Who Are We?
Frances Badalamenti: I really enjoyed last week’s conversation. It seemed to bring a lot of light to an otherwise anxiety-ridden time for us both, which I’ll get to in a bit.
I asked a few people what they thought of our post and a few of them said we had a sweet friendship and that it was a fun read. One friend said that she got distracted by our poor copy-editing, but she lives in Amsterdam where I guess people don’t make mistakes. Another friend said all the cussing was cathartic to read. That made me super stoked because I’ve been called out many times for over-using foul language in my writing, something that makes me bristle. I’ve often wondered if it’s because I am a lady and ladies aren’t supposed to fuck away but it’s okay for Junot Diaz because he’s a hetero-bro. I love Junot Diaz (Jersey in the house!) to bits, but it bums me out that he can swear his ass off and I can’t.
Is there anything that you’ve been called out for in your writing that drives you mad? You’re writing can be sexually charged, do you ever feel that you shouldn’t be transparent about your sexcapades because you are a lady? Do you ever hold back scenes that you otherwise wouldn’t if you were Junot Diaz?
Chloe Caldwell: I have a good reason (in my opinion) for not copy-editing. I’ve never told anyone this, but the reason I don’t re-read my emails or website posts (Or essays, lol) is because if I linger on my own words that I’ve written motivated by emotion, I become embarrassed, and then won’t want to publish the essay/the blog post/send the email because I’m so over myself. So I stream of consciousness it, like Kerouac. I’m exactly like Kerouac, hehe jk.
Similar to you, when I was first going to writing classes in NYC, I had a few women be v annoyed and offended by my use of “fucking”. This woman couldn’t stand how much I used it. “But that’s how I talk,” I’d tell her. You know, I was super into Bukowski at the time, too…so I was all “He came over to fuck” “we fucked” “fuck that” etc…and maybe she was right and I overused it. But…that’s how we (some of us?) talk. It’s funny how “fuck” is still so shocking at times. I remember opening a Kathy Acker book and the first line was, “I’m 26 and like to fuck” and I thought it was awesome.
Well, I’ve been a little annoyed lately by being called name-droppy if I mention Cheryl…which sucks, because….she’s a big part of my life and the fact that she got famous means I can’t say her name without people thinking I’m an asshole…which is total bullshit. Before she was who she is now, I wrote this essay and this essay about her, and no one cared. But I’m bitter these days, so…
Even Cheryl said, “Is it name-droppy because it’s MY name?” Yup. I talk a lot about Cheryl in general because she was a huge person for me when I started writing, she was one of the first people reading and supporting my essays before anyone else did and as you know I’m close with her kids and stuff.
As for sex, I don’t know. When I was writing Women, I think I tried to hold back a little in the sex scenes and my editor drew them out of me. I felt embarrassed. And when the book got press in PLAYBOY and was recently on a list of erotica books, I feel a little misunderstood. Like, if you write a sex scene and you’re a woman, you wrote erotica??? Does Junot Diaz write erotica since he writes sex scenes?
FB: I just realized that I had my ear buds in but hadn’t put on any music. Freak. I put on Sufjan Steven’s newest album Carrie & Lowell, which I have been listening to incessantly while writing for the past month or so. The song, No Shade in The Shadow of the Cross is mental, I play it over and over and over and over. As you know, I named my memoir after the Cat Power song, I Don’t Blame You, because I kept it on repeat while writing that book. I heard her say in an interview that the song is about Kurt Cobain, which kills me. I saw her perform in the early nineties at a club where I worked at the time. She was just starting out and my coworkers and I were blown away, so I feel this deep connection because that was such a special time for me. I tend to get super emotional about music in general and we have talked before about how music informs our writing lives.
You are working on a coming of age essay pretty much about how music influenced your teen years. Why do you think music was so important to you back then? Both of our fathers are musicians and long-time music teachers, which I feel is so rad. Do you think because we both grew up around music and musicians in our homes that writing and music have become this symbiotic thing?
What was the Women theme song or soundtrack?
CC: I feel like you and I don’t talk about music enough, actually. When we met we were nuts over the same books and movies and music fell to the back burner. I think I was worried you didn’t like good music or something. I was wrong.
I think of you every time I hear “I Don’t Blame You.” Remember I went to see Cat Power live when I was dating that asshole guy who I thought was nice at first and I called you when she played that song.
When I was writing Women, I listened to a lot of Lykke Li and Beach House. I’d gotten into Beach House when I lived in Portland in that Falcon art apartment. My roommate had one of those Urban Outfitters record players and played Beach House a bunch. I also listened to the song “Pink Rabbits” by The National on repeat. When I write, I can listen to the same song all day for six hours. Right now that song is “You can have it all” by Yo La Tengo.
Also right now I’m super into Cat Power’s album Sun. I think it’s my favorite of hers, so badass and raw–I guess that’s back when she was still drinking.
