An Interview with Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. Among other awards, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow, received a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the National Book Award.

On August 25th, three members of the Advocate’s fiction board – Mira Alpers, Tadhg Larabee, and editor Talia Blatt – met Lerner at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We discussed Lerner’s recent, trilogy-concluding novel, The Topeka School, an intergenerational and autofictional bildungsroman. We found ourselves playing with twigs and making knots in leaves of grass. (Whitman made an appearance in the conversation.)

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. We wanted to condense it more, but everything he said was so good we just didn’t know what to cut.

Mira Alpers: Obviously debate is a spoken form of communication. I was wondering if you found it challenging to take the intricacies of pacing and tone, and translate that into your novel, representing in written communication the ways in which communication breakdown happens in speech.

Ben Lerner: When I went to college, I thought literature would be the opposite of high school debate. That the opposite of the weaponized eloquence that reduces people to winners and losers would be this literary relation to language, interested in ambiguity and nuance. And that was true, in a way. But it turns out that a lot of avant garde linguistic practices were actually similar to the weird thing called the spread, where you push language into this glossolalic, cultic ritual. It becomes asemantic; it becomes embodied. It’s like Kurt Schwitters' dada-esque performance. In a funny way, the extremes of debate lent themselves really well to literary representation, because they were actually like scenes of experimental poetry. So I felt like I had the resources to dramatize linguistic collapse more than I maybe had the resources to perform certain traditional realistic functions of the novel. I started as a poet, and I was influenced by L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and experimental poetry that was interested in staging breakdowns in normative referential language. Personally it was this weird realization that debate was actually continuous with literary practice.

All the novels I’ve written involve scenes of depersonalization, or of language reaching a kind of limit. So that actually ended up being the part of my adolescence that was most easy to represent. That was a surprise. And part of why that surprise was interesting to me was because – you know the cliche that you campaign in poetry, and govern in prose? Trump-speak is like Dada poetry all the time. It’s totally agrammatical, it’s fragmented, it’s gestural, so there’s a way in which debate had a relation to both the prehistory of my understanding of literature, but also to the prehistory of the dada performance of bankrupt mainstream political speech. And the uncomfortable and interesting thing for me was that all these things I thought were avante garde – disjunction, nonsequitur – actually seemed to have been recuperated by the far right. I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with certain political claims made for difficult poetry, or staged breakdowns in speech.

Tadhg Larabee: I noticed in one of your more recent poems, “Meridian Response,” and also in your recent series of prose poems, that you seem much more interested in care and the recovery of language. Like I really loved the sequence of lines where you write:

"When a near rhyme is lost to slow

changes in pronunciation, a call goes out

         for work

to reconstruct it:

         love"

Is that concern motivated by those political issues we were discussing, or more of an internal evolution in your poetry?

BL: Both. The original impulse of modernist and experimental poetry was deconstructive – it was gonna fuck up the normal bourgeois regimes of representation. But we’ve learned the lessons that the self involves construction. We’ve learned the lessons about the ideological constitution of our worldviews.Then what? Instead of just being satisfied with art as another hammer, what are the possibilities for intersubjectivity? What can language make shareable? Which love might be a shorthand for in that poem. So there is a sense of the reconstructive. Learning how to speak again in the wake of the spread. That the good thing about the bankruptcy of American political language is the idea that we have to invent a new language, that we’ve arrived at some kind of limit. So I do think that I’m increasingly invested in that notion of a reconstructive project, but not with nostalgia for some idealized previous historical moment in the arts, or life – that would be participating in Make Poetry Great Again discourse. There’s that great quote – order and disorder are equal threats in a work of art. How do you really dramatize the construction of the tiny public in art? And I’m interested in what that looks like formally.

TL: I actually wanted to ask you about form. I noticed that in this particular poem you're returning to the form of Mean Free Path. I’ve always been curious about that form— it wasn’t one I recognized, and it seems like one you’re really committed to. How do you think about that particular eight line stanza, three line indent structure?

