Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he was educated in the public schools there. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, as a freshman, he took part in the famous Kinsey Report by completing a survey of his sexual history during orientation. Alfred Kinsey, a biology professor at the university, had begun his famous work on human sexual response when he was teaching, after the war, the "marriage" course, an early attempt in the health curriculum to provide information in what was called then sexual hygiene. One day, a co-ed, who was to be married that summer, approached Kinsey after a lecture to ask what she could expect from her husband, and Kinsey, always the scientist, couldn't answer her since he didn't have, he realized, any hard scientific evidence. "I'll get back to you," he told her, and began his decades long project collecting oral interviews, written personal narratives, taped anecdotal commentary, and computer scanned surveys from a vast range of informants in order to build a workable database of sexual behavior.

There, years later, in a crowded lecture room in Ballantine Hall, Michael Martone participated in the very same ongoing effort of data gathering, carefully blackening with the provided No.2 pencil the appropriate bubble corresponding to the numbered response most accurately representing such desired information as his masturbatory habits and history, his sexual preference, his preferred positions (there were illustrations), and the time, to the nearest minute, of his recovery after "performing vigorous coitus." The room fell silent as the freshman class bent to this initial collegian task required of them, the quiet broken only by the scratching of pencil lead on the rigid manila IBM cards and the counterpunctual response of the rubbing of rubber erasers.

Afterward, Martone remembers racing from the building into a bright fall day, the trees of Dunn Meadow just taking on the color of the season. That night, he called his mother, who had also been a student at Indiana University to ask her if she, too, had been recruited to contribute to Professor Kinsey's report, indicating to her, as best he could, the extent and duration of statistical instrument he had just endured. "No," his mother responded, "they didn't have that when I was there. I did take this facts-of-life course the spring before I married Daddy." She went on to say that she didn't learn much, that the class had been dry and very statistical in nature. "I even asked the professor about it." It hadn't mattered, she concluded, since shortly after that meeting with the professor who had told her he would get back to her about her questions, she and her soon-to-be husband figured out how to go about the very thing that had been so mysterious.

Late one night, in a classroom where, in his senior year at Indiana University, Martone would take a class on Chaucer, his parents, ignorant of contraception in spite of the courses they took, managed to conceive their son. Though when asked, years later, by her son for further details, his mother simply said she couldn't recall much more about that night but that she could make something up if that would help. [From Michael Martone by Michael Martone (FC2, 2005)]


RMR: Cormac McCarthy once said, “Teaching writing is a hustle.” Agree or disagree? Discuss.

MM: So I guess he doesn’t mean that in a good way. And I guess that he is saying two things. First, that writing can’t be taught. And because he believes the first, it follows those who do teach are up to something, are taking advantage of someone. I don’t agree that teaching writing is a “hustle” and I think I disagree because we have different working definitions of “teaching.” I admit I am a teacher of writing. I think Mr. McCarthy’s notion of teaching is fiduciary. By that I mean, that the knowledge of a subject is held in trust by a teacher and one goes to school to have the teacher/trustee transfer that knowledge, the secrets so to speak. This model makes sense for law, say, or medicine. If it is applied to writing—that there are writing secrets mature writers know and can transfer for a fee—if that’s the way you think about teaching and writing well then it is a hustle because it is a commodity exchange. I don’t think about writing that way. I know no secrets. I cannot withhold or dole out wisdom on the matter. Teaching for me is more like helping the writer discover what he or she already knows. I provide what I hope are interesting spaces for people to read and write and talk about writing. The space is protected. The time is given. All my students are paid to come to school. There is no tuition. Let me talk about another hustle. A friend of mine, a writer, got fed up and quit teaching for reasons along Mr. McCarthy’s line. He thought most of his students wouldn’t become great writers. He felt he was deluding them by encouraging these less-than-great writers. Now it turns out David, my grumpy writing/teaching friend, also ran in marathons. And I just asked him if when he lines up at the start in Boston, New York, Chicago does he think he’s going to beat the world class Ethiopians. Well, no, he says. And I say why do you run if you aren’t going to win. The answer is that there are other reasons to run, other benefits besides winning. Ditto writing. Still another hustle. I just heard on the radio that students of medicine and law leave grad school with a debt of $50,000 to $80,000. Sure they will have jobs that will pay that back one-day. But those secrets are costly. Not so my none secrets for my writing students.

