who am i?

i met my dear friend, the writer Frances Badalamenti about two years ago when i lived in Portland, and we have not STFU talking since. we talk every day about writing, podcasts, movies, books, so we pumped out this conversation yesterday. this is installment one of: Who Am I? 2 writers talk about life and nonfiction. 

Fran in NYC
Fran in NYC

CC: Okay—So when we first met, in Portland, I had just turned 27 and you were 40? I remember you were working on an essay about turning 40. And you were thinking about abstaining from coffee and wine. I remember you saying about red wine— when we had coffee at Crema and I forgot my wallet you bought my coffee—you were like, “I can’t keep red wine around!” 

You were about to leave for France. Where you were obsessed with going to some writer’s grave, remind me…? 

FB: When we first met, we were funny around each other.  There wasn’t that comfort level that there is now, where we can talk about anything.  Our relationship reminds me so much of when you are a kid and you want to hang out with another kid and you are so awkward for a bit, kind of playing this little game and then you are inseparable.  In a lot of ways, we are inseparable except that we live on opposing coasts.  You were so upset that I had to buy you coffee at Crema.  I had asked you to help me with some of my writing, so we were figuring out where we stood with each other, what kind of relationship we were forming.  I’m glad we finally fell into place.  And now we’re this walking manic episode.  We feed off of each other in an interesting way.

Oh god, I always think about abstaining from coffee and wine and mostly I never do.  I love both of them so much and like so many other sick fucks out there, we try to push away things that we love.

We met to go over writing and then I was off to France for six weeks.  My family and I scored this sick house swap with a groovy French family, two artists, a choreographer and a writer and their kids.  We got their flat in Paris and an old family country home in Provence and they got our Portland bungalow and our beach cabin.  Both families were beyond stoked at the arrangement.  I thought that I would sit in cafes and write all day like I do here in Portland, but I was ashamed to bring my laptop into those beautiful environments, so I mostly journaled about the dead writers who were buried in the cemetery near the Paris flat, it is called Pere Lachaise.  Jim Morrison is there. Edith Piaf is there. I felt very connected and obsessed with that cemetery and it was literally right up the street from this flat where we were staying.  The writer who I felt most drawn to was Proust, but ironically I could never find him.  I think you thought it was funny because I said he was hiding from me, which he probably was.

CC: When the frenchies left your house, you told me I could stay there if I needed “somewhere to hang my hat”. You left the key on the slab of wood outside. 

I was embarrassed I forgot my wallet. I’d taken some strong melatonin the night before and was totally out of it.  

Funny, I felt like we were pretty comfortable at first, but I definitely didn’t realize how close we’d become so quickly. It was my first time making a friend I felt so aligned with artistically about movies and writing. Also seems like our chemicals are similar—-when we were in San Francisco together we passed out at 1030pm and both popped awake at 645am, ha. When people in LA refer to someone as, “my writing partner” I always think that’s like us, even though we aren’t writing anything together. 

Anyway, when you came over after we’d first met and we drank rosè and smoked some weed and watched GIRLS (which was kind of new at the time) and died laughing I feel like we secured our friendship. 

Actually, the first time we had coffee was at Ristretto, not Crema. All of my belongings were in Cheryl’s car and you and I were both wearing brown and sat outside. You told me me writers write because they didn’t feel seen as kids. At the time I thought that was insane but now I totally get it.

 

FB: I totally believe that artists make art to be seen. So many of us are fucked up from difficult childhoods or some kind of violence or trauma or school or shitty sex or addiction or just having to live in this challenging society, who knows.  I would imagine there are some artists who clearly want or need to be seen, they crave the attention because they didn’t get it elsewhere, but some of us want to share our pain with anyone who might care to listen.

You did have all your shit in Cheryl’s car.  I don’t know how you lived like that when you lived here; you were so untethered, a lost dog.  I will never forget when we were in my little counseling office pretending to work on a screenplay and you were so confused about leaving and I was like, I’ll bust out the I-Ching!  We had no idea how to use it, we just opened it to a page and read some random shit and I said, Yeah, you gotta get out of here.  We pretended I was some wise sage.

CC: I was totally a lost and feral dog when you met me. When we sat for coffee and I started talking you interrupted me and said—-Are you in therapy? 

We were good at pretending. Sometimes pretending is a helpful tool to get through life I guess. I would love to know how to use the I-Ching but it seems so complicated. 

What do you have against patè?

FB: I think it’s vile.  Mayo is worse.  Don’t get me started.

CC:  Okay I won’t. Why do you think we are both so into Frances Ha and Squid and The Whale???

FB: Because I was once a Frances Ha and you are kinda still a Frances Ha and we are both adult children of divorce (is that a real term???) and Noah Baumbach kills.  We both pretty much love the same scenes in those films.  We love when Frank in Squid drinks the beer and that 80’s music is playing and Walt goes, Who are you?  We constantly feed off of that line, saying to each other, Who am I?

CC: It’s a real term, I only learned it this past week and now am seeing it everywhere. 

Frances Ha is a total type of woman, the film felt like the first time I saw myself portrayed in a movie, it was so satisfying. Every single scene is golden. 

One of the funniest things we did was go to the Scenes From A Marriage play in the East Village and remember we couldn’t stop laughing, at really serious parts. And while walking to the play you told me it was something crazy like four hours long. And you were like, “Let’s not eat” like Parker Posey in that episode of Louie. “Let’s not eat, it’ll sharpen our minds.”