BL: Yeah, this stanza has a history. There’s this great, very unknown Charles Olson poem that I stole this pattern from. There’s something about the internal margin, the imposed form of the rule of the stanza but also the internal margin that multiples all these soft line breaks. Much of that poem is a meditation – not on the big project of poetry, or the achieved eloquence of a certain kind of vernacular poetry – but the smallest possible claim, what the smallest possible sound is, the minimal conditions for a poem doing the work of reconstruction. And the more margins the poem can produce, the more sites there are for soft landings or little enjambments. Instead of thinking about the stanza as a container you virtuosically fill, the imposed form of an intricate stanza pattern represents the receding history of poetry that you’re then wrestling with. Robert Creeley taught me a lot about that. Like “For Love,” this great love poem that’s mattered a lot to me, is a record of his failure to ever arrive at a definitive statement. The wrestling match he has, trying to get something said within the imposed form of the quatrain, is really beautiful. Alice Notley has this great elegy called “At Night The States,” and it’s a different pattern but it similarly has this internal margin that becomes like a tear in the voice. Every stanza starts “At night the states,” and then decays. “At night the states” sounds like it’s going to be this pronouncement, and then it falls apart across the margins of the stanza in this beautiful way. But then the next stanza begins “At night the states” and falls apart again. So instead of the refrain coming at the end of the stanza as the site of poetic closure, it’s this initial moment that fragments.

But I don’t know why something becomes writable in one form or another. You invent a fiction after the fact about it. Also, that poem has a fair amount of citation; most of my poems do. There’s a little Oppen in it, a little Whitman. With all those internal margins, you can take a quote and re-lineate it, which is this nice way of dramatizing your relationship to the received language. It’s another opportunity for collage, for wrapping around your found language.

Talia Blatt: Returning to the idea of constructive language, one of the parts of The Topeka School I found most fascinating was the cow rhyme back-and-forth between Adam and his mom, which changes slightly in each exchange, opening up possibilities for intergenerational healing — not through discarding the past poem but innovating within it. I’m curious if parenting has opened up new formal possibilities for you.

BL: That to me is the central part of that book. Each of my novels is about poetry, and there’s less explicit citation of poetry in The Topeka School, except for that moment, which is about the way that the ritual misquotation of the poem becomes continuity and discontinuity, getting rid of something and reconstructing it at once. You’re really right.

I think the kid question is really interesting – men usually don’t get asked that question, except ‘Do you still have time to write if you have kids?’ ‘Yeah my wife takes care of them,’ that’s what men usually say, right? And at first I was very dismissive. Like when I first had a little kid, I was like, parenting doesn’t change anything. Now, I think it’s really profound. My new book of poems – I'm still finishing it, it will be out in like five years– I've been rereading it, and I've been surprised to realize the degree to which it is a book about the changing pressures of having brought possible readers into the world. Parenting changes you in all kinds of ways, but now my girls read. And they’re like, what is this weird totally incomprehensible thing, but they’ll try to read my poems. They’re 7 and 9, so they’re not actually reading it, but they’ll see their names, like in the acknowledgements, and they’re really interested in that.

And they’re also really baffled, as I am, by what it is I do. Is it a real job? This is a big question for them. And I don’t know. Not really? In The Hatred of Poetry, I wrote about how historically the value of poetry was the fact that it was useless in all existing economies. That’s in Whitman, because on one hand Whitman’s trying to write this secular bible for the United States, and on the other hand, he’s always sitting under trees, loafing. You know bring your child to work day? I don’t know what that means for me. You can kind of hide behind teaching; they think of that as a real thing.

To not even answer your question but honor the question, there is this question first on the level of composition. There is this thing, of them as possible or future readers, and I don’t know what it does exactly, but it’s there, and it’s intense. It works in two ways: It both makes me want to make something that is to them, makes me feel that whatever I’m writing is to a certain degree to them, or aware of them, but it also makes me want to write something totally outrageous and irresponsible. Because you don’t want to be a writer who just becomes responsible. Your job as a parent is to make your kid feel safe, but imagine if your job as a writer was to make your readers feel safe. Maybe in some way that’s a serious project, but it’s not my project. I have this newer poem, “The Readers”, that’s really about this – the change from when you can kind of say anything in front of your kids, because they don’t understand you – or they always understand more than you know – to now, they hear everything.

