Vanessa Mobley: In his Amazon Guest Review of your book, Jonathan Miles observes that the book could have been titled Notes to (instead of from) the Night. When did you start thinking of the night as a character?
Taylor Plimpton: I didn’t originally think of the New York night as a character. For me, it started off as the place, the setting, the universe in which the book (and all the characters therein) took place. Of course, because the book explores this universe in depth, one does indeed get to know the night as one might a character. And though I didn’t have the conscious intention of anthropomorphizing the night, human traits do emerge. Like any person you know well, the night can be maddening, funny, beautiful, impossible. As with all human beings, the night is charged with paradox, mystery, boundless potential. And, like any of us, the night refuses to be easily defined.
VM: In the book, you intentionally leave out obvious markers of place and time but could you tell us now what you think was the heyday of NY nightlife as you experienced it?
TP: My main reason for leaving out such specifics was to make the book truly accessible to the reader; people could apply their own experiences of place and time to the page, so that their memories would mingle with my own, and they would feel like they were right there with me… That being said, the heyday of NY nightlife for me was probably, say, 2002-2003 at places like Lotus, et al. Part of it was simply being young and alive with the night and life all ahead of me, but it also felt like there was something special about that time and place. There was this sense of infinite possibility about everything back then, and it’s hard to say if it’s simply the fact that I’m older now and am seeing the night through different eyes, or if the nightclubs themselves have actually changed—it’s probably a little of both—but I don’t always feel that way at the places I go to now… Of course, sometimes, even now, I catch a glimpse.
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VM: How fine is the line between trying to have a good time and actually having one?
TP: There’s actually a massive chasm between the two. The thing is, any time you’re “trying” to do something, you’re not actually doing it… It’s like forcing a smile: it just never feels as good as a grin that comes naturally… This is perhaps especially the case with the night: everyone out there “trying to have fun,” and yet somehow many of them are nonetheless miserable. Myself, at times, included. It’s funny, cause one of the book’s main goals is to answer this question of how to have a good time, and yet as the narrator, I am no obvious role model. In fact, I’m probably a better example of someone who tries too hard—a seeker who is forever struggling to find that ultimate moment of freedom, and thus somehow ends up standing in his very own way. I guess my point [and a piece of what we learn from the narrator’s journey] is that “trying” is part of the hindrance. It’s
often when you give up your grand desire to have a good time that you finally do.
VM: Short of ill health or lack of funds, is there ever a good reason not to go out at night?
TP: Every now and then when I find myself home at night with no plans to go out, I’ll hear the sounds of the city drifting in through the window — music and laughter and other whispers of possibility — and I will get this great pang in my stomach, an emptiness, an almost urgent sense that I am missing something… But this is mostly an illusion: sure, if you go out, you’ll probably have a good time, but you’ve had good times before, and you’ll have them again. There is no real rush. After all, as powerful as this desire is to seize every night as if it were your last—and as much as I tend to bow to this desire — sometimes you just need a restful night at home with a good book.
VM: What are you working on now?
TP: I’ve been working on putting together a couple different collections of short essays. One, tentatively titled, “Animals and Other Creatures: True Tales” will be a series of short personal memoirs loosely related to animals (including, of course, humans) and the physical/ biological universe. The other, tentatively titled, “My Father’s Son,” will be a collection of essays about my relationship with my father, George Plimpton.
Taylor Plimpton is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Men’s Journal magazine, Dan’s Papers, the Harvard Advocate, and The Rumpus.net. He is the co-editor of The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays, an anthology of dark holiday humor published in October of 2009. He graduated with a degree in English from Reed College.
“This is a rhapsodic book: light and free, the model for the memoir of the future — a future in which each moment is precious and the writer is as good as Plimpton at grabbing and showing it to us.”
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
Listen to an audio interview with Taylor Plimpton on Barnes & Noble Studio:
• To chat with the author, visit Taylor Plimpton’s Facebook page.
• You’ll wish you’d been invited! Check out this piece in The New York Times, on Taylor Plimpton’s recent book party.
To enter to win a signed copy of the book, go to Thrillist.com and tell them where your favorite nightlife spot is this summer!