Get out your cornichons and your goat cheddar, folks, because this introduction has heft.
I met Andrew Ervin on the bottom of the front stairwell in the Old President’s House, a soon to be partially demolished former home of the Southern Review in 2009 ish in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when sweet olive trees were pumping their Kool Aid aromas throughout the LSU campus, and everyone thought the esteemed literary journal would always have the stately former house to call its administrative home. I held out my hand to shake his (the way I always I do when I’m the best, non-shrinking version of myself—you know, the confident self who girls want to discuss their world travels with, and guys want to have one or seven beers with) and told him I enjoyed his review of Jack Pendarvis’s Awesome in the Believer. Thirty minutes later I had his notated copy of the novel in my hands and—unknown at the time—a literary big brother.
I used to think that because I met Andrew when I was in a “Good Version of Alison” moment, you know, the days or hours when you are doing the right things like remembering cool shit you read at the exact right time and place so people won’t always think you are a stuttering idiot—for me, that’s the Alison who doesn’t end her sentences on question marks (thanks, Jeanne Leiby, wherever you are, for making it painfully clear when and where I do that. No, I’m serious—thank you.) and the Alison who doesn’t nag her boyfriend, but simply and evenly states her truth and then gets over it. It’s the Alison who remembers the stuff she read in her Football for Dummies guide and knows when to cheer outside of the touchdown moments. Sometimes G.V.ofA. is the son my father never had. G.V. of A. always electrifies and hovers luminously when I’m in the middle of the best heart-of-the-matter conversation with my cousin C., my sister-brain, and for these and other reasons, I am my best self with her.
For a few months, I seriously thought that was the only reason our friendship started—because he caught me on a good day; I was on, and successful people liked me (except for Jeanne, who saw right through me and told me about the question mark thing, and proceeded to re-schedule a few class meetings without telling me. It wasn’t personal. But it felt like it at the time. I got back at her and once made her so embarrassed she crawled under her desk.) I don’t like baseball, and I had to look up “extraordinary rendition” in a few places before I grasped more fully what I was about to sink into when I read Drew’s first book. (Turns out you don’t have to look it up to understand and enjoy the book, folks.)
Point is, I soon found out that Andrew liked me and I liked him, for no other reason than the fact that the invisible magic dust of enduring friendship had been thrown on us by the fairy that identifies Those Who Are Special To You and our connection was immediate and sturdy like a Rubbermaid storage container. We also seem to understand each other when we choose to talk or email each other—I know at the ripe old age of 35 never to take that for granted.
Andrew was the person I emailed from my windowless third floor office in LSU’s Allen Hall, (I called it my upside-down dungeon) late, late one night when I was four months into a draft of a 200 page novel (this is the first attempt, folks, not the later one I burned) and I confessed to him, with, like, 3 months to go before I had to turn in my preliminary thesis, that the novel was a sham and I had started to get really distracted by this crazy person whose voice I heard at night.
Who else in my life would have immediately understood that I had found a main character? I don’t remember his response, except that its meaning was that it was right and good that I listen, and that it was right and good that I write what she told me.
Side note: Briefly, six months into listening to her, I fancied myself a sort of Olympia Vernon type (I know—embarrassing disclosures abound in today’s post—must be the heat) and I decided that perhaps all I had to do to write the novel was listen and write down everything this character told me. Ha, ha. That’s so hilarious that I thought that. Boy, did I have (and still have) little clue about how much work a freaking novel is to write. Ha, ha! I wrote down everything that crazy-a. mofo said to me, and you know what happened? I’d ask her about chapter 2, and she’d leap up on my friend’s kitchen sink and use a dish scrubber to wipe her ass. I’d say, “oh, so I need to show you expressing some anxiety, or something—eccentric—that leads up to chapter 2 first?” (I’m such a dumbass) and she’d start rambling about the smallest penis she had ever touched. Seriously. It was like misapprehending some 10 year old strung out on Elmer’s Glue as your spirit guide.
These things that happen in our lives–these people who we turn to for help, they are our story threads, and long, long story short, I really needed someone to take me seriously that night when I confessed I was hearing voices. It made all the difference in finding a project for myself that felt and still feels right.
So, Ervin has either been crucial to my psychological writerly fortitude, or he has single handedly encouraged a slow-growing delusion, where I may, in some later post in some future blog entitled “When I Thought I Was A Writer But It Turns Out I Had A Ghost Fetus” or something, from the confines of some high security “hospital” tell a very different story indeed.
But isn’t that the risk inherent in believing in someone? That maybe you believed in someone crazy? And I’ve decided to blog my thanks, if not say it in person, instead of keeping it to myself. He may be just as surprised by this story as you. To Andrew, who listens and who believes, welcome to the Studiola.
His short fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Golden Handcuffs Review, Fiction International, The Southern Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He’s married to the flutist Elivi Varga and lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches at Temple University, reviews books for places like The Believer and the New York Times. He is finishing up a novel set on the Scottish island where Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.