Topeka School only became writable when I was remembering my childhood from my parent’s perspective, when I had imaginative access to the generation above me. That only happened when I had kids. Because you have a kid, and you open your mouth, and all this father bullshit comes out. And it’s your father. I have this great gentle dad, so usually it’s just stupid jokes that are not mine. I’m not passing on violence from him. But the Father as a thing is always bigger than your father. It’s alarming, because you realize the degree to which you don’t know what you’re doing, and in that vacuum, this kind of intergenerational voice moves through you. There’s so much great literature about being terrified of your father. In Knausgård there’s that scene – I don’t know if you guys waded through the million pages of My Struggle – but there’s this one scene I’m thinking a lot about. His dad gives him a key to the house; he’s supposed to let himself in after school. And he can’t get the lock to work; it’s sticky. And he’s so terrified, he can’t tell his dad he can’t get the lock to work, his dad is gonna be like “you’re a fucking idiot,” so he starts breaking into his own house. But then his dad is obsessed with the lawn, the appearance of the lawn, so he’s horrified he’s going to leave traces in the lawn. In that Knausgård way, it’s told in the time of the kid, drawn out and elaborate. He’s an intruder in his own house because he can’t tell his dad that the lock doesn’t work. That’s a figure of mundane fatherly terror. So I’ve gotten really interested in how you evacuate the Father of authority. I have a story in The New Yorker next week that’s very much about the ridiculousness of the Father. And maybe the role of a father is to be laughed at, to undo that bad historical work.

The Topeka School wouldn't have happened if I wasn’t having that experience of having kids, where you look down at your kid and suddenly you’re like a grown-up, or “a grown-up,” and you imagine your parents looking down at you, and you know they didn’t know what they were doing, just like you don’t know what you’re doing, but that you also remember looking up, so you also become the kid again— you operate in these two perspectives at once, and that’s very much what The Topeka School is, that doubling of perspective.

MA: I’m really interested in this doubling and broadening of perspective. An image that really struck me from Topeka School is when Adam thinks he’s in his girlfriend’s house, then realizes he’s not – it’s almost like he’s in everyone’s house. And I’m from the suburbs of Oklahoma –

BL: Where in Oklahoma?

MA: Norman. So the every house looking the same thing hit very close to heart. But your approach to fiction has been so focused on autofiction and your own experience. What was it like to start writing from the perspective of the parents in the novel?

BL: The obvious but inexhaustible concept at the heart of a book like The Topeka School is that the voice is corporate and intergenerational technology. And so producing a genealogy of your voice, which is on the one hand very self-involved or autofiction-y, actually passes back into the intergenerational and the social. It’s a portal that isn’t about the self in any easy way. It actually has race and class and historical circumstance in addition to your mother’s voice or your father’s voice or your debate coach’s voice, or what was on the radio. Even in the most personally expressive, sometimes even precisely when you think you’re in the most personal or interior moment, the voice is actually shot through with every social contradiction. There’s a way sometimes that the discourse around autofiction is kind of like the discourse around the lyric in poetry – that there isn’t actually a lyric that’s separate from the social. You can’t take Keats seriously without thinking about what was happening in the world, what his relationships were, his professional ambitions, etc.

That said, writing in a version of my mom’s voice was still a kind of auto-anthropology in the sense that my voice has been so influenced by my mother’s voice. But it also was psychologically unsettling and risky in part because of what it’s dealing with: a version of my grandfather. To write in my mother’s voice about her fucked up father, when I’m a father, was a way of thinking about how those experiences and events are in me too. It felt psychically dangerous, more dangerous than most writing, although writing always feels a little crazy to me.

The goal in the representation of voices in Topeka School is also not to pretend to have perfect access, or to produce a flawless mimesis of someone else’s voice. There are tears in the voices, or moments where it’s clear that it’s the older Adam imagining those voices. And those glitches in the voice are important, to really see that the pathos is in the effort, for the son to inhabit imperfectly the voices of the older generation, as opposed to this achieved ventriloquism.

For a long time I thought I wanted to write a book about Topeka, the book of my adolescence, and so I should do that in the first person. I’d only written fiction that I’d liked in the first person. But I could only do it as pure comedy. The tone couldn’t hold any of the stuff I actually wanted to address. So it was only when I could write the older generation in the first person, and flatten a lot of the Adam stuff into the third person, that the book became writable. And I actually can’t remember my teenage years from the inside anymore. I can remember pure terror. But if somebody asked me, why would you do that, why would you say that thing, I just don’t know. I really feel I have more access to my parents’ baffled handling of me than I do to my own behavior.

