Subjects Discussed: Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, checking with other people on stories and blog posts, the fairness of sharing, the private medium of the letter being publicly aired, drawing the distinction between work and fun in personal writing, dealing with negativity and hate mail, public scrutiny, factoring the audience into business decisions, the oddness of an audience as a focus group, writing in all caps and emphatic house style, Armstrong’s affinity for Chili’s, imagining vs. comparing Leta at sixteen, whether or not Bob Costas is insipid, parent writing and the “special” nature of children, Janet Jackson’s nipple, fixating on particular points to keep a narrative going, the two-book deal with Kensington, “having a baby is pretty much a book of commentary,” filtering daily events, following up on investigations by the Pioneer Press, and the concern for “normalcy.”
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to ask about your affinity for Chili’s, which you bring up. I don’t think it can be entirely predicated on a love for the chips and salsa, or the fact that the server brings two Diet Cokes at the same time. This can’t merely be the exclusive reason! So I’m curious if you can elaborate on this particular concern and love and joy you have for Chili’s.
Armstrong: Well, I actually worked at Chili’s for three days back when I was a freshman in college. And I lasted three days. I couldn’t wait tables. I am not a table waiter. And there’s just something about the Americanness of the experience, and having that much food brought to you that makes me very connected to the flyover states — that normally I’m not very connected to politically. You know, I don’t see eye to eye with them. Except when they’re bringing me those two Diet Cokes. And when they’re refilling the basket and basket and basket of chips. I feel very American.
Correspondent: I’m wondering if it’s the specific glasses they use.
Armstrong: Oh yeah.
Correspondent: The specific way in which they bring to your table. Because this is a chain restaurant. There are plenty of restaurants that will bring you two Diet Cokes.
Armstrong: Well, consistently though. I mean, I have never had to ask for the second Diet Coke. They will always bring it. And I wasn’t taught this rule when I worked there. I just think that there’s something about the culture there. They know. They know you need it.
Correspondent: Wow. Maybe there’s some divisions of Chili’s in which they bring you that Diet Coke immediately. Or maybe it’s a Utah scenario?
Armstrong: No, it happened in Tennessee too.
Correspondent: It happened in Tennessee too.
Armstrong: It did. It did.
Correspondent: This is an investigative journalistic report.
Armstrong: It really is. (laughs)
Correspondent: Really. You should pursue this further. I want to talk about when Leta is taken in for an MRI and is given some Nembutal. You write that she was “as drunk as a sixteen-year-old on prom night who has had a Long Island Iced Tea on an empty stomach and is in total denial about how drunk she is.” Now this was very interesting to me. Because I must observe that sixteen is right between your age and Leta’s age.
Correspondent: I must also point out that this is not imagining Leta at sixteen. It’s comparing her to a sixteen-year-old. Does the notion of thinking of Leta at sixteen mortify you? And is this why you need this comparative point to someone who is sixteen? Who couldn’t possibly be Leta? Or what?
Armstrong: I’m probably comparing her to the sixteen-year-old I wasn’t actually. And the possibility that she will be very different than I was. I’m raising her ideologically very differently than I was raised. And I don’t want it to seem that it would be okay with me if my sixteen-year-old got drunk. But there’s a part of me that probably needed to when I was sixteen. And the thought of her in her teens, actually, does absolutely terrify me. Yes, it does.
Correspondent: How far in the future can you think about Leta?
Armstrong: Oh, not very far. No, no, no. You can’t do that with her. I mean, it’s a new lesson. You wake up and you think you’ve got it mastered. And then she will just knock you on your ass immediately the next day.