A Brief Interview with a Hideous Man

May 22, 2018 § 10 Comments


zz unnamedAuthor Steve Almond’s four-year-old daughter Rosalie interviews him about his depressing new book, Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country :

Rosalie Almond: What’s wrong with you?

Steve Almond: I have a new book out.

RA: The one about stupid stories?

SA: It’s about bad stories.

RA: Like something bad happens?

SA: Not exactly. There are bad stories in which something bad happens. But when I say “bad stories” I mean stories that lead to bad things happening. Stories that are untrue or that are cruel, stories that make people want to break things, rather than build things.

RA: I don’t get it.

SA: Okay. Here’s an example. If I said to you, “You can’t trust people with green eyes, because they will steal your toys. You have a right to play with your toys, don’t you? But if you see a kid with green eyes, you shouldn’t be nice to them, because they just want to steal your toys.”

RA: Why do they want to steal my toys? What did I do to them?

SA: I understand. But okay, wait a second.

RA: I hate them!

SA: Wait a sec—

RA: People with green eyes should die!

SA: Okay. Time out. That was just an example. People with green eyes don’t want to steal your toys.

RA: But you just said they did!

SA: Right. But that wasn’t true. It was just a bad story I told you.

RA: Why did you say that if it wasn’t true?

SA: Because when you tell a bad story a lot of the time people will listen to you, and that gives you a lot of power. Someone who wants to become a famous radio host, or even the president, can tell bad stories as a way of getting attention. They can say, “People with green eyes want to steal your toys!” And, “People who read books think you’re stupid!” And, “You can’t trust people with dark skin!” It doesn’t matter if those stories are mean and untrue.

RA: It doesn’t?

SA: Not if it helps you get power. If you can find people who feel frustrated and angry and who are in pain, bad stories make them feel good.

RA: Why?

9781597092265SA: Because now they have a good reason to feel angry. If they feel like they don’t have enough toys, or they worry that they might not get dessert, or if they see other kids who have more than them, those things make them angry. Bad stories give them a reason to feel angry. And someone to blame.

RA: But why do other kids have more? That’s not fair.

SA: You’re absolutely right. It’s not fair. In a fair world, we would divide things up more equally, right? There wouldn’t be people with 100,000 chocolate cakes and other people who don’t have enough money to buy a loaf of bread. But if you’re a person with 100,000 chocolate cakes, you can distract people from how greedy you are by telling bad stories, by saying, “The reason you don’t have enough money to buy a loaf of bread is because some dark-skinned person from another country who doesn’t even speak English stole your job!”

RA: But I don’t have a job.

SA: Right.

RA: Do I have to get a job?

SA: Someday, sure. But for now, I think it’s good for you to just go to pre-school.

RA: Because I can get a job later?

SA: Right, that can happen later.

RA: Will things be fair when I grow up?

SA: I don’t know. I hope so. But the only way they are going to get fair is for people to stop telling bad stories. They have to start telling good stories, which are stories that make people feel nicer and more hopeful and more generous. Stories which make you feel like you can understand how someone who looks different from you, or prays to a different God, actually wants the same things as you. Like they want a safe place to live and good schools for their kids to go do and enough to eat and a good doctor to go to if they get sick. That’s what all of us want, right?

RA: Not the doctor. They do shots!

SA: That’s true. But sometimes shots are the only way to help someone who is sick, right? Remember when you and mama got the flu?

RA: We couldn’t fly on the plane to California. We had to come later.

SA: That’s right. You were so sick. But if you get a shot, you don’t get the flu. Good stories can be like that, too. They can be like a shot that keeps us from getting sick, or helps us get better. So a good story is a true story that helps keep us safe, even if it’s a little scary. Like if we want to keep the planet from getting too hot, we have to use less gas. Or if we want to have a government that helps people we have to vote for people who want to solve problems. Or if we want people to have enough to eat and good schools and good jobs, we might have to take a little bit away from the people who have 100,000 chocolate cakes.

RA: Can I have dessert tonight? I never get dessert.

SA: You already had dessert, my love. You had a lollipop.

RA: I did? Really? Is your book over yet?

SA: Over?

RA: Yeah, I want to read a different book now. One of my books.

SA: Okay. I don’t blame you. I like your books better than mine, anyway.

RA: So why did you write your dumb book, anyway?

SA: I guess because for writers the stories we write are the ones that get stuck in our heads. Stories that won’t go away unless we write them down. That’s just how it works.

RA: That sounds boring.

SA: It is boring.

RA: I told you so.

__

Steve Almond is the author of ten books, most recently Bad Stories. His daughter Rosalie has no plans to read the book.

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§ 10 Responses to A Brief Interview with a Hideous Man

  • Christine Corrigan says:

    This is priceless! Sometimes, it takes a four-year-old. “So, why did you write your dumb book anyway?” I’m going to smile all day over that line.

  • Patrick says:

    That plug for vaccines, which, carried to its logical implications, is not true (vaccines make some people sicker than if they’d gotten the actual disease). So maybe some of his other ‘stories’, and the bases they’re built on, aren’t true either.

  • clpauwels says:

    I’m hoping that somehow, in “Bad Stories,” Almond address the conundrum he’s presented:

    “But the only way they are going to get fair is for people to stop telling bad stories. They have to start telling good stories, which are stories that make people feel nicer and more hopeful and more generous.”

    Why, Steve, are you not then telling the *good* stories instead?

    Love the interview, BTW –

  • hardylyn says:

    This post is a very creative showing of stories, “bad stories,” that have the goal of winning at great cost to the people told, not the goal of connecting. Talking to a four year old shows a natural human response to this manipulation. It would be more accurately told, however, if the reason for showing the four year old were clarified, such as adding ‘To show you that’ to “Because when you tell a bad story a lot of the time people will listen to you,” I’d guess it was hard on both the dad and daughter for him to say one of these stories, even for the purpose of demonstration. Thank you for a very relevant book on a subject difficult to communicate in the world we live in.

  • Both father and daughter have given us a lot of wisdom about the power of stories. And don’t tell Rosalie, but now I actually want to read her dad’s boring book. Thanks to both of you!

  • Bonnie ZoBell says:

    A very wise girl.

  • WOW. WOW WOW WOW. I can’t even begin to say how much I love the girl’s perspective. “we might have to take a little bit away from the people who have 100,000 chocolate cakes” that. So much so.

  • hczerwiec says:

    This is the best interview that ever interviewed. Game over.

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