I think that autofiction is a useful term for sorting, but I think there’s a kind of fiction conversation that’s like, do you write about autofiction or do you write about the world? Which is not how the self and the world work. It becomes this reinscription of an asocial interiority I don’t think is real.

MA: I have a follow-up about perspective, looking more to the political. The book obviously focuses on Adam and his family, but it also focuses on the character of Darren, investigating his rage as a white man in the nineties. At the end of the book, it’s revealed he’s a Trump supporter, which feels like the book is gesturing at the question that plagued a lot of people after 2016: Why did people vote for this guy? How did this happen? I’m wondering if that was an explicit question in your mind when you were writing – and if so, would your answer to that question change at all now that we’re at least a couple years out of, well, the first Trump era?

BL: In a way the debate coach is the most relevant Trump supporter. In the nineties, at least in the pundit class, there was this end of history discourse, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, the rise of Bill Clinton and the destruction of Bob Dole. It was going to be baby boomer post-ideological technocrats from here on out. And all of that talk about guns was a backwards conservative past that was just going to recede. Obviously this was always a dumb elite fantasy. But Adam in the nineties believed it in the sense that he believed his debate coach was on the wrong side of history. The book is about the confidence of Adam and his parents in a certain kind of conventional liberal progress as a forgetting of the lessons of authoritarian regression.

So the book wants to remember the texture of nineties naivete from the Trump era, where history is horrifyingly alive. Now Russia’s back too. Of course the language stuff is related to Trump, not just in how the spread can be a metaphor for the Twitter storm, or the bankruptcy of language in debate as related to the collapse of political speech, but the prehistory of Trump is more distributed in the relation between those two periods than in any particular figure.

I wanted the book to be funnier, because the situations I was in were the greatest, messed-up comic material. But it wasn’t funny, because the pressures under which it was being written were not lending themselves to comedy. And parody is impossible to sustain now, because everything outpaces parody. That’s part of the genius of the right, that it contains its own parody. People talked the same way about Hitler– it’s not a perfect analogy – but people didn’t take him seriously because he had a Charlie Chaplin mustache, and people didn’t take Trump seriously because of his hair. People don’t take Boris Johnson seriously because of his hair. I think there’s an essay to be written about fascist hair, and about how the pre-embarrassed fascist hair allows you to be smuggled in a project. Maybe you guys can write that. Look into that. But part of why I couldn't be funny was that the buffoonery of white masculinity has been incorporated into this project.

When I was your guys’ age, we were Fredric Jameson readers, and our left imagination was of a neoliberal order so secure and run by such powerful evil geniuses, that although we must resist it, we also have to acknowledge that it doesn’t matter who’s elected; it’s all the same. And now it’s like, you can just fucking walk into the Capitol? James Meek writes really well about this for the London Review of Books. For all the horror of January 6, if Trump takes back over, is anyone learning lessons about modes of resistance? Obviously condemn this racist mob on the capitol, but also, what’s the left equivalent of actually reclaiming these spaces? My friends and I would go to protest, but we’d be like, ‘No one can ever touch the halls of power. No one could ever disturb the Bush-Clinton dynasty.’ Now, starting with the tea party, it was all up for grabs, you know? There was a kind of hubris and confidence in the nineties – either in the pessimistic mode – the capitalists have won, the neoliberals have won – or in an optimistic mode if you were a Clinton supporter. That all seems naive from the present.

TL: I remember a funny moment in that James Meek essay – I’m probably misquoting it, but it was something about the inconceivability of seeing leftist paramilitaries march through Prospect Park, some snide reference to Park Slope. I’ve heard you described as a Brooklyn writer; some of your books are set here, and I think you have a lot of devoted readers in this area. Do you ever worry that your readership is a bubble?

BL: I know it’s a bubble. One of the interesting things about starting as a poet is the idea of having any readers at all. And I’m not bestselling– I mean George [Saunders] sells a lot of books – but I don’t have a massive readership. My novels, and a lot of the literature I most love, involve a lot of self contempt – trying to see if through a ruthless self-criticism there are opportunities for humor, pleasure, energy, eros, and also some kind of authenticity that’s arrived at through a spiral of self-repudiation. It can of course become a manner like anything else, but I don’t think you write for whatever position you imagine you inhabit, you write against whatever position you imagine you inhabit. The best and worst thing about writing is that you’re writing for the dead, you’re writing for some imagination of the future, you’re writing in a way that you can’t control. You have to write what’s given to you to write. You can’t do that much about it. The imagination of perception always enters the work. But like we were saying about kids, there’s more than one person over your shoulder.

