Chloe and Frances Badalamenti discuss writing, escapism, milky drinks, and Friends.
Fran Badalamenti: It’s good to start this conversation; it’s been a while. You’ve been really busy editing your book and going to the city for readings and teaching courses and I’ve been busy beating myself up over the new writing project that I am working on and preparing for my first MFA residency.
It seems that when we both need to be truly comforted at the end of a hard day, like most dumb-ass Americans, we tend to curl up with a movie or a TV show. Last night, we were chatting about how you watch Friends and that I watch The Golden Girls when we need to feel super cozy and safe. Ironically I was listening to an older This American LIfe (episode 226, Dec 6th 2002) the other day on the topic of watching rerun sitcoms for comfort. Like there is something about a sense of comfort in watching old shitty reruns instead of say first runs that are just airing. The woman Ira Glass was talking to said reruns makes her think of a kid laying on a shag rug in a suburban living room and that makes her feel cozy.
As quirky as that is, I totally get it. Like I have these memories of being an adult in my old room at my Dad’s house in Jersey feeling super overwhelmed from spending too much time with family and being stressed and jet lagged by travel and being on eggshells because my stepmother is so OCD but then turning on nighttime cable and finding these reruns of great old shows. I’m on the crappy pullout couch with my kid who also loves old sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Golden Girls and Full House and then I am suddenly overcome with this true sense of warmth and comfort and familiarity that is almost hard to explain. I mean, nothing comforts me more than a good book, but is a different kid of comfort because you still have to use your brain to read whereby when you watch a stupid sitcom you can lay in a pool of drool with your brain on the nightstand.
Is that what you were looking for last night when you said you were gonna watch Friends? Who is your favorite character on Friends? Didn’t whats-his-face have a pet monkey for a while? WTF?
My favorite Golden Girls character was Dorothy, who was played by the late Bea Arthur. Dorothy is hysterical and dry and had such an epic sense of style. God I love those old bitches!
CC: Yeah Ross had a pet monkey with a funny ridiculous name, I forget. To be honest I like Rachel. I really liked her body shape before she got really skinny. I’ve always liked her skin and hair color. If I had to date one of the guys I guess it would be Ross or Chandler, how bout you?? The night I talked to you, I ended up not watching Friends, but Conan O’ Brien. My ultimate escape and comfort though, is Sex & The City. Last night I watched the one where she gets a job as a freelancer at Vogue, and when she gets there her editor rips her to shreds.
Lately I’m working a ton on the last leg of my book and teaching so I give myself some sort of treat at night. I notice I bribe myself with chocolate or wine or a movie if I’ve worked all day. It’s so heady—my essays and my students’ essays, so at night I need to not think. I am obsessed though, with this writer Therese Bohman and her novels are my new great escape. I feel about her how people feel about 50 Shades of Gray, I think. She writes about these small towns in Sweden and her narrator always gets in these fucked up psychological affairs and is generally really misanthropic. I wonder, when I am done with my book edits and teaching less if I will still need such escape at night. You recently said you need a hot milky beverage to comfort yourself like a baby while you write. What else do you comfort yourself with? I was just telling my roommate that sometimes at like 6pm. I’m like, yay, the day is over, I don’t have to look at my book for some hours, I can sleep it off. I get excited to go to bed. And then repeat the same thing tomorrow. Is that depressing?
FB: I think that the pet monkey that Ross had was named Marcel. I didn’t look it up, I swear. I would date Chandler over Ross and then Ross over Joey. Sex and the City is an epic escape, I agree. One of my all time favorite New Year’s Eves I spent alone on a pullout couch at my brother’s old apartment in Jersey City binge-watching old Sex and the City episodes. What I didn’t know is that I was about leave my husband for the guy that became my second husband, so it was this beautiful calm before a crazy storm in my life.
So I do comfort myself with these silly shows and movies that I love like Woody Allen’s Manhattan or like we’re talked about, Lost in Translation. I also weathered a super depressing and difficult time in my life on a lumpy couch in a damp rental cottage on the Oregon coast with old VHS tapes of the amazing British comedy series Absolutely Fabulous. Like we are saying, these things become pure escapism from our lives and from the hard work that we do as writers. Turning to books is wonderful, but like you are saying, sometimes the heady stuff does not fare well during these heavier times and we need to turn to escapist novels that take us to Sweden or Norway or some shit. I binged all of Vendela Vida’s novels over the summer in that exact way.
Yes — when I write, I need to have a hot milky beverage near me. It makes me feel like an insane baby who cannot self-soothe. I also need music, but it has to be a certain kind of music that sets the mood for what I am working on so I often listen to Miles Davis and an assortment of singer-songwriters. Sometimes I simply have to leave the fucking house and calm my nervous system by being around other human people. Although the other day, I was working in a café and someone got their laptop stolen while they were in the bathroom. That has changed my perspective on working in cafes because I pee a lot and can’t imagine dragging all my shit into the bathroom. Fuck.
I don’t think it’s depressing at all that you punch out at 6pm and find relief in not having to look at your work until the following morning. It’s more of a survival mechanism, kind of how I feel about shoving my kid out of the house in the morning so I can unravel and feel like a person again. You take on a lot by publishing the books that you publish and teaching those classes and reading through people’s traumas. Without proper self-care, you would burn the fuck out and become a dick. We made a promise to each other that we wouldn’t become dicks, so do what you gotta do to face the work head-on.
CC: You’re kind of pulling a Maggie Nelson right now (like in The Argonauts) and writing about someone you live with during the day, and then….living with them. is that weird at all? Do you compartmentalize?
FB: Writing in what therapists refer to as the “here and now” has been really fucking challenging in ways that I cannot even describe. I need so much warm milk. It is also very rewarding and a way to make sense of the current state of my life which is something that I have never really done before. I have always lived through shit in a pretty checked out state leaning hard on pot and wine and then I would have to somehow face it all later. Looking at it and dealing with it currently through the writing is very painful because it is very real like a living documentary as opposed to remembering things through the filter of memory or making things up.
Jesus, Who am I?
One more for you — What part of the writing process do you think has been the most painful?
CC: You are smart.
The most painful part of nonfiction, I’d say isn’t the beginning or end of works. The beginning and end are exciting. But the middle hurts. It’s where the hardest work is being done, and what makes it even more painful is that there is no one to really share it with at the point–it’s the point when it’s still so raw that it’s not ready for feedback from even friend’s or your first reader or editor yet. It’s isolating, but also like a delicious secret you have with yourself. No one is making you do it. I don’t mean the literal middle part of the essay, I mean the middle of the process.
I remember having some bad days while writing Women. I would get angry or hurt, thinking about pain I’ve had in relationships.
Writing some new essays for my new book were depressing at times. It gets to be a bummer—reliving shitty memories. Getting it down is fun, crafting it later, alone, is harder. It’s mind muscle exercise.
Now I’m in the fun part of my book. For example, I mention Cheez-Its in the essay about my parents’ divorce, and my editor Ruth, in her line edits, commented, “Cheez-Its! Remind me to make you my homemade ones sometime.”
I can’t even start to explain how much more fun it is to have Ruth and Emily in my manuscript. It’s so relieving, like, I don’t have to be alone anymore! It is strange to be having this light conversation in the middle of the essay when writing the essay was so dark. When I was in the throes of it, there was no way I could envision someone commenting about home-made Cheez-Its. Her comment was like the light at the end of the tunnel.
Cheez-Its are so fucking good. The ultimate comfort food.