As soon as you choose to tell any story you are taking the risk that what you say will be taken as creepy and unusual by the person to whom you’re doing the talking. You are in fact risking that entire relationship. Perhaps you happen to mention a person who, while recently drinking a mutual espresso, picked at the crust in the corners of his eyes, then flicked it casually away. I definitely mean something as miniature as that. Even the miniature conceals a terror. For if you do not mention your disgust at this casual behavior, then you will discover that the person to whom you are talking is now in her turn disgusted by you and your blithe lack of disgust. Or if you do indeed mention your disgust to someone who it turns out is not disgusted at all, then she will only find you entirely without cool or courtoisie.
The person telling a story necessarily discovers that everything they say is fraught with the risk of being monstrous or freakish. And one reason for this might be that the private life has infinite secrecies. You can maintain however many blogs or Instagram accounts you like, but this privacy will never be quite dissolved. Even the porn is private. For although in every amateur reel of footage you might watch it’s interesting to observe people’s bedrooms or their choice of bedroom music and notice, say, a blanket that is also your own, these tapes still involve an entire level of rehearsal and of editing that means that really there is no one who can help you determine how usual are the small moments of confusion in your own sexual carnival. Like whether or not it’s OK when someone wants you to watch them piss if you happen not to be able to stifle a tiny moment of boredom when it takes them a long two minutes to get over their natural reticence and manage an exuberant flow. That worry will not be addressed in any porn you can imagine.
I would say that there is much more risk involved in telling a story—whether to an imaginary audience or a real one—than we are happy to admit. I know the usual idea of a story is that it’s something pristine and ethereal. I know that the old-school problems of description are all about how precisely something matches the real world, and that the idea of the likeable just needs removing from the picture. But I think one future way of thinking will be to at least acknowledge this problem of the desire to be nice and likeable. The likeable is just one way of describing a story’s terrible risk.
But if you think I mean by risk, I don’t know, admitting to your partner your various infidelities, well there, dear reader, you are wrong. The true confessional isn’t in admitting to things you’ve done that might be morally dubious. The morally dubious is just one part of a person’s vanity. No, if you want the subsequent high then you need to risk the much more comprehensive humiliations. You have to entertain categories that no one wants to entertain: like the Gruesome, Tender, Needy, Sleazy, Boring, Lurid and Cute. Because it isn’t what you say that is the true risk any more, the true risk is the way you do the saying—not so much the detail as an inappropriate tone.
For a while now, because I tell stories all the time, I’ve been thinking about these problems. I’ve been thinking about the risk you take in using the wrong kind of tone. And also I’ve been thinking about the risk you take in imagining anything at all–because it turns out that either you will be found wanting for not imagining things lurid enough; or you will be looked at quizzically by people who imagine that every gruesome thing described is an event in your autobiography. Just as there is also a final risk that what you think you are giving away and what you in fact do give away may not at any point coincide. You may be giving away things to random strangers which you thought were hidden from even your closest family.
But since there is a lot of pleasure to be had in this kind of game, it occurred to me that more people should be encouraged to play this kind of game with pain and pleasure. Sure, you can listen to the stories other people tell—but a different kind of pleasure can be had between two or more people when you tell the stories yourselves. With that in mind, I’ve tried to make the beginnings of an ideal questionnaire—a terrible toy to be played with by two or more players. The point of this game is to risk as much of your privacy and capacity for humiliation as you can. It is to be unashamed of your most lurid inventions.
Because I really am not in the business of creating some kind of neo- Communist cell. I do not want truth committees. I’m wanting a sort of spate of mini novels between friends. The reward you will get for your anxiety and risk is basically the same kind of high when everyone’s on meth, or when you realize that yes it’s going to be possible to have the kind of group sex from which everyone will leave feeling pleased and included. It’s that kind of very improvised utopia.
And if it had a slogan, this mini utopia, I suppose it would be something upbeat and malign: Be Monstrous!
What is the strangest fruit you’ve ever fantasized about?
How much money would you need to be offered to give a stranger of no particular attractiveness a blow job?
How often do you feel embarrassed by me when in public? For my clothes? My mannerisms? My humor? My income?
Have you ever had a radical political thought?
Should I hurt you more?
Have you stalked someone?
How quickly did you last come?
How long does it take for you to miss me when I’m away on business?
Are you worried about money?
Does anything about my body disgust you? I mean in the minutest way?
Would you like me to be bigger, or smaller?
When did you last go to a strip joint? Were you turned on?
The last time we had sex, did your mind wander?
How often do you pointlessly lie? Describe your last lie.
When did you use a public place as a bathroom?
Have you ever in fact masturbated thinking about me?
Have you ever touched our dog inappropriately? And liked it?
Should I call you more?
Think of the most lurid story you can imagine: are there antlers in it?
Is there milk? Are you afraid?
Photographer: Daniel Nadel for KayteEllisAgency.com. Stylist: Francesca Turner. Groomer: Noriko Takayama. Producer: Seona Taylor-Bell. Photography Assistant: Jay Maude. Styling Assistant: Giulia Oddi.