Would you share with me what were some of your early experiences with reading, writing and art?
When I was about five or six, I told my father, “I’m bored.” He said “Go write something.” I think what followed was a three sentence story (with illustration) about Superman, the movie I had recently seen. I wrote my first poem when I was seven. I don’t think I read poetry as a child, but once I got over the “I hate to read” hump, I read for pleasure all the time. I almost never read the books which were assigned to me at school. Besides novels and some failed efforts in extra-cirricular activities, I don’t remember being exposed to art that interested me much as a child. I grew up hearing opera because my father played it all the time but (I’m sorry) I just don’t like it. By time I reached high school I was into heavy metal and would read about musicians and memorize song lyrics. Then I moved onto punk. I was just a listener. But I did write for most of my childhood and adolescence, taking a small hiatus in college and picking it back up in my early 20s. When I decided to apply for MFA’s in writing (not the MA in Women’s Studies) my only goal was to get a better writing practice out of it. I wanted to be better about putting in the time. And I got that… and I’m still working on it. I guess this kind of answers your next question. I don’t know when I decided to be a writer. I think I just decided I was going to write.
What was your family unit? Did you have brothers or sisters? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Flushing, NY with my parents and older brother and in close proximity to all my first cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I don’t consider my family big, but we were in contact a lot and so their presence in my life was perhaps bigger than average (if you can quantify that kind of thing.) There were deaths and divorces but generally the trajectory for most of my family members was the same- get a job, get married, have kids, stay in NY. I got a job. That’s about it. And (as I write this at my parents’ dining room table while visiting for the holidays) I am always in varying degrees of struggle with my deviation from my family’s life plan.
What kinds of stories were you told growing up?
Thinking of this off the cuff, the stories I heard growing up fell into one of two categories. One was to scare or caution or transfer anxiety. For instance, my grandfather told me there was a little girl who screamed too much and her jaw locked like that and she couldn’t close her mouth. My mother would tell me bad things that could happen to me; these were not exactly stories, but they were narratives of sorts. The second type of story was to recount actual events, usually in a humorous way. I recently realized why I find a sense of humor so important in a partner; it’s because I grew up laughing. Almost everyone in my family is funny. Even when they’re being offensive, their delivery is disturbingly amusing.
Were there teachers or teachings that influenced you? How so?
When I was getting my undergraduate degree I met a professor whom I credit for setting me on a trajectory towards what my life is now and away from what my life would have been had I followed the path my family had set up for me. He was a communication professor; I took all four of his classes. His classes really were about communication; about the habits and games we play with each other, the way we feel and pretend we don’t feel. One class focused on the relationships among the students, one focused on experience, one focused on thought. I went to his office for advice a few times because in the course of studying with him, I was confronted with a lot of shame and confusion. I also was able to show myself that I was capable of things I didn’t think I was. He was always very kind to me (noteworthy, because he could be quite confrontational at times). He always gave me dating advice (I never actually asked him for dating advice, he just gave it). He was a big supporter of going away for graduate school. He didn’t really care what you studied, just that you left. At the time, I’d never thought I would leave Flushing. There are things that came up in his office that I still struggle with. I still sometimes fail to communicate authentically, especially with my family. I still have trouble following my own path. I still hear his words in my head. I am still teaching myself the lessons he presented when I was 19.
What are the things in your life that make you the happiest right now?
Books, laughter, dancing, connections
Do you have mentors or other working artists who influence you today?
When I first moved to SF, I connected with Sarah Rosenthal, an incredible Bay Area writer. I took five of her writing workshops. I am still friends with her. I had the honor of reading her manuscript in progress earlier this year. And she has helped me as I struggle through my current (and very much ongoing) manuscript. But what Sarah helps me with the most is the emotional and social aspects of being a writer. I have never, and probably will never, feel a part of this writing community, or like I can offer a writing community what I see so many others give it. She helps me feel more okay with that, and helps me acknowledge what I do offer. Sarah is very aware that writers are actually human beings with vulnerabilities and challenges. So when I am negatively comparing myself with other writers, she is the person I call to mind.
What are you own criteria for success?
I think if I am being true to myself, and being brave in my pursuits, then I am successful. There are definitely concrete things I want; I’d love to have a book published, find my niche in my professional life, travel. But I also know these finish lines will likely keep moving if I ever accomplish these things. So I suppose the process of challenging myself and expressing myself authentically is a better marker for me.
Has money or critical success influenced your creative decision making?
No. I have never wanted to make money with my writing. I am lucky enough to have a profession I am passionate about. I am currently working in a setting that is not ideal for me because it pays well. But I would not want to have to change what I write to make it more lucrative. I have a hard enough time negotiating how I want my writing to function in the world on a purely artistic level. I can’t imagine the writer’s block that would befall me if livelihood was tied to it as well.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The same advice I’d like to give myself now- that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for.
Could you describe a current project you are working on now?
One of my current projects has been my companion for several years now. It has a form that I attached myself to. Interestingly, after all this time of it not quite being where I want it to be, I am far less wedded to that form. The positive aspect of that transition is that I can follow the writing where it wants to go, instead of possibly artificially shaping it in a way that is not organic to the work. The negative side is that if I let go of that structure, I am lost as to how to proceed.
The manuscript was created from the writing from the first five years of my living in SF. It was collected, collaged and revised to the point where probably very little of the original work remains. I created poems, that lean toward the more disjunctive. However, the titles are concrete sentences and when read in succession, retell the narrative of my life in SF. So the poems were arranged in relation to each other (in a very loose chronology) and in relation to the titles. Picture a whole lot of poems scattered on my bedroom floor. There are pieces in the manuscript that I love and some I really, really don’t love. And in the course of trying to change things so I love those poems more, I am forced to assess how the entire manuscript functions. Can I just change the individual pieces and leave the rest? Or does changing the bits necessarily force change on the whole? Stay tuned! I’m curious how it turns out 🙂
When you look forward in your life what do you hope to find there?
Love and passion, both in relation to other people and in relation to whatever projects, events and goals I engage with.