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9 questions with Courtney Maum

“Only face-to-face interaction can capture the beautiful weirdness of real life.”

Javier Zarracina

This week, Courtney Maum — author of I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You and Touch — answers our questions.

What’s the first piece of media you consume every day?

For a while, it’s been Instagram. I’m relatively new to Instagram — I joined this spring, so it was fun for a while to wake to friends’ hard-won vacations and adorable kids. But you know what I did pre-Instagram? I reached for a book. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to read fiction in the morning, from a printed book, again. In a perfect world, I would choose my marriage over social media for wake-up entertainment. My husband is a dyed-in-the-wool morning Instagrammer too. But I remember before social media took over, we used to do these insane things in the morning, like talk.

Name a writer or publication you disagree with but still read.

Right now it’s Facebook. It’s revolutionized the way we socialize, and for that, it deserves a huge amount of respect and credit. But I’m not convinced that it’s the social model we need right now. It’s so interesting watching the social networking outlets that succeed, as well as the ones that don’t. Like Ello, for example, which was poised to offer a hipper, less corporate, and kind of weird online social experience for Generation Y. Ello tried to humanize the experience of maintaining friendships digitally. You weren’t going to be talked at, given the chance to like or not like something a friend said.

Facebook is pretty exhausting now, isn’t it? It constantly feels like our friends are running for an office of some kind. We’ve all become our own PR firms. The problem with Facebook is that it isn’t strange. Ello was strange. Ello wanted to echo the weirdness of human interaction. But maybe only face-to-face interaction can capture the beautiful weirdness of real life.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?

In terms of literature, the British writer Martin Amis and the French writer Michel Houellebecq have been buttressing my love for unlikable narrators, dark humor, accessible literary fiction, and satire for years. But on a personal level, the person who has most changed my thinking recently is my polo coach, Alison Patricelli. I made the unusual decision of trying to learn polo at the age of 38.

It’s a dangerous sport, but it’s made even more dangerous if you’re prone to negativity spirals, as I — unfortunately — am. At my first mistake, I’d think: Why am I doing this? I’m going to fall, I’m no good, I’m making a fool of myself, etc. Alison literally shouts a mantra at me during our coached matches: BELIEVE! She’s really helped me approach different life experiences from a place of joy and optimism.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?

Last week. This is a superficial answer, but after being on the “Rosé All Day” team for years, I’m now “Rosé No Way.” Yes, the wine is a beautiful color, it’s pretty, and it’s festive, but it’s just not good. It’s not.

What’s your worst intellectual habit?

I’m too quick to jump to a negative conclusion. For example, if I’ve had a book come out recently and I’m with a friend who doesn’t mention it, instead of thinking, “This person hasn’t mentioned my book because they’re busy and haven’t had time to purchase it, much less read it, and that doesn’t mean that they don’t like me,” I will go to, “This person doesn’t care about me,” which is such a terrible, self-centered way to think. People really are busy and their world doesn’t stop just because I’ve published a novel.

Something else I’ve realized after publishing for a while is that people don’t know how to talk to the creator of something they’ve consumed. Whether it’s a movie, a novel, or a piece of art, many Americans find it really difficult — perhaps even impolite — to comment on someone’s creative work. Unless you’re my mother’s friend Ellen, who has no problem telling me she preferred my second book over my first.

What inspires you to learn?

Fear, apparently. I like to be challenged. I like creating narrative and physical situations in which I must be brave. Also, the desire to travel as more than a tourist. I like to work toward a future where I can engage in deeply immersive and even bizarre cultural experiences, the kinds of exchanges you can’t have unless you put some serious elbow grease into your trip planning. That’s why I’m trying to learn Spanish. I fantasize about living in Mexico City, so I am preparing myself for that fantasy, in case it ever comes to pass.

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?

That I will make something shareable and enjoyable out of the godawful, tea-stained cacophony of handwritten notes all over my desk.

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?

Cheese tastes better without crackers.

What book have you recommended the most?

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s “The Fact of a Body” and Gabe Habash’s “Stephen Florida.”

You can read last week’s edition of 9 Questions with Eddie Glaude Jr. here.

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