says every time she hands the clothes over the counter. My sense has always been that her interest in my name has something to do with the Armenian genocide, and the search for commonality among Armenians bears in mind this fact.

I’ve hardly experienced the same generosity from Iranians, who for the most part can’t be bothered. I’m not sure if you’re aware but Aram is more common as a girl’s name in Iran, and its meaning is different.

There was a time when the artist Hassan Khan borrowed my Uber account in Los Angeles—a city that, you’re also aware, has a disproportionate number of Armenian drivers. Almost every time a car would come to collect him, he’d be asked “Aram, are you Armenian?” It’s a question I’m often asked, which I figured had something to do with my fair skin. But Hassan, an Armenian? That’s a bit of a stretch.

At age 10 I actually wanted to change my name to Erik, as a way of better blending in at school. I didn’t like having to explain the origin of my name or its pronunciation. Most often people would call me Arman or Aaron and the actual pronunciation would elude most who tried to grapple with it. In fact, in 2007 I consciously began to stress the long “ah” sounds in the name in order to avoid any possible misidentification. I don’t know how successful I’ve been in this and I still sometimes catch myself reverting back to the American pronunciation when I know that nobody is paying attention. I can actually date my friendships according to how my name sounds when someone says it. We’ve talked about this before, about how we both deal in different ways with the meaning and intended usage of Aram, as opposed to Aram. Admittedly, I can never remember the pronunciation of the name Mara. Or Mara. I’m paralyzed by this fear every time I have to speak to, or about, Mara McCarthy. I can never remember if she’s Mara or Mara—something she’s had to endure her entire life, I’m certain, as an Aram in reverse.

There’s a Leonard Cohen song called “Love Calls You By Your Name” that I think about every time I hear my name mispronounced. I’ve also noticed the way that your wife Gailyn says your name and how you reciprocate by writing poems dedicated to your love for one another. Perhaps, it’s not unlike how David Antin, no matter what the topic, always managed to affectionately mention Elly in his talk poems. A passing statement in your poem Lines from My Autobiography—dedicated to Gailyn—has always struck me. “You make me feel Persian.” What does that mean? Gailyn makes you feel Persian? Technically speaking, I’m half Persian and I couldn’t tell you what it feels like to be me.

I think it’s best that I wrap this up here, I’ve probably written too much already. But I will end by saying that it’s not easy writing you a letter. I have so much respect for your command of language and the restraint of your words, as few or as many as there may be. You probably don’t remember, but you once wrote me a three-sentence email about the first time you took L.S.D. in 1965. I sat in awe of that email—its brevity, its brilliant construction—and I thought I might never be able to achieve the same in my writing. Clearly, I’m still working at it, at finding my voice somewhere between the different personalities evoked by myself as Aram on the one hand, and Aram on the other, so thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours,

Aram
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