Elizabeth Mikesch is a prose stylist to shout about. Her debut collection Niceties: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me (Calamari Press) is a breathtaking work of fire, of hips, of sound, of saying. When I approached her about an interview, she asked if I felt like experimenting. I consented, though I wasn’t sure what she had in mind. I didn’t know her yet. She made me listen to a Dean Blunt song ten times in a row, then asked me if I’d read an obscure magazine. The next many hours were an impromptu, joyous blur. She taught me how to make stovetop popcorn. She taught me how to occur. The following are snippets from our conversation.
Elizabeth Mikesch: did you have a moment of doubt or distain about the profession ever or yet?
Tanner Hadfield: Like writing?
answer how you’d like
I just like to know where people are at about that stuff
writing, creative endeavors, things that might not yield
Absolutely. I’m bad at making leaps of faith. I worry about waste and failure every single day. Like hours every day if I have them
it’s so wild to go after it
what makes you believe?
or kinda believe?
Well i believe 100% in art. It’s the thing that makes life worth living for me. But I believe like 1% in myself.
I want to be art, really. But that’s probably not possible.
yes, that’s how I feel.
because the art is like in the wrists or something
and you wanna try to have it be natural
but it’s like if someone’s listening to you pee
you’re like fucking… never mind
I’ll hold it
I can’t pee in front of other people
Because you can’t pretend to pee I guess.
And all the things I “do” are just things that you can pretend to do
do you feel that you’re doing it ever?
or did you have that feeling and it went away?
I had that feeling and it went away.
But you have like a whole, real book!
How did you do that?
I had that feeling and it went away
but then it sort of transformed
tell me about the transforming!
i wanna be transformed
i want it to be more fun and get to know ya
cuz I hate the internet and it terrifies me
I’d like to baste some humanity
and know more of tanner
internet bond ahaha
why does the internet terrify you?
it doesn’t terrify you?
what’s it like to not be scared of it?
I long for this…
we would need the rest of my life to explain to you why I hate it
a lot of it has to do with probably the lack of vibes
of course there are ways we can read into and create new languages in the format
but I like to read people IRLLLL
and am tuned into that sort of thing
so I am scared of the stories we tell on this box
they cast a haze
it’s like rose-colored glasses
I wanna hear the world’s fart
I have constant rose colored glasses beacue I’m a pisces
but not in a youtube box on a box
my rising is pisces
I feel you guys hard
you are week of the loner
I like your week
my twin brothers are week of the loner
but they’re twins so it’s kinda cool… two loners together for life
Whoa. That’s amazing.
What do you think it’s like to have a twin?
I’m an only child
I feel like I know
I was til I was 10
so it feels like I was even though I love my siblings
I was like their aunt or something instead
to have a twin
it’s like you’re locating someone, I think
and someone to you, too
and there is a competitive part or a lacking/gaining thing
my brother would have dreams that he was a bird who had to race a train to keep the whole family alive
and he is our nervous one
he feels for both almost
has a hard time with food and stuff
he’s very wound
I can’t remember my dreams.
I feel like that’s an unfair shake
every once in a while i have this like weird sensory flashback
and I realize I’ve had a recurring dream
there is stuff you can burn for dreams
what’s the recurred?
well they aren’t like vivid
like body memories
the most recent being a dream of a stroke in my right side
so you got a snippet of that?
mhmm a very powerful one
I think I know what you mean
I’ve tried everything to remember my dreams, really, no go
they are forever a secret to me
maybe you carry whatever the dreaminess is into waking life
so it doesn’t matter
that sounds really cool, but i like don’t even know what a dream is, so i couldn’t recognize like carrying it or something?
that’s sweet that you don’t know
I’ll bet you feel things strangely in this world
i guess so ha
what’s your dream life like?
