Your new book, See Now Then, features a Caribbean writer whose husband is a composer and who lives in the Northeast with two kids. Sounds like you. How autobiographical is it?
A lot of events in the book would seem to parallel my own life. But I wasn't thinking of myself. My own self, my own everyday life, is sort of very untidy and smelly and kind of revolting on close inspection--or maybe not even on that close inspection.
What do you mean, untidy and smelly? Literally?
I like to be in my pajamas all day. Sometimes I don't wash for days because I like to read and sit around. I like to eat in bed. I like melancholy. I like to pretend that I'm alone in the world and I'm just sort of abandoned. I'm not fun to be with.
Well, some of the book is quite funny. It's not true that your now ex-husband composed a nocturne called "This Marriage Has Been Dead for a Long Time," is it?
No. But that's the kind of stupid thing I've heard people say when they wanted to abandon a spouse. They come to you and say things like "You know the marriage is dead." And I think, What? Did the marriage get mugged? Did somebody shoot it? All they mean is that they can't function with the other person. Which is fine--just go. But don't say stupid things like that.
Has your ex read this seemingly autobiographical novel in which the husband does not come off well?
I don't know. Since it's not about him, I don't know why he would.
What do you mean when you write that one form of love is hatred?
When you find someone you hate a lot, you should really look at it. It's bending toward that thing called love. When you find someone you love intensely, you should watch it. It's getting closer to its opposite.
There's less in this book about slavery and race than in some of your prior work. Are you still interested in those subjects?
Race is not particularly interesting to me. Power is. Who has power and who doesn't. Slavery interests me because it's an incredible violation that has not stopped. It's necessary to talk about that. Race is a diversion.
So it's not interesting to you that the most powerful man in America is black?
Not really. But here's an interesting thing. As I say, race is not important to me. The first time I saw Barack Obama, he gave a wonderful speech. But what made me really like him is that his wife came out and she was darker than he is. It's so rare to see a black man married to a woman who is darker than he is.
You went to the U.S. to be a maid, a nanny. What do you think today when you see nannies from the West Indies?
That they probably are not as lucky as I was. I've been incredibly lucky my entire life. And I've never said no to any kindness. I've always taken it and said thank you and ran with it.
And yet you've said before that you're not interested in the pursuit of happiness.
I don't know what it means, "the pursuit of happiness." The original "life, liberty and the pursuit of property" is how Locke framed it. Jefferson put in "happiness," which makes the document poetry and not solely legal. Is the pursuit of happiness to have sex with your nanny? Is that happiness?
You don't believe in the pursuit of unhappiness, I'm guessing.
One doesn't have to pursue unhappiness. It comes to you. You come into the world screaming. You cry when you're born because your lungs expand. You breathe. I think that's really kind of significant. You come into the world crying, and it's a sign that you're alive.