The Self-Interview

Yes. It is exactly what it sounds like.

Yes. It is exactly what it sounds like.

By Susan Anspach  •  Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Has anyone heard of this little ditty called the self-interview? It’s something a favorite website of mine, NorthernVirginiaMag—ahem, TheNervousBreakdown.com, does with fiction writers and poets, and I just think it’s the bee’s knees. Mostly because it spotlights wickedly talented and whip-smart artists who have a lot of sharp things to say about culture and Kafka and various Swiss linguists’ theories of semiotics, and I like to memorize that kind of stuff and recite it at dinner parties. Also because who’s never secretly fantasized about the interviews they’ll have when they grow up to be big and famous with so much Kafka spouting naturally from them that they can finally ditch the note cards?

Well. I’m not any of those things, but it is my birthday later this month, and that’s got to count for something, right? Riiight?

If you’re reading this now, my editor said “right,” or something that basically boiled down to “right,” like “whatever” or “I give up.” Thanks, Lynn! You won’t be disappointed. And if you are, Kafka was born in 1883. That’s all you have to say. Trust me, less is more.

Let’s start with the obvious. What on God’s green earth gave you the idea this was something you could get away with?

Well, my birthday, for starters. It’s kind of a big deal, as evidenced by my mother’s love and 331 Facebook friends. Three hundred thirty one! That’s like one-sixth of a real person, and I’ll take it! But also, this is a column about Northern Virginia and, having lived here almost my whole life, I’ve been around. Not sexually. Geographically. I’ve been geographically around a whole lot of Northern Virginia. That sounds sexual, but it’s the opposite, which may make it even more sexual, or far, far less. You decide. (It’s less.)

Right. So … around Northern Virginia. Geographically. That gives us … a thing … to go off of. Tell us about that, I guess.
Thank you! I do have some thoughts.

We’ll hold our surprise.
The thing I like best about Northern Virginia is how you can move around from place to place within it and still feel worlds apart from wherever you just came from! One time I moved from Warrenton to Arlington and, hand to heart, I think I actually underwent culture shock. That sounds really small-minded and maybe even the teensiest bit
bigoted? But haha, interviewer, joke’s on you! You asked me to do this interview, remember?

I’m not going to get into the psychology of that, because frankly it grosses me out a little. Let’s change tracks. Tell us about your apparent fear of ever moving, ever. Whole life, same place? What’s up with that?

Funnily enough, I move all the time. And yet still manage to stay in the same place! I’m like a riddle, if the answer to the riddle is a pinball. And somewhere in there we’ve already established that the pinball machine is the D.C.-Metro region, but without giving away the ball bit. Because that’s the answer; riddles are hard.

That was terrible; you know that, don’t you?
I do! But like I was saying, I move quite a bit. I’ve yet to hit the two-year mark on an apartment since high school, and most places I stick around in for less than a year. Since cards are on the table and all with that birthday talk, I can tell you that’s a full-on decade of nomadism. What does that say about me?

That’s really weird. What does that say about you?
That I’m poor, for one thing. Well, not poor. Not poverty-stricken. Let’s put it this way: I’ve never missed a cable payment, but one time my day job ordered us bagels for breakfast and if you’ve ever wondered how many bagels fit into a black Burlington Coat Factory ladies trench, it’s seven. But you know, you get by, and now that I’m thinking about it, I could start a whole new column on cost-saving tips for the D.C. region, and wouldn’t that be interesting.

Please don’t.
K, but just one: Yakisoba, y’all. Ramen of the future.

Wasn’t there an ice cream of the future, or something?
There was! Dippin’ Dots! Did you know Dippin’ Dots was invented by a George Mason alum? Northern Virginia in the house! And you ask why I’d ever move away from this place.

You set us up for that.
I did. If it helps, Dippin’ Dots recently filed for bankruptcy.

That doesn’t help anything! That’s actually kind of a downer. I used to eat that stuff hand over fist at SplashDown Waterpark.
I know; me, too. Memories, huh?

So if you could move out of this area, where do you think you might go?
Ugh, not D.C., that’s for sure. Do you know one time I was at this party in D.C.? I was talking to this girl who mentioned she was from Vienna, and I was all like, “Oh, HEY-O, Manassas over here!” You know, as you do. But then when I went in for the high-five, she totally left me hanging! Like she’s too good for her roots. What’s up with that?

Yeah, I don’t know. That girl kind of sounds like she sucks.
Right?! I thought so. So I’m proud of where I’m from. So sue me. Sue me with some bankrupt Dippin’ Dots.

That doesn’t make any sense, but I’m fired up now, so yeah!
Lady, I like your spunk!

Speaking of spunk, you got pretty feisty before when you were talking about pinball. Do you play?
I wish! Man, I loved “Tommy,” or at least the version of “Tommy” that danced in my head when I played the soundtrack on repeat in the sixth grade. (It may or may not surprise you to learn I had a BIG thing for musicals back in the day). But really my hobbies are mostly boring stuff, like knitting and fake “Tommy,” and making Japanese ramen. Eating Japanese ramen? Taking stock’s the
worst. No kids, no pets. What kind of life is this?!

Easy, girl.
Sorry. Also, I play the French horn.

See? That’s a thing.
Is it? I guess if you go to Juilliard or some other school like that.

Did you?
No, but my mom says I could have. I had potential! Musicals, remember?

This isn’t going as we’d hoped.
Could be worse. One of the self-interviewers on the website where I got this idea told a dead baby joke.

Right. Let’s try to salvage this in any way possible.
All right. One time my pickup truck caught fire on Interstate-66, by which I mean literally burst into flames. There were flames shooting out of the space between the cab and the bed.

Where did they come from?
I don’t know. They weren’t getting any smaller.

Holy crap! What’d you do?
Pulled over and ran into the woods, naturally. There may have been some flailing. Did I mention it was late at night? And that there were flames? That’s probably the part to remember.

And?
And a cop came! Within seconds, actually. And I remember thinking, Oh, thank God, a cop! But really he was just pulling over the guy ahead of me for speeding.

Never there when you need them.
I’ll say. Anyway, eventually the cop managed to redirect his attention to the roadside inferno and called one of his cop pals, who showed up with a fire extinguisher and put it out. Surprisingly, there was little damage.

And you drove home.
And I drove home.

And here you stand today.
Here I stand today.

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