geminis come to me in my dreams, usually taurus/geminis
I had a professor that I really like
and ever since I met her, she has been telling me strange things in dreams
like in one she was teaching me how to be a good wife
in another, I was teaching her daughter how to make fire and she was pouring me wine
watching us create fire
in another we were in a huge sort of sorority and she was hazing me
another taurus-gemini was lit by amber light
and inky smoke was coming off of her
and she was telling me a bunch of things about a man I was seeing at the time, in her silence
my ex boyfriend came to me in a dream and told me everything I had must fit into a shoe rack inside of his car
I have psychic dreams where shit comes true
about dumb things or about bigger things sometimes
sometimes someone will say something to me in a dream
and a few weeks later or so, they’ll say it and I’ll be like no fucking way
but usually I don’t tell them because it sounds either fake or scary
I dreamt my roommate said “We can’t keep having homes in all countries of the world”
that night he dreamt that he opened his window and it was the ocean
I dreamt my friend was in the water crying
and the tide was rising
and she sent me a video of the day before where she’s filming this lake
that one’s less credible
but ya know
i believe you
you’re good at reading people you said
or just like
you get seduced by shit
and then you don’t mind the poopoo stuff?
like I can’t read people’s emotions
like that way
if they explain them to you, are you good with that?
or do they not really do that?
ha, no i can do that. I can really do that. But like i took the test where you look at all these sets of eyes and guess the person’s thoughts or feelings
and i scored in bottom 1%
what if it was a voice and not a face?
can you hear it over the phone if someone is off?
can you tell if people are lying?
I can only tell based off of personal histories through time
and like what i know about language and stuff
So, not really, ha
when you like someone, is it usually based on material things
not like money but like ya know
in the world of grounded shit
as opposed to their “spirit”?
or their vibe?
i’ll try to flesh it out
do you like someone for being there… or for being in a realm or category of something tangible?
like a friend you’ve been through shit with over time
as opposed to a stranger where you feel a pull
a pull with no basis
There is never a pull with no basis
not that they can’t exist together
oh my god!
that’s so cool
I am heavily on the pull with no basis
a past that I can’t explain or something
and that is made up but feels like it’s in there
I believe you
I believe pretty much anything that seems too abstract or weird to be true
I appreciate grounded connections because it’s a break from all of that heaviness
that’s a beautiful way to be!
a believer inner
Trouble is, people usually aren’t too abstract or weird to be true
are you into the idea of someone?
I’m into the potential of someone, which is very close
and very gross
that’s a beautiful way to be!
have you ever had a moment by yourself
where you feel super whole?
not like eat-pray-cock whole or whatever
but like you’re all the way there, whether it feels right or just awful?
Only eat-pray-cock whole
straight up vaycay whole
I had a dinner party where there four elements were present
and I asked everyone that questions because I wanted to see what they said
if it’d match up with their element or whatever
it was interesting
the food was really good
earth said her dad emailed her something really thoughtful and he didn’t do that kinda thing
it made her feel good
I forget water and that sucks cuz she’s my best friend
what would hers be…?
maybe we didn’t get to her
air was the present moment because it was sort of a bondy night, full of the past and then a nice change washing over
and mine was this time by myself after I got dumped in Austin
it was crashing down lightning and I just started laughing and laughing
it was this terrible downpour and I was like fuck dude
this is so funny
didn’t have a soul to really get into it with at the time
or kinda for a minute
but not where I could be a lunatic and cry and cry
it was other stuff, too though
Do you revisit that moment successfully ever?
the “giving up on it” shit
in kind of a way
that was a helluva feeling, though
it was very period-like
I write songs
and it is similar to the feeling when a song beams down and it’s a very sad one
it’s a type of ecstasy
Does that ever happen when you’re writing fictionsss?
and then it shed
and then it did again!