RMR: James Frey. Brad Vice. George Bush. All have fudged, fibbed, or fabricated here of late -- with disastrous results. Your work often tiptoes the blurry line between fact and fiction. What’s more, you seem to have a soft spot for the good old-fashioned hoax. Not only did you write The Blue Guide to Indiana but -- correct me if I’m wrong here -- you sought to have it reviewed as a legitimate guidebook, not a work of fiction. Likewise, in Michael Martone, you’ve written fifty fictitious bio notes for yourself -- actually placing many of them in the Contributors sections of literary magazines prior to their collection as a book. I think of the acknowledgments section of Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming Through Slaughter, an artistic embellishment of the life of real-life jazz forebear Buddy Bolden: “While I have used real names and characters and historical situations I have also used more personal pieces of friends and fathers. There have been some date changes, some characters brought together, and some facts have been expanded or polished to suit the truth of fiction.” When and why should we favor “the truth of fiction” over cold, hard facts, and what responsibilities must we live up to -- as readers, writers, citizens, leaders of the free world -- when we do it?

MM: My feeling is that we should all be very careful. Collectively we have made a cultural choice to live in an empirical world. That is we know things our senses tell us. If you don’t believe we live in an empirical world then why do most of us stay in school so long or go to school so young. We believe that we are born blank slates and then are filled up by our experiences. But our senses can be so easily fooled. Satire begins with the cultural shift in the West to empirical belief. So we have always lived in a world where fact and fiction was supposedly easy to tell apart but at the same time we know it’s not. And remember this. A fact is a thing done. Once it has happened it is over, it does not exist. Instead we have residue of the facts. Facts are not real. Fiction on the other hand is a thing made. It is a fabrication. Even what we call nonfiction is a fiction in that sense. It is a made thing. This made thing, this construction has a reality but it is a constructed reality. So as I said above one must be careful in the making and in the consumption of the made thing.

RMR: Either/Or (Explain or not).

Letterman or Leno?..... Letterman
Jeter or DiMaggio?..... Mantle
Libby (I. Lewis “Scooter”) or Liddy (G. Gordon)?..... G. Gordon
Bones or Spock?..... Kirk the Midwestern boy
Brittany or Madonna?..... Christina
Form or Function?..... Form
Bobby Knight or Dean Smith?..... Knight
Borrowed or Blue?..... Blue
Quayle or Lugar?..... Bayh
Barth or Borges?..... Barthelme

RMR: You are George Steinbrenner for a day. Make a to-do list.

- Wake
- Evacuate the bowel
- Oatmeal
- Shower, shave, brush and floss teeth
- Read the New York and Florida Newspapers
- Place a call order on General Dynamics, Biomet, Viacom
- Read an hour in the work of Patrick O’Brien
- Confession, Mass
- Lunch at Four Seasons (steak Tartar)
- Circle Line Cruise and visit to Ellis Island reconstruction
- Call to Sports Talk Radio on XM
- Watch TiVo, saved shows of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
- Lou Dobbs and Kramer’s Mad Money
- Drinks at the Century Club
- Attend opening reception for Gees Bend Quilts at the Whitney
- Dinner at Sea
- View Manhattan from the top of the Empire State building
- Greet arriving zeppelin
- Prepare for bed and retire in a continuously cruising Airstream trailer cruising the West Side Highway

RMR: Fill in the blank: Michael Martone is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, 100% NOT...

MM: Serious.

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