“The letter, like many things that [Lydia] Davis writes, had started out sincere and then turned weird” .
How sincere could Davis be, writing to tell General Mills that their frozen-pea packaging isn’t “appealing”? Frequently, I begin to write with no other goal than to amuse myself—Davis’ letter to General Mills… after she cooked the peas… did she steam them, to be eaten as a side, or put them in a dish—
chicken pot pie—
while the pie she made baked (35 minutes “or until golden brown”), Davis sat at the kitchen table and contemplated the empty frozen peas bag. She talked about the package with Alan, her husband, “an abstract painter,” maybe he’d be interested, look at this washed-out photo of peas, not at all like the peas in actual.
After dinner, after the dishes were washed and put away, Davis wrote, in longhand, the letter. It amused her to do so. To send the letter completed the project—if came a response, it might be incorporated—she made a copy; she recognized what she had. After all, this was her mode since August, 1973. Of her process, “I follow my instinct pretty—I don’t like the word intuitively! I follow them in a kind of natural way, without questioning them too much” .
What’s more, the editors of The White Review wrote to ask for work from Davis—
“Even now, much of Davis’s writing has its first life in obscure literary magazines. All the editors have to do is ask. If she likes the cover letter and feels she can trust them, she’ll send work. In small magazines, she feels free to experiment. ‘There’s an opposition between what’s good for my career and what’s good for my writing… What’s good for my writing is these little places’” . Besides, FSG will publish what once was obscure in those “little places”; those “small magazines,” their editors, readers, etc., all a part of Davis’s process.
As “sincere” as any of Davis’s writing—and as “weird.”
[ Goodyear, Dana. "Long Story Short." The New Yorker, March 2014, 24 - 30. ]