I got really disgusted with writing
because I let myself think about it too much
and I let myself melt down and become more like a critic
I think they teach you to be very critical
and not that everyone needs to be writing, because most people need to not be writing
you know what I mean? I know you do
so then I was like, well I’m one of those people
but I also was so that way that I could honestly barely talk at all
it was so sad to me
I hated the way anything I said sounded
voice was horrific to me
framing any situation
expressing any scenario
constructing anything as something to consider or read
it was just so ridiculous!
and it is!
and when people are beautiful at it, then it’s soul-crushing
I can barely read because of it
I OD on it
I think I need you to be my spiritual guide
no one NEEDS you to write
I’m glad to be!
yeah but then like
one thing that helped was
I was with a really supportive dude
and he is a very nihlistic, depressive dude
the blackest soul of them all for real
but he is the most pro-art
and pro-art for art’s fart of them all
so when I had given up, we met
and he was like no no no
and I was like no no no no no
and really just absolutely wiped off the face of the earth about it
and he was adamantly like
no you have to because you love it even though you hate it
and it’ll get you through
and so he and I started writing something called “The Dragon Fellator” for fun
and I would start talking in this sort of Shakespearean lilt
and he’d write it down
it was a story about a guy who was done with his MFA
but he was unemployed and living in his parents’ basement
and he was a beautiful writer, but just totally useless
smart, but who cares
poetic, but who cares
so it’s told with him
in a dragon costume
sitting on a baby changing table in the men’s bathroom
with his legs swining
and he is doing a soliloquy about how he’s going to offer to blow stressed dads at amusement parks
because it’s the same thing as any other thing, so fuck it
but you know, he really expounds
that’s the whole project
so I was finishing college
panicking about the future
totally depressed and losing it
and when delirious with sorrow, I would do the voice and it helped a little
to play again
he and I would play and it made writing fun again
not serious or literary, just language
Was this before all the stories in Niceties were written?
a lot of them, though
I had written maybe just 4-ish then?
How did you actually finish it?
Were you like this could be a book if I kept going?
so much doubt followed
no, i really wasn’t like that at all
I was like
I am a dumbass
I am truly a person who was mistaken about what I thought I was capable of
that was in a loop
“dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb”
was overwhelmed by a combination of theory
moving to NY to write
or to “Write”
or whatever else you wanna frame it as fuckkkk
anyway, I saw myself as a person who could like bust out all of this shit
and then I was like
I’m a dumb little girl
I have no idea what I’m doing
and the things I have to say aren’t of consequence
what made it a book was
I moved in with my parents because I didn’t know what else to do when I finished school
I was in their guest bedroom in Dallas
frantically applying to jobs
feeling like oh jesus what is it that people do?
what do people do in this world?
how is there any way to be???
then I started editing my stuff a lot
I read a lot
my ex-boyfriend and I sat on the phone and went over edits a ton
he was like “you should make this a book”
and it was like noooooooooooo
I’d freak out and be like “Please don’t encourage me, dude.”
I’d have these conversations where I’d be flipping out about how useless it all was and shit
and he was just like “no, you really just need to stop fighting it”
so I finished editing right when I moved to Austin
I got a job
an office job, nothing like what I wanted to be doing
and I had been submitting and stuff, but I really did a lot of extra stories at that office job
it was an americorps thing and they didn’t give me much to do
so I kept writing and going over and over the work
even on the weekends I’d go in and read, re-read everything
but I was adding stories up to the final weeks pretty much with the manuscript.
Well I have to say it turned out spectacularly
means a lot
in writing and in singing
cuz they’re kinda the same for me
that’s what I try to say is like
my secret self
I’m hard to read
reticent and shit
I am more of a listener
have you read Danielle Dutton’s S p r a w l?
in one of my worst times
I read her book
twice in a weekend
after like a really bad stomach flu
that book is gorgeous
it’s what’s up
my favorite thing in years most certainly
I felt her, I think
I hate being sick but I really like reading and watching and listening when I’m sick or neaer sick
the best feeling
it’s like almost fetishistic you know?
buried kid stuff
what are you into lately
like what inspires/fascinates you?
hating the internet takes up quite a bit of my time haha
I love hearing about these things
I teach poetry to little kids these days
and I like to see what they do with language
I’ve always been a nanny or been around kids in some capacity
and being able to learn and be influenced by their language is cool
and feeling their day-to-day stuff
I started a press
with my best friend
so I’ve been kind of making it up as I go for our first title
I am psyched for it
but I’m also very new at everything
What’s it called??
and it’s like this
( . y . )
omg that is too good
my dream was to have a project
that was with my friends where it feels like weirdo fat kid sleepover play time
and that’s exactly how it’s been
our first title is called vibraphone
the author did the artwork
and his content is all either facebook statuses, emails, or texts that he sent me
besides a few pieces, maybe three
So he doesn’t hate the internet?
