Installment #7: The Art VS. The Artist

Installment 7: Chloe & Fran discuss The Art versus The Artist, plus pubes!

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Frances Badalamenti: This past weekend, I was in the company of someone whose art I admire a shit-ton.  Like I am a huge fucking fan of this person’s work.  He also happens to be pretty damn famous right now.  The whole experience was quite jarring and for the past two days, I have been having a hard time parsing out what I actually feel about this person as a live human and how those thoughts have affected my feelings about the work that he generates.

The thing is, his craft is so painfully comingled with his personal life, which makes it all so fucking confusing.

You and I have talked a lot about this issue at length, mostly how it relates back to creative nonfiction as a genre.  As CNF writers, we tend to comingle the shit out of pretty much everything we do.

We have talked about Lena Dunham and Cheryl Strayed and Lidia Yuknavich and Jonathan Ames and how they differ from say Joan Didion or Maggie Nelson or Sarah Manguso and Heidi Julavits.  Some writers are fully present on the page, in the sense that you actually believe that you get to know them.  But do you really, really get to know them?  It’s so easy to believe that you do and what I am coming to terms with is the fact that even though it’s crazy hard, the only real way to admire someone’s work is to mentally separate the art from the artist, even in our tiny little world of creative nonfiction.

It seems as if something you’ve struggled with in your writing life is how people try to befriend you based on your work.  You can be very present on the page and this is your superpower, but I think it has also caused you a lot of existential struggle.  In the past, there have been instances where you have let people into your personal life who have wanted to be close to you based on your writing.  This has backfired.

What can you say about this?   As the result, do you feel the need to be more guarded now and less hyper-personal in your work?

Chloe Caldwell: Actually, yes. I feel a lot more blocked and paranoid about my new essay collection than I did with LGLA and that breaks my heart a little bit. I didn’t ever think of people reading LGLA because I did not have an audience. That’s why that book is the glorious mess that it is.

I’ve attracted a lot of people with my writing, that is totally true. The complicated thing is, some of these people have turned in to my best friends. I met you through writing. I met Cheryl and Lidia through my writing and Elizabeth and Chelsea and Karina.

And yeah–Julavits, Manguso, Maggie, they all have a guarded voice about them, whereas I do not. People don’t finish Sarah Manguso books and explain, “I have to be friends with her!” like they do with Cheryl and Lena. 

I think more positive things have come from my writing than negative, especially now that I’m learning how to field the complications.

For better or for worse, you’re right, that is my superpower. The questions you’re asking makes my head spin because I’m in the thick of it every day. Sometimes readers don’t know if they like my book or ME. I truly think if my first book had been a collection of fiction, short stories, or a novel, my experience would have been profoundly different.

I liked what Maggie Nelson said when I interviewed her. She said, “I don’t worry about people thinking they know me because they don’t. I don’t mean that to sound flip, they just literally don’t.”

It’s true. When I sit down and write my books I am crafting nonfiction. I am method acting. Sure, my voice comes through. Sure, these are real things that happened to me. But I am not the books. Sometimes when I flip through LGLA and WOMEN, I am so impressed or confused by them—I wrote those? I think to myself. Or, “I wrote that? I didn’t even know I thought that!”

It is a separation of myself rather than an extension I would say. That’s why I’m able to do it.

But it’s hard work for me to separate who is writing to me because they are a fan and who wants to be a friend and who wants to grab some of my soul or whatever. There are a lot of soul suckers out there. I do a lot of work with it in therapy. I don’t want to say that much more here because I’m writing about this in my new book.

People feel strongly about actors and comedians because they SEE them/WATCH them all the time, but people feel strongly about writers because they’ve connected with them on a cereal level.

FB: I am willing to say that this person that I met is a podcaster.  When I went to listen to his newest post yesterday, it didn’t have the same magical effect on me as it would have had a week ago.  Something is tainted, distilled, watered down.  I witnessed this person jump outside of the art, like a character jumping off the page or a still life melon bouncing off of the canvas and smashing to bits on the floor.  There was just so much that I wanted to say to him and because I didn’t get the chance, I think I feel slighted and horrified.  It was like seeing a grade school teacher buying tampons or finding a pube on your therapist’s toilet bowl…..

Last winter, you got very close to spending an intimate weekend with someone whose art you admire greatly, not unlike I way I feel about the person who I met recently.  There was a point that I was even about to share that experience with you.  We were such hungry ghosts, dying for the opportunity to witness this super-human in live flesh, anxious to be sprinkled with some magic famous fairy dust.

To be honest, I am relieved that it never came to fruition.  Do you still wish that weekend happened or are you also relieved?  If it did happen, what do you wish we all did together?

CC: Was it Brad Listi? Lol, JK, I know who it was.

Haha, a pube on a therapist’s bowl. Right, I had plans to have a sleepover with someone who had been one of my art-driving forces for many years. I don’t know! I was totally relieved when she canceled. The whole thing was really fucked up. The fact that it was so stressful for me was a bad sign–like I wasn’t ready. The fact that you were going to fly across the country to support me with this says a lot. We were both flipping out. You got it on a level a lot of my friends didn’t. They didn’t see why I was freaking. Kinda like when we talked on the phone the other day we learned that we both choke up during big fame moments: Like when an artist we love wins a golden globe or a comedian we love walks live on stage.

I have lots of issues about money so that was my main thing about hanging out with this person. It was a huge mental hurdle for me and I couldn’t quite get over it. At the time I had nothing, not a hundred dollars, nothing, so while this caused me a great amount of burden, it caused her nothing. Also didn’t I do to her what people do to me? I wanted to hang out with her because of what she makes. Since she makes stuff i relate to SO DEEPLY, I imagined we would be the best of friends. This Is not necessarily the case.

Like, here’s one of my reviews on Goodreads:

I wish I could shelve this book as “friend-lit” because Chloe Caldwell, I would like us to be friends, or we could be acquaintances via email, knowing we have like-hearted souls in the cities we live in. You wouldn’t have to hide the 7-11 pizzas in your purse from me, and I would totally join you for Wendy’s 99-cent chicken nuggets and fries, though I prefer McDonald’s.

So what I used to do, was befriend everyone who read my book. I did this with LGLA because my readership was so small. It was fun for me. An easy way to meet people who already liked me so I didn’t have to charm them or have small talk with them since they’d read so much about my life. 

I went to coffee with these people always treated me as “special”. It was totally unhealthy! I did this in Portland, never in New York. I just watched the Kurt Cobain doc and he says something like, “I fluctuate back and forth between wanting to take advantage of my position and quitting. In my own way, I did sort of take advantage of my position, if that makes sense.

Cheryl says the main thing people say to her is, “We are exactly the same person but you don’t know it yet.” Creepy!

But you know, I think it just comes with the territory and when you have that superpower you have to use it but be aware of the consequences.

I’m sorry that happened to you with the podcaster. Isn’t there a quote like “Don’t meet your heroes” or something?

In Brooklyn the other night, a couple of my girlfriends who read these installments were like, “I want to meet Fran.” A few weeks ago Karina said, “Read your convo with Fran. Gotta be friends with her!” So, if you leave a pube on the toilet, they might be disappointed by you, hahahahahah.

FB: I wouldn’t ever leave a pube on the toilet because my shit is shaved raw.  JK, I am Italian and pretty much made of a big pile of pubes, plus like a pube, I am pretty much what you would expect – coarse and dark and short and at certain times, in your face.

Thanks for reading! ❤

P.S. Read Fran’s new pieces here and get the audio edition of Chloe’s WOMEN on Audible!


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