CB: Instead of versions of the same song, it’s more like Will and I are collaborators in tune with each other. I’m trying to avoid the line, “He completes me,” but in a sense he does, although I wouldn’t choose “complete.” Like I say in the book, I’ve always had the sense that I was more than myself.
DB: That sense of being more than yourself strikes me as speaking to the artist life as well. I came into this book expecting a recovery memoir but in the end I found it as much that as it was the discovery of an artist’s voice. Did you always imagine yourself an artist? And do you consider yourself an artist now?
CB: I think you’re 100% right that the sense of being more than yourself speaks to the artist’s life as well to the identical twin’s life. Because I know Will feels that way and he doesn’t consider himself a creator at all––though he is the funniest person I know. About considering myself an artist: no, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. “Artist” to me has a whiff of pretentiousness––when applied to yourself at least–– and seems like an excuse to be an asshole. I’m fine if other people want to refer to me that way, though. I just hope “man” is in there somewhere.
DB: “Writer. Artist. Man.” I gotta say, that’s a damn good tagline.
This actually leads to my next question nicely: You’re so wonderfully up-front about everything in the book - you don’t sugarcoat, you don’t waffle. Even here, just now, I’m struck by how forceful (not in an aggressive way but in a you-know-your-own-mind way) and self-aware you are about your self (spacing intentional) and your work. Were there moments that you wanted to hide from or change, in writing your story?
CB: Yes. I’m thinking specifically of one sentence, or fragment, that I went back and forth on. It’s at the end of the journal I wrote just before I left for surgery in New Orleans. It reads, “So, now faith and hope are heavy upon me; what else do I have? . . . what else does anyone have for that matter? Maybe Alaska.” I very much wanted to take out that last part, “Maybe Alaska.” I still cringe and feel like a moony, romantic punk when I read that. But I left it in, not only because it was in the original, but b/c I think it speaks to the age I was when I wrote it.
There are other examples of that kind of thing throughout, but that’s the one that sticks out in my mind. And after I chose to leave that in, the others were easy.
DB: That’s actually one of the quotes I wrote down in my notebook while I was reading - because that moment felt so raw. As moony and romantic as it definitely is, I knew exactly what you were saying. It spoke to the universal in a way that sometimes, I think, only moony romantic young punks can do. Which is to say, I’m glad you left it in.
I’ve got one final question that I’ve been trying to think of how to phrase, because it’s sort of an immense one. You’ve said that you tried this as fiction a few times—and the book is peppered with references to storytelling devices, be they from novels or plays or music or film. I marked many of them, because I am fascinated at the whole “truth is stranger than fiction” thing. “I didn’t want to attach some reason to why I was still alive and ruin the play” is an early example, the first I marked while reading. And near the end, you talk about “the work of an outside hand” and “a perspective that lies outside of the action.” All the while, you wax philosophical throughout the book, too. You start not wanting to “ruin the play,” but you wrap up as an author—both of other stories and of your own. You turned your life story into a story (for this is a “story” now, even as nonfiction). How, if at all, has it changed you?
CB: The easiest answer is that it has made “me” more me.
The short second-to-last chapter is what ties the whole thing together in my mind. When I went back to Sewanee after the stroke, I knew something had changed besides the obvious physical changes. I hadn’t declared a major before but I think I’d been leaning toward Economics. After I came back, however, I declared philosophy as my major. I thought I could somehow replicate the experience I describe in the book through philosophic study. It wasn’t until a few years later when I was reading something on Eastern philosophy, first texts on Hinduism and then on Zen Buddhism, that I stumbled upon what I’d been looking for. The experience I’d had was not only real, it has happened in varying degrees to people throughout history. Zen even has a name for it—satori—and without it, Zen wouldn’t exist. Zen scholar, D.T. Suzuki said, “Satori is just like normal everyday experience, except two inches off the ground.” There is a lightness that accompanies “my” existence.