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Writing in the Interrogative Mood: A Date?
I recently finished reading Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood, a sort-of novel/memoir written in all questions. Yes, seriously, every single sentence in the book ends in a question mark.
The questions are bizarre, obtuse, occasionally impenetrable, but always thought-provoking. Along the way, Powell reveals some startling insights into his own life and mind, insights which serve more to provoke reflection and evaluation than to paint a snapshot of one man's life and memories.
There are several ways to read The Interrogative Mood. The first is as memoir-- what does the book reveal about its narrator. The second is as a personal experience, what goes through your mind as you read these questions, and how might your opinions or attitudes be changed by the end. The third, and possibly the most useful for the writer, is as a 164 page long list of writing prompts.
So, inspired Powell, I've written my own piece of interrogation. Don't read into it too much, please. It's a short story, not a memoir. The story is about a first date, what we say on these often torturous exercises not so different from a job interview, and what we might really think and mean behind the polite conversation.
So, what exactly is it that you do? Do you know that when I say that I mean for a living, not in your spare time, or on vacation, or in the privacy of your room with the shades drawn?
Where did you grow up? Would you classify your childhood as happy or unhappy? Have you been married? If so, are you currently married, and if yes, do you find yourself with feeling persistent urges to commit unsavory acts with persons who are not your spouse?
Would you classify yourself as clinically insane, garden variety crazy, or none or all of the above? Have you heard the expression “wanting something so badly that you’d give your right arm for it”? How about your left arm, or your leg, or your eye? Would the particular body part in question be a large or minor factor in your ultimate decision to sacrifice said part, appendage or otherwise?
Why do people wrap shrimp in bacon? Would you eat shrimp wrapped in bacon? How about wrapped in rare roast beef, or aragula? Why do the second toes on some people’s feet extend further than their big toes? Are you repulsed by these kinds of toes? Are you repulsed more by the single toe itself, or the foot as a whole? Shall we place our orders?
Would you agree that, in a nutshell, the state of our American union has reached an abysmal all-time low, but is potentially on the road to recovery, or that no matter what year it is, people always think the state of moral, economic, or political affairs were better ten years ago?
Why are people fond of using the phrase “in a nutshell” to preface remarks that are either overly simplistic or really far too drawn out and convoluted to fit in the proverbial nutshell? Do you enjoy cracking nuts? Are you nuts? Do you think I am nuts, and if I were a nut, would you want to crack me? Would you serve me sweetened with honey, roasted, toasted, or lightly salted?
Do you prefer salted oceans or chlorinated pools for swimming? What is your opinion of blue-green algae? What is your opinion on the theory of evolution and at what point do you think we will drop the modifier “theory” from the phrase? Are you ready to order?
Have you ever thrown a shoe at someone? Would you like to throw a shoe at someone? Which famous dead person would you most prefer to throw a shoe at? Would you mind if I threw a shoe at you? Would you believe me if I told you that I once climbed twenty feet down to a promontory of rock at the Grand Canyon in a pair of flip-flops? Would you like more wine?
Would you believe me if I told you that I once thought I had the capacity to give my arm, right or left, for the case of passion, but now find this hypothetical prospect to be somewhat unspectacular compared to the everyday challenges of loving another person? Would you prefer to die before or after your husband or wife? Do you realize that no matter which answer you pick, I will still think your choice is selfish?
Do you eat shellfish? Do you ever wonder if there is something insidious lurking at the bottom of your soup bowl? Can you remember the last time you walked barefoot through long grass without fear of stepping on something hard, pointed, sticky, stinky, or otherwise uncomfortable?
Do sex scenes in movies make you feel unsettled or exited? Have you ever taken a bath in your clothing? Can you remember a time when you felt utterly naked despite the fact that you were wearing all your clothes?
Do you feel a measure of sympathy for the lobster? What about the chicken, goat, lamb, or cow? Do you accept hypocrisy as an inevitable part of your everyday existence, or struggle against it with all your powers of reason and superior intellect?
If you were locked in a barn with five chickens and one cow, how long do you think you could survive? Do you prefer ranch to blue cheese? Do you make instantaneous assumptions about people depending on whether they prefer, for example, ranch to blue cheese, or Coke to Pepsi?
Did you know that I prefer Coke to Pepsi, and don’t have an opinion when it comes to blue cheese or ranch? Do you believe me when I say this? Do you care? Did you know that I once got a bee sting that swelled to a lump the size of a grapefruit on my inner thigh? Did you know that more than anything else, I just want to be loved? Do you want dessert? Have you ever been in love? How about coffee? Could you love me? Shall we share a cab?