Joan Silber on the secret of the body

In your story for this week, “Evolution,” a teen named Kara runs from New York to Arizona with her older boyfriend, Brody, in 1980, experiencing liberation and disappointment with her newfound sexual freedom. Reflecting on the events of the story, the older Kara says that “people believe in sex in a way that they don’t believe in anymore,” and asks, “Have we actually put this idea into practice, and exaggerated it?” One of the main themes in your story is the presence (or lack thereof) of evolving ideas about sexual relations across generations. Have you seen any development in the sexual dynamics in the world around you?

This story came out in part from my reading of a series of articles this spring about how heterosexual youth (especially but not exclusively female) currently report more caution about sex, less sexual activity, and more confusion about rules. (More concern about porn’s effects.) Of course, this is a big change from the eras when freedom itself was lauded. It is a lively and ongoing discussion.

It has been striking to me recently that these more intimate and private experiences bear the influence of social assumptions – even though this is just a human fact. We are used to noticing this in every novel of the nineteenth century. In our age of accelerating change, we’re seeing celebrities face accusations of sexual misconduct as standards change, and any look at old TV shows – from “I Love Lucy” to the original “Sex and the City” – provides examples of behavior that would be unrepresentable now. . I wanted, of course, to look at this in more subtle ways, to hear what sixteen-year-old Cara had to say to herself about this at the time. She is committed to being strong, and being equal to what happens.

I often wrote about desire and longing, and this was a new way to see how these elements shape the story.

Cara and Brody’s relationship isn’t exactly abusive, but it’s not equal either. The story is set in a world before terms like “consent” were fully formed, and the older Kara admits that she “has other terms to her, other actions.” Do you think this vocabulary would have helped her at all?

True, it never occurred to Cara to object to most of what Brody does. She really wants to be adventurous – moving around the country is magical to her – and has an investment in herself because she’s not too sensitive. (When Brody told her they were going to sleep on the picnic tables, she regretted in the first place that they wouldn’t share a bed.) By the time they reached their destination, his treatment of her was borderline humiliating, she is well aware of this but also trying to ignore it. Having terms for what is happening would have given it categories of reasoning, ways of analyzing error, and a different judgment. Surely it could have saved her some trouble. (And he gave me a different story).

But the terms can also be reductive. Every era has its own cliché, and they are never enough for what really happens.

There is a delicate balance in your story between humor and heartbreak. We can laugh at Kara’s indifference and worry about her when she encounters a scary driver or her boyfriend takes advantage of her. Likewise, the narrator, who reflects on a later history in her teenage adventure, finds both comedy and pathos in her former naivety. How did you manage this balance, and how did you decide to set the story in retro mode?

I like working retrospectively to cover long periods of time. (I once wrote a book called The Art of Time in Imagination.) Here, the additional perspective allows me to bypass what a sixteen-year-old might know. But my focus throughout most of the story is on the intensity of her theories about what she does. Young Kara has the idea (it has some merit) that her new life of intense sexuality swears by the forces of nature, and that she and Brody are nature’s “glowing beginnings.” She is, after all, fairly new to sex — she’s been with two other boys, only a few times — and the power of the project has led her to intuition of his spiritual strength.

She does not express this to Brody, but Brody, for his part, made a scathing remark in which he recalled a priest saying that nature is “how God showed Himself to us.” Brody points to the scorching temperatures in Tucson June as evidence that the nature god isn’t kind. I like the habit of young people to solve the mystery of the great questions of the world, and I wanted to give these characters that.

The title of the story, “Evolution”, is also based on a retrospective of past events. It was first mentioned when Kara had an idea (reluctantly rumored in the 1970s) that smoking marijuana was superior to drinking alcohol and represented an evolutionary advance. I later wondered about the evolutionary need served by the mechanisms of “bomb and hit” copulation. And the presence of her daughters makes her see the big changes in attitudes towards desire and freedom.

One of the things I appreciate most about your story is the way you capture some youthful apathy, the willingness to put oneself into situations of danger or discomfort in order to make life more interesting. In the story, there is an idea of ​​how Cara may or may not have developed from that instinct later in her life, as an adult. Is there something specific about Cara’s age that pushes her towards certain things, or is it a trait of Cara herself?

We follow Cara through the crucial moments in her understanding of her life as a body. At first, she was showing off physically – displaying her dancing skill and also practicing her future charisma – and she managed to break a bone. Later, we see her come to her place as a sexual being, and she takes pride in her adventure. There is a twist again when death enters the story, and her date with Brody, which is over and done, changes its meaning in her mind. The mystery of the body is also the secret of its dissolution and impermanence. She knows this half of her when she was young – waiting in the bloody mess of the emergency room – but the older Cara has her memories settled in this longer view.

The story begins and ends with a scene in the hospital, when Kara fractures her tibia after showing her childhood friend hers. How does this emergency room experience change her and lead her toward her later explorations of love and lust?

This story is part of a novel I was working on. The story begins with the story of two young Kara who is sitting in the emergency room. As Cara sort of sees, a man took his good friend, who had overdosed on heroin, to the hospital for help – and then left him there alone. The long story of this (the guy keeps it a secret his whole life) is in the first chapter, but I also wanted to get its effect on someone who was there at the time; I’m always interested in the side effects of things. Seeing the betrayal, Kara comes to the unclear conclusion that she will have to look for herself in this life. Her elopement with her boyfriend, about six years later, has some roots in this. She takes off without worrying about her perfectly good mother, and decides to expect herself to handle whatever happens, which is a helpful but not always an accurate idea.


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