Writers on Writing #96: George Choundas
My Muse Is Gaffay
“Some mornings, the sun looks wrong outside my window. I sit at the kitchen table shaking salt into the hairs on my arm, and a feeling shoves up in me: It’s finished. Everything went past, without me.” Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
I saw those lines and I was like, “Whoa.” But Egan, she didn’t care.
“As Khubchand lay dying on his cushion, Estha could see the bedroom window reflected in his smooth, purple balls. And the sky beyond. And once a bird that flew across.” Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.
I remember where and how I was sitting when I first read those sentences. But do you think that mattered to Roy?
“Eventually, as his meat and his clothes went away into the air and his foot bones slipped their loose nooses, he relaxed into a dignified cuddle around the stake and in the hole. He had planted himself and it was a nice job.” G.K. Wuori, “Angles,” Nude in Tub.
Gobsmacked. That’s what I was. I was gobsmacked by this paragraph. But Wuori paid me no mind.
Great writing, so far as I can tell, just doesn’t care. It concerns itself with nothing except what it’s about. It cuts where a cut is needed. It is headlong, and insolent, and minerally indifferent to expectation. Writers and great writers are pleased to have their work admired, sure, same as the next freak. But let me tell you, when they’re in the act of great writing? They disdain admiration and its prospect both.
There’s a phrase for exactly this mix of boldness and indignation. I know because I’ve spent my entire professional life in New York. I could give a fuck, is what you say. Magically, instantly, the attitude is summoned. Not a rat’s ass or a good goddamn, mind, because this isn’t cotillion with Grandma. Neither a crap nor a shit. A fuck. The sure-mindedness registered is maximum.
Sometimes the writer on the bucking hump of great writing catches himself thinking “But what will They think?” For this eventuality there is but a single protocol: (1) Grab mane with one hand and, with other, ram fist in Their mouth, holding it there, elbow-deep in slick esophagus. (2) Rear back, you and your unbiddable prose, until all you see is sky.
There is a phrase for exactly this mix of indignation and boldness. I know because I grew up in Florida and went to school in Georgia. Fuck all y’all, is what you say, and instantly, magically, the sentiment is secured. Doesn’t matter if one soul or twenty, or none, loiter within earshot. Now it’s you against the world.
Have you ever seen a great actor? A truly great actor, on the stage, in the flesh? There’s a scorn that comes off her in waves and we can feel it there in the seats. She doesn’t cater, she doesn’t sneak looks to see if it’s working. She is pure venture, pure undertaking, and unavailable to anything other than the enterprise itself. There’s an implicit scorn for the audience—that’s what the fourth wall really is, it’s a wonderful scorn—because she’s due somewhere and we're the late hour and the trees blurring past.
I haven’t mastered the secret to great writing. But I’ve written it down. Here it is.
My muse is a Frenchman, his name is Gaffay.From him I learned how to write and what to say.G-A-F is for Give a fuck,F-A-Y is for Fuck all y’all.There is no way, none, except mine is the way.
You have questions. Why don’t the middle lines rhyme? you wonder. How is it that Gaffay, a Frenchman, shows such facility with regional American slang?
The answer to these questions and others—and I think I’ve covered this—is that I could give a fuck, so fuck all y’all.
George Choundas has fiction and nonfiction appearing or forthcoming in over twenty publications including The American Reader, Los Angeles Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, and Subtropics. He is the author of The Pirate Primer and a former FBI agent. He lived for four years in Marilyn Monroe’s first New York apartment; the clothes hamper, built into the wall, was original to the unit.