Everything Is Puppets

For Now (Why I Write) BY Eileen Myles. New Haven: Yale University Press. 96 pages. $16.
The cover of For Now (Why I Write)

Now I would like to acknowledge that I also feel a responsibility to write for puppets. I have five puppets in my life, they are not ten feet from me in two small cardboard boxes on my desk. They deserve better.

Their names are Oscar, Bedilia, Montgomery, Crocky (the crocodile) and Casper.

I am writing on the kitchen table at this moment which is pretty much a desk too. A desk with fruit. A desk with vitamins, legal paper, a Christmas postcard from David Beebe & Hilary, newlyweds, and their dog Duane who happily is giving us profile. Let’s face it everything is puppets. Certainly in my view.

These puppets were in a road movie we shot about a year ago (can I admit here that Crocky’s singing voice is John Ashbery) in Marfa and the film (“The Trip”) for me was a realization of my ongoing desire to include the puppets in my work. I made them when I was nine at a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) puppet making class with a wonderful teacher, Miss Ursula, and in my film one of the puppets helplessly mimes Miss Ursula’s German accent and that puppet’s name is Casper. The Casper thing is funny since we think it’s a cartoon thing, Casper the ghost, I thought so, but it’s a German thing, there is always a Casper puppet in German puppet theater so it’s old. It’s a traditional thing. And Casper’s very white.

We had puppet shows in my neighborhood when I was a kid and this was another of the activities that predicted my life as an artist. Or merely underlined that I already was. Kids are simply artists if not art. So when I was writing the dog memoir and wanted to give Rosie voice after her life in an authentic way I thought omigod if the puppets had a talk show and invited her on as a guest then everyone would have their say. Okay so now we’re coming around.

Eileen Myles. Photo: Shae Detar
Eileen Myles. Photo: Shae Detar

Way back in the beginning of this (For Now) there was a boat reference and coming around is part of boat language. The English language is extremely boaty.

The letter I had summoned or received from Rosie’s lawyer could very naturally be thrown up on the screen during the show as an element of quickening. Oscar, the lead puppet who was hosting the show, could read it aloud to demonstrate Rosie’s complaint. The letter would be held by the scene and the scene held by the book. It’s the moment of transition. The embrace! The imaginary letter henceforth made the show seem real and the real show would validate the letter. Once I slipped it into the script all its power became abundantly clear. And now I could slap it right up front in the book and create a little myth around it, a lie. And then I even got someone who had good/bad handwriting to draw an envelope and address it to me as if we needed even another layer of authentication. Writing is really a crime! If so many things in the book like the dog talking and the puppets talking were in fact an invention, a kind of giving that refers to the true thing you ultimately get to espouse in a dream (art) instead of being burdened with having to assure everyone of its veracity (business, news) which we all know now and generally have begun to assume is a lie. Or just an energetic shove of any kind that’s purporting to be information. What I mean is that if the puppets are fiction and so is my dog then I can be fiction too. For one brief hairy moment it’s not “my writing” cause I’m not real, I’m alive. In my writing!

So what I did finally is made up a story about the letter from the lawyer coming in the mail and the book sat still for a moment and looked. It was real. It was true. Like a play.

Like the moment I was suddenly pedaling madly now was occurring in the writing of a book which I think of as a network of smaller and bigger rotations producing a realistic thing, a state, a place, something anonymous and still that actually becomes porous and now other things i.e. other texts and pictures can also migrate in and become citizens of the world of the book. These outer texts becoming inner produce kind of a bump like I referred to in sound recordings before, you can tell by the different fabric of this writing or assertion that it’s definitely not from here but that difference makes here real. In a way I think it’s when writing becomes a political act.

Reversing the in and the out. And that’s what I want a lot or most in writing. It’s when I’m alive. It’s not my writing. I’m a puppet. But my own. My own puppet. I think I’ve made it clear that I never wanted to be a writer. Because I hadn’t seen one before! It partly explains the phenomenon of the book Little Women. There’s a female writer inside and outside the book. It proposes for a moment that the female writer is real.

Yes, I felt invisible as a kid, insubstantial, flimsy, untrustworthy. I thought that certain professions would make me matter and for a while those ambitions were science and action sports like being an astronaut. I won’t relegate those desires to just fantasy, because people do actually get in rockets and fly into space but I didn’t become one of them and slowly in my twenties and with a deepening of conviction since then I discovered that to be real was an interior project. The actions you felt inside, the stabs and constant pedaling, practiced and eventually moving out into the world like this thing that I’m writing are the eventual visible practice and it sounds like me and it looks like me changing shape for a very long time and then voila a book. It’s a whole other thing to become a person but that’s not what I’m talking about here. That’s not what I was asked.

And my whole way of doing this therefore is laden with the ambition for the product to have a lot of world in it, be a little humble messy and dirty, so that people can enter like they walk into a building, a public building that is there since once I’m done it’s theirs. I vanish into it first but then you do too.

I guess it’s “my writing” but really it’s a common practice. That’s my dream.

Excerpted from For Now, by Eileen Myles, published by Yale University Press. Copyright © 2020 by Eileen Myles. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.