I really care about the poetry, but most of the people who read the novels don’t read the poetry. And to me it’s all one body of work, and it’s a really different body of work if you read the poetry, or if you read the criticism I’ve written. A metonym for that: Leaving the Atocha Station grew out of this love for John Ashberry’s work. There’s a passage cut from an essay I wrote for boundary 2 about John Ashberry a long long time ago. It describes Adam Gordon having a profound experience of art, being really moved. All the reviews of that book – which were often very generous, and I didn’t think anybody was going to read this weird book– but usually they just skipped that part. But it’s actually a very different book if you take those moments about poetry seriously. That doesn’t make it less of a bubble; it’s just a slightly different body of work, less about a kind of skepticism of art and value in the present.

When you have some event, such as three really smart people asking you about your writing, the tendency is to act like you think your writing is so great, because why else would you guys be taking the time to talk to me? But I don’t have a huge confidence. Sometimes I think I've written really well, and I'm doing something in its own terms that’s an achievement within whatever contemporary writing can be. Other times I’m like, I don’t really like this, I don't think this worked out. So that’s the other thing about reception – my own reception of my work is full of ambivalence and conflict. And the literary world in Brooklyn is shot through with all modes of misogyny and racism and class-exclusion. It’s all corrupt, and commodified. But you have to believe it’s not exhausted, that there’s still something that’s more than that, or escapes that, or is other than that.

I was just in Denmark. It’s great but hard for poems to travel. Translation is an example of when reception gets troubled, where the things you’ve written mean something else. I'm not making a claim for that in the world, but for me, that’s really great, to see how unstable reading is, how much it changes when the context changes. But also, I do live here and love it here and am disgusted by the ways New York feels increasingly like living in an Apple Store. I am from somewhere else, too.

One of the weirdest personal ways I navigate reception is how what I write is received in the family I've made. Not just kids, my wife and I have lots in common. We went to the same college, she’s an anthropologist of education and she’s a reader and a writer, but she’s also a Puerto Rican woman, and she doesn’t come from the place of neurotic interrogation of privilege that is the engine of some of the work I've written. It’s not alien to her now, she fucking lives with me, but it was very alien to her. So there’s also this sense of reception in how what you do enters your relationships, and my relationships are not just within the bubble of perception we’re talking about.

It’s also weird because I’m 43 now. Before, I was the kid. I was the kid for a really long time. First I was the young poet, and just when I was not going to be the young poet, I accidentally wrote a novel, and it started over. So I was the young novelist. And now, I’ve become some kind of establishment thing, and you want to work against that too.

All of my answers are I don’t know. I have a story coming out next week. You guys don’t have to read it –

TL: I mean, we probably will.

BL: It’s about all these things at once. I’m not going to fucking write another story unless it’s funny. I’m committed. I need to know I'm not becoming humorless.

TL: It sounds like you’re working on a book of poems now. It also sounds, from what you just said, like you’re starting to become a little alienated from fiction. Do you think you’re moving back to poetry, and if so, why?

BL: I don’t think I’ve ever moved away from poetry. I’ve written poems the whole time. Poems are the centers of the novels as we were talking about. But I haven’t published a book of poems. Part of it was this trilogy of novels, not that I saw it as a trilogy, but there’s something about the number three for me, a totally indefensible relationship to three.

TL: A lot of poets have that.

BL: I couldn’t think about a book of poems until I had finished the three novels. So I’ve been writing poems the whole time, but I’m going back to the book of poetry as a form. I do think poetry’s resistance to certain kinds of reception is freeing. But also, I don’t know what reception is in the age of fucking Twitter. It just feels like Twitter all the way down. You can’t look away and you have to look away.

TB: That reminds me of one of the funniest scenes in The Topeka School, the beginning: Adam’s so busy monologuing on the boat that he completely misses it when his girlfriend jumps and swims away. It raises the question of reception, what it means to talk when no one’s listening. Do you ever feel that your reader has slipped off the boat? And the girlfriend is such an interesting foil to Adam in that scene. In some reviews, your novels are described as “boys’ books.” I don’t agree with that label, and I'm curious what you make of it.