Your press doesn’t hate the internet?
I think we do but we cope
we try to spin it
he’s the funniest person I know
and one of the best people I know
he is like a brother I’ve needed my whole life
we’re going to try to make a 60 track album next
of really stupid hooks we make up
hell yeah power hour
and we’re doing a show under the name ew and meh
in a couple weeks
where he does an intro that makes fun of hipstery asshole shit that’s way too long
and we play songs uncomfortable in our coats
I do that a lot
I also drink disgusting amounts of coffee and survive on that
I need more coffee drinkers in my life
my people aren’t into it
besides my mom, but she’s down south
I am wildly into smog & bill callahan as of last week
and dean blunt, that song i sent you on redeemer
i listen to redeemer all day long on repeat
and julia holter
I make popcorn on the stove almost every night
do you know of that wonder?
I have eaten so much popcorn in my life and none of it has ever been made on the stove
Friend, you have not lived.
okay this is what you do
put some olive oil in a pot or pan
you need a little room for the poppy aspect
coat the bottom with kernels
but you don’t need to go nuts unless you’re gonna eat like a massive bowl
or unless you have buds over
then you put a lid on but crack it a little bit to let the steam out
microwave butter or smart balance or whatever
then put a little in the bowl
wet it with the butter and salt it
then you can put oregano on it
then do another layer til it’s done
it tastes like the most godly, beautiful thing
if it’s bought or pre-popped
you don’t get the love of that whole process
and you don’t get the realness of it
i dunno how to describe
it’s serious comfort food
will keep a person sane
I have lost the joy of cooking
Im all about like protein bars and veggie smoothies
smoothies are awesome
you need to get into soup
and you need a crock pot
cuz those’ll save your life
I cook all the time
that’s another one of my things
I’m not cool at all
like I’m not good at being among the shit
or in the shit, you know?
what do you do when you cook
do you like think or compose or anything?
i cook like 1/4 of my waking hours
Sometimes I construe stuff doing the dishes
dishes are a good thinky time
where does your initial content for your writing come from
is it like spinning things you hate like the internet
or like things you love or fascinate you
everything is an ode and a love song to no one
or if it’s something tense
then it’s still a type of ode or song
but there’s a bend to it
it’s like trying to locate the bullshit
then turn it and turn it and turn it
people say how calm I am to me
like, I don’t know how I come off, I really don’t
because I’m very all over the place inside
but they perceive me that way or make big blanketed statements like
“Well, you just would handle it!”
or “And how is it that you feel, I just never know but you seem fine!”
and there are always exclamation points on the end haha
but inside I am truly batshit anxious
and wildly reactive
in writing, do you feel that way?
when you begin something where you’re trying to dig away at something that you find conflicted?
i mean those are the only things I probe with writing
usually they just disappear
but sometimes there are ghost wrods left over so i keep those
what about you?
what’s your source?
Mine beams down pretty much
the beginnings and then it’s the songy thing whether it’s the love song or the love/hate song
I don’t really get songs, or when I do I experience their memories afterwards like my dreams
I think my source is usually something i hate about myself + something I find aesthetically interesting, and then I just try to reconcile those two things or something
Or at least that’s how it’s been lately
Maybe I need to work on my receptivity or something?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say
what has worked before?
like does that feel right when you do it, or is it just a habit so that’s your entry?
with niceties, my friend matt
he’s very perceptive and blazingly sharp
he was like
you’re really on it, but you know…. you’re funny
none of this has that. what’s up with that?