 FB: Dude, that was an insane evening.  I was staying down the Jersey Shore in Asbury Park with my husband and kid and I took the train into the city to hang with you and to see that show.  We met up in Union Square, as you do, and you were in that stupid budget department store, god I despise those places, they give me anxiety.  You were about to go on book tour and you were looking for cheap clothes.  You came up the elevator and then it felt like we pressed fast-forward on the cassette player for the next five hours.  That play was so mental.  I think we were church-laughing because it was so intense and emotional and it definitely triggered some old shit in us, so we were laughing because of the insanity of it all.  After that play, we were all fired up, talking about book deals and then we were laughing about how Mike Birbiglia talked about that time that he went to NYC to “get a deal” and then we went to the No.6 store and you dropped serious coin on the same exact pair of clog boots that I was wearing.  There was this moment when I had on my boots and you were trying on your pair and we were standing in one of those weird three-way mirrors and something about our reflection with those same pricey boots on made me laugh.  Who are we?  You said you felt European in them.  Then we had a killer pizza at Little Frankies and some wine and then we got all buzzed and took the train to Williamsburg because you had to pick up some shitty broke ass duffel bag at your friends fancy doorman building.  I was so happy to be there in that strange building, I only hung out in Williamsburg when it was grubby and I love posh shit.  We stopped by to say hi to your friend but she hovered in the doorway in a pair of those draw-string pajama pants and a tank and said that she was eating pot brownies and watching Parks and Rec with her boyfriend.  It was kinda awk and then I broke into the gym downstairs because I had to pee bad and I knew there would be a bathroom down there and I said, I knew there would be a bathroom here because I am a survivor.  What a dick.  And then you picked up your sorry duffel bag from the doorman and I was like, Dude, you need a new bag.  The zipper was busted and the shit was some garbage pink color.  I think you said you loved the bag.

CC: Those bitches in the store did not think I was going to buy the boots. I’m so glad I did. Listen, it was a Victoria’s Secret duffel bag, I’ve no idea where it came from. I have to admit it used to make me feel like I was wealthy cause I can’t actually afford Victoria’s Secret, it’s for rich people. I still have it!

You knew there’d be a bathroom but I was more stoked on the candy bowl. I grabbed a handful and after we parted ways at Penn Station you texted me: You grabbed that candy like a junkie. 

Two weeks ago, like Mike Birbiglia, I went to NYC to get a deal, and didn’t get one, which makes me feel close to him. 

How do you think your practicing therapy background informs your nonfiction writing???

FB: Well as you know, I closed my practice to write my book.  It’s a long ass story and I have so much to say about this, but I feel that there are so many parallels between psychotherapy and creative nonfiction.  Most of us are writing through our traumas, some from our traumas, some making art out of our traumas.  I think because I trained to be a shrink, I have opened myself up to see things at a deeper yet contained level, if that makes any sense.  I am probably not making any sense.

CC: Yeah once you said someone was writing from “inside their trauma” as opposed to from outside of it. I think about that a lot when I read my students’ essays. 

What nonfiction books do you think we’re your biggest inspirations for writing both your essay collection and memoir?

FB: You know how much I love Francisco Goldman’s, Say Her Name. Meghan O’Rourkes, The Long Goodbye was huge for me, because of the motherloss and making sense of grief.  Paul Auster’s, The Invention of Solitude has been really important to me too. You know how obsessed we both are with Jonathan Ames’ essays.  You know how we both love a good dark horse memoir, the deepest and the darkest and the most human and the most humble at the core.  I also think Louie CK fuels my writing life in an interesting way, because he is genius at making funny out of the dark.

CC: I remember one summer we both read Winter by Paul Auster that one is so good.  Louie CK’s stand-up often times sounds like personal essays. He’s a huge inspiration for me too. 

I called you last week on the verge of tears cause it was cloudy outside and I was feeling shame about writing nonfiction.  Do you ever feel that way about nonfiction?  I didn’t feel that way when I was younger but I do now.

FB: Well your shit has been way more exposed than mine and you definitely expose a lot of things that most people are shameful about:  sex and drugs.  We often talk about certain scenes in your work that you feel the most shameful about and I always share which scenes I would think you would be the most shameful about.  It seems that you are mostly ashamed because your parents will read them and that is embarrassing for anybody.  I am at a different place in life.  I have a husband and a kid and my mom is dead and my dad is an older guy and lives in Jersey and he is not enmeshed in my inner world.  Your folks are still part of your life in so many ways, you live near them, you depend on them to certain degrees still.  You worry about them worrying about you and I am more emancipated.  I have my husband to worry about and I honestly don’t give a shit what he thinks because he knows better than to give me shit.  If my books do get published, god help me, then I have a lot to worry about, so I am sure my time will come.  But I have a good therapist and I will lean on her like a motherfucker.  It will probably be me calling you crying like a jackass on a cloudy day.

But I do agree, as you get older, this shit gets more intense and real.  Frances Ha was not a person yet.  The real shit in life doesn’t hit you until you become a person.  I did horribly embarrassing shameful things when I was younger, who doesn’t?  It’s a right of passage.  Shame is a right of passage.

I remember we were sitting in Cheryl’s kitchen talking about her experiences over the past year or so and you asked her if it’s been hard on her and she said, You know who loves you. You still have your folks who have been super supportive and I have my husband and my kid and the two of us have each other.  We are comrades.  This work is vulnerable and hard as shit and you gotta lean on people who genuinely support and care about you and you need to stay away from people who want shit from you and in the end, it’s about the desire to make the art so some fool out there will connect with in on a deep level and not feel so shitty on a cloudy-ass day.

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