FB: When I met up with you in San Francisco a few months ago, you had arrived the day before and ended up having a one-night stand. You were freaked out and rubbed raw. That episode pretty much became fodder and psychoanalysis for a lot of our dialogue as we walked up and down many a steep hill.
It was gorgeous out, so warm and sunny, a much-needed reprieve from cold-ass upstate New York (you) and soaking wet Portland (me). At one point, as we were walking away from Mission Delores Park where we had thick smoothies and a nip of an edible chocolate, you said that you finally realized why you had been carrying around an anxiety ball all day. It was the unbearable heaviness of that sleepless night of wine-drinking and finger-banging. You were thinking it was a mistake. I remembered those nights all too well and could feel your pain. But then you took a deep breath and seemed to release a lot of tension. You found some insight. I loved the idea of an anxiety ball, that term is so perfect and contained because at any point you can throw the ball away as long as you know that you are holding it.
CC: No comment. ; ) Ugh last night I had anxiety ball and dealt with it by eating a mozzarella ball in it’s entirety.
FB: The past few months have been a time of major anxiety for the two of us because we are both in the process of having our books considered for publication. You recently went to NYC and got your ass sniffed by a gaggle of top editors. That’s a big ass anxiety ball. Part of me wished I were you and part of me was thankful that I wasn’t. At the end of it all, you seemed president-tired.
What do you feel like sharing about this experience?
Jesus, I sound like such a shrink…..
CC: It definitely didn’t make me feel v good. Three years ago, if I knew I was going to be going on those meetings, I would have jumped for joy–but when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t really enjoy certain things, you know? It’s unfortunate. At one point, in between my meeting with an editor from Henry Holt, and an editor from CoffeeHouse, I went to H&M and bought a whole new outfit, and changed in the cafe bathroom. I was out of my head a little. Fearful, anxious, neurotic. For someone like me, who is “epically financially struggling” it’s hard to talk to people who have financial power over me, if that makes sense.
I was kidding a few days ago when I tweeted “I used to think writing was fun” but only half kidding. I had literal ‘fun’ while writing LGLA and WOMEN. I could afford to be poor since I was younger. I could afford to live at home. I can’t anymore. It’s turned into something I do for money and it’s really different and kind of a bummer. The submission of my new manuscript has been a real challenge in patience, surrender, and humility, that’s for sure.
I’m at a pivotal time in my life in decision making, it seems. I started publishing online around age 23, and published my first book at 26. I could afford to be poor. I could afford to publish the way I want to. I could afford to live at home. I can’t anymore. So I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to make a living.
You texted me yesterday, “We’ve both been going through existential crises.”
It’s hard, because when our books are rejected, it’s like our life/hearts have been rejected, you know.
FB: I’ve been meaning to ask you what you thought of The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.
I poured over it; couldn’t get enough, but I was wondering if it was relatable for you since she is a married woman with kids in her forties and is certainly not a writer who still struggles financially.
CC: It took me a minute to get into it. It was so hyped, and I get insane expectations—for books, for people, for life, and that’s an issue for me. I bought the book in NYC at McNally Jackson at an event. Heidi was interviewing Christopher Bollen. Bought the book, and for the first time in my nonfiction life, I was bored. I was like—why are you telling me this? Which is something I almost never think when I read nonfiction.
But then I got totally charmed by the way her brain works and the anecdotes she shared, I couldn’t put it down. I especially love the stuff about competing with her husband in writing, I wonder if I’d be that way if married to or dating a successful writer. I didn’t think much about her financial situation really.
I’m still finishing it though. I’m a slow reader These days because I’ve been working on my own shit, and teaching my class for Litreactor.com. 19 students, 19 personal essays a week for 3 weeks to critique. So each night I crawled into bed I’d read some of her stuff. My class ended yesterday so now I can do more pleasure reading.
This morning I took a walk in the woods and was listening to the BookWorm podcast with David Shields and Caleb Powell. They were talking about the book they did together, which is an argument, titled, I Think You’re Totally Wrong. And David Shields said that Caleb always wanted to be an artist but over committed to life, and David himself always wanted a life but he overcommitted to art. What do you think about that?
FB: Wow, that’s a really interesting concept. It reminds me so much of my father, who is a long time jazz musician, but worked in the graphic arts by trade and has always gigged on the side. His younger brother is a very prominent composer of music for film who never did anything outside of music. I think so much about those two brothers and their relationships to music/art and the different ways that their choices in life have affected the trajectory of their lives. In a lot of ways, my father overcommitted to life and kept music on the side and my uncle Angelo has possibly overcommitted to art and has maybe kept life on the side. I am not saying that my uncle is an art monster per se, but I often wonder how some legit artists forgo certain aspects of life for the sake of their art. I personally feel that art and life can be one thing, that the two entities can work together if done right.
But in the end, who the fuck knows.