BL: I feel really lucky that there are smart people who are reading and thinking about the books, which is more than anybody has a right to expect. If somebody doesn’t want to read this white guy’s genealogy of this white guy voice and its relation to the world of fucked up white people, that seems to me like a really legitimate position. I’m not like, ‘Nonono, everyone must read me.’

I don’t believe in captive audiences. That’s what those scenes are too – she’s not going to be a captive audience. In terms of women’s voices, one of the breakdowns late in the book is a woman’s voice, but it’s not her at all, it’s lines from Melville, it’s this collage. She even says ‘You can’t represent my voice.’ He has no access to her voice, which is kind of similar to Adam Gordon’s having no access to what’s really going on with the women in Spain, because he’s so obsessed with the self-management of his image that he’s misreading them entirely. Then on the other hand the book has this intimacy with the mother’s voice. The power of her voice is the big formal gamble of the book. So there’s this interesting question in writing, when you honor a voice or a mind by acknowledging your limited access to it, versus when you honor a voice or a mind by having that empathic access. A lot of fiction discourse – like if someone’s saying why fiction is important, which is something people do when they’re trying to raise money – maintains that fiction is important because it gives us access to other minds. And I'm sure that’s true, but I also think fiction is important because it can represent the limits to which we can know other minds or inhabit other voices. Sometimes people say it’s a boy book because it doesn’t have access to the minds of female characters, but representing the unknowability of the other in certain contexts, coming up against that limit, is an ethical project.

I think Adam Gordon has no access to the Darren character’s mind. The writing that’s ostensibly from Darren’s perspective is highly stylized and more Faulknerian, super literary, which is a way of acknowledging the degree to which it depends on artifice. Writing from that perspective is foregrounding the degree to which writing is an imaginative project. It’s guesswork; there’s no omniscient access.

TB: As a fun way to close, we have a speed round.

BL: Are these like yes-or-no?

TL: More like, respond in one or two sentences.

BL: I’m not good at that. So this is good. This’ll be a challenge.

TL: What’s something that you’ve always been bad at, no matter how hard you try?

BL: My god, I’m bad at everything except writing. Cooking, riding a bike, answering questions efficiently. I’ve gotten a lot better at driving but I'm a bad driver too. I have a bad sense of direction. How many things do you want me to list?

TB: I think that’s good. What was the last gift you gave or received?

BL: The most recent gift was salted caramel chocolate covered licorice balls from Denmark. I bought a lot of it for my kids, and they didn’t like it, which means I’m going to end up eating it. Laurie Andersen recommended it.

TL: Laurie Anderson, the artist?

BL: Yeah, she was there too. I’m friends with Laurie, and she was like, ‘You must,’ her face glowing with this weird light, ‘You must get these Danish chocolate covered licorice balls.’

TL: Did she do it in the PSA voice?

BL: Yeah, exactly.

TL: What’s the last awkward interaction you had with a stranger?

BL: Well I was just in Denmark, and nobody wears masks. And I was wearing a mask on the train, and everytime I sat down next to someone, they would get up and flee. Because the only reason they can imagine someone wearing a mask is if they actually had Covid. So this kept happening to me in Denmark, that I was scaring people away. Covid has produced so many fascinating, awkward interactions –to what degree do we share a reality around this? Will I offend you by being over or under conscious?

TB: How much sleep did you get last night?

BL: Six hours. So pretty good. I wake up every two hours, but I can usually just go back to sleep. Are you guys still young enough to just sleep for like twelve hours?

TB: Yes.

MA: Not twelve, but solidly eight. I can’t stay up late because I can’t sleep in.

BL: Something happened to me, and to a lot of writers I know. Around 30, we went from writing at night to only being able to write in the mornings. You might be able to do a different kind of work at night, but if you were going to do something new, it could only happen in the morning.

MA: I have a tendency where if I don’t get something done first thing in the morning, I think, ‘Well, today’s a wash.’

BL: I like that, calling something a wash. First class, and it’s not a good class, I’ll say, ‘Well it didn’t work out this semester, guys.’ Let’s try again next year.