and we were young, we were like 20-21?
and I was like
so that different approach
not trying to be funny, but trying to capture less of the sort of frenchy, beautiful sounds and look to the language
or merging that with also like a simultaneously mean and nice thing made it fun
sounds nice but the meaning is mean
I think it’s interesting when people are funny because
usually they don’t know they are unless they’re really hammy
it’s like someone just sort of trails off with their fucked up perspective and you’re laughing
but they’re like “what?”
and you have to slow it down for them
I love that
when people try, it’s usually too easy
I used to date a guy that was really funny because he would try so hard that it was like not trying
it was like he knew what he was doing
sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t
it was an ecstatic kind of feeling when he got that way
he was always looking for your reaction
but knew that or something?
That used to be me!
it got boring anyhow
did you tone it down?
It went away once I lost all my friends from high school and made new ones
I just became a completely different person
were you cool in high school?
or did you have like a little scene?
But I was funny
Yes a scene
A funny scene
IT was just one liners for hours and weeks and years
I love that
I get high off of that
you’ll like our first book, then
that’s the feeling of it
I haven’t recaptured that in a long time
how did you change?
I changed a lot
I dropped out of high school
and had a nervous breakdown
and gained like 100 lbs
had a terrible time as a teenager holy hell
but college was like rebuilding and shit
Yes we can!
or yes we could?
that was really intense
I have a friend who had the same thing go on
and we’re really close because of it
we eat together a lot
i’ve never been to NY
don’t tell anyone
I won’t, duh
I wonder if you’d like it
I loved it
then I lived there
now I fully fear it
like a person should haha
and people always tell me i’d love it
it’s like the moon or something as far as i know tho
do you like traveling and cities and shit?
I love it
unless I’m sick
you have to go
what if you’re meant to be there and you don’t know it yet
I feel that you would like it
from what I can glean
my story Bucolics is about living in New York
when I did
I had a cherry tree in my backyard there
and lived by a graveyard
You had a backyard in NY?
well, my landlady’s backyard
I was in Queenz
the z jumped out
The only thing that scares me about NY is the money
I was totally broke
I’d go on dates just to have dinner
i wasn’t nasty, though
like, I’d be sweet and not gross and usery
lotta first dates though
I had dinner with a millionaire who didn’t pay!
and he took me to a fancy place
I was fucked
I had to spend all of my money on dinner
then afterward, he said
“Oh I probably should have paid… I forget that people aren’t all rich”
I was just like… goddamn guy
i was a personal assistant for a former iranian fashion model
i got to send mail to rushdie!
that was kinda cool
we;ve been chatting for a long time technically
hope it hasnt ruined your life
not at all
I like pisceans
geminis, like callahan
they are what get me every time
the symbol for that is the little divider in my book
the symbol for opposition
have you cooked anything while we’ve been talking
have you been to detroit before?
my dad’s fam is from there
i haven’t been in several years but used to go on the reg
it’s very different now
is that where you live right now?
yes I live downtown
in a house built in 1905
guess how much rent is
you’re gonna puke
3 bedroom house with a basement and an attic and a porch
500 a month
i just puked
you should move here!
bring everyone you know!
you need to
you can make anything happen here
you really can
I mean, I am starting a press
nothing’s stopping me and that was just a random idea I had
that energy is everywhere
and the people that are doing shit aren’t sharky and mean
they’re like… invested in what’s around them
and down-to-earth and feisty
it’s very good shit
I was in Austin
and obviously Austin is super fun
really cool, so much to do
but it felt like
aesthetic or something
like it’s great
I still love it
but there wasn’t soul
there was spunk but not soul
detroit is soul
you gotta go see your people
i know! I totes will.
This is a plan.
and it really is the place to be
it’s not gross here
it’s almost like NOLA but cold
but with that same haunted, gothy vibe
you can eat yemeni food that will blow your mind here
just the syllables of detroit
Tanner Hadfield is an assistant editor at Caketrain Journal and Press.