Don’t do art for the lifestyle: the film assistant at the center of Note to Self is but a glorified intern, and author Alina Simone spends hours staring into laptop screens.
Zola: Your novel’s protagonist, Anna, is addicted to the Internet—in particular, she obsesses over her Gmail. What are three websites you can’t live without?
Alina Simone: Mmm… New York Magazine, the New York Times and Cool Hunting. Now I feel super-boring. The podcasts I’m addicted to are perhaps more interesting: Marc Maron’s WTF, the Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Scriptnotes and KCRW’s The Business.
Zola: We live in a world where one mistake on the web (even a seemingly harmless selfie) can be exploited and rebroadcast and turned into a meme—yet we continue, every day, to spill our lives into various forums. Why do you think we keep going back?
AS: I think an evolutionary biologist would be best able to answer that question. I guess the simple answer is that being with people is hard. It requires concentration and self-control. It takes a lot of effort to be perceived as likable and engaging, even if you are lying or bored or (more often) pre-occupied with something else. Tapping things out onto the Internet (and, correspondingly, being able to control people’s image of you) from your nest of cat hair and Cheetos is a lot easier.
Zola: Overweight and obese characters seem to be appearing more and more in fiction—such as in The Middlesteins and Eleanor & Park. What do you make of this trend, and did you consider it when creating Anna, a self-described “fat” girl?
AS: Ah, no. I haven’t read those books (yet!) so there was definitely nothing intentional going on there. I used to be overweight myself. Actually, for many years, until I was about twenty-seven or so. Not obese, but I was medically categorized as overweight, so this aspect of Anna’s persona comes from personal experience in my case.
Zola: When forgoing the Internet, Anna wonders if watching TV violates that pact. Is it the same thing, in your opinion? What’s your own TV habit and how does it compare to the time you spend online?
AS: There is so much great TV on right now that, depending on your habits of course, it feels like having an art-house cinema in your home. Because I’m a writer, I spend most of my time staring into laptop screens, which I don’t find makes me particularly happy. Watching TV, on the other hand, is a great treat for me. I only watch at night and I refuse to watch TV (or movies or whatever) on a laptop screen. I need popcorn, drinks, a cushy surface, the works!
Zola: This is your first novel and you’re a singer as well. Do you think Anna is onto something that the rest of the characters aren’t: that it’s better to follow your current passions even if that means never having a typical career?
AS: It may be better to follow your passions—but not in Anna’s case. Hers is meant to be something of a cautionary tale. Going into art for any reason other than that you are absolutely compelled to do it (not because you find the lifestyle alluring or it looks easy) is probably a bad idea.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.