Installment # 13: The Fragile Egos

Chloe & Frances Badalamenti talk about The Museum of Natural History, worrying about each other, and other shit. These bitches are all over the place.

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CC: It’s Friday night and I’m home. You returned from your low-res MFA program this past Sunday where you were for 10 days, and I handed my book in on the same Sunday. We always seem aligned in funny ways.

I was worried about you and your program a little, because I know how intense writers isolated together can be. But you were stoked and it sounded rad as shit. I’m sort of jealous.

What’s something you learned about ‘writing’ while you were there? Like, if you had a gun to your head, what are three things you learned? Since I’m teaching lately, I’m so interested in writing teachers do, since writing is so elusive. In fact, I’ve already stolen the idea about giving students individual reading lists and I am gonna do that at my next workshop in Hudson. Which book are you most excited about on the list your mentor gave you?

FB: My biggest takeaway from living in the woods with a gaggle of writers is that we are so similar, like our personalities are so aligned in regards to how we see the world and what makes us tick.  I have to say, this does not seem true regarding the poets and I am not saying that to be judgmental or sounding like we are better than them.  I mean — there is just something fundamentally different about the poet personality that I had not been aware of previous to this residency and to be honest, I don’t even know how to explain what I feel is different.  Not yet.  Nonetheless, I am intrigued.  I also think there are these major differences in worldview between those who mostly write fiction versus those who mostly write nonfiction.  I really got a kick out of some of the dude fiction writers, they reminded me so much of the dudes that I hung hard with in high school.  It was really comforting.  But overall, the residency was challenging as fuck and it literally took me four days to recover both emotionally and physically.    

If I had a gun to my head (WTF?), three things that I learned: I am for sure a fucking writer no matter how much I resist, art-making is not for the faint at heart and ego is a real thing.

The book that I am most stoked on is The Essential Ellen Willis.  Willis was a long-time rock critic (New Yorker, Village Voice).  And I’ve been really into the idea of writing about music and weaving personal narrative with some historical bits around music, mostly around my own coming-of-age in the 90’s and working at a killer indie music venue.  You and I have spoken at length about our love of music but how it is this love relationship that is formed from a distance, as we are not practicing musicians ourselves.  Both of our fathers are lifelong musicians and so we grew up around music and we are very obsessed with music and it definitely affects our writing indirectly.       

But I have a big stack of books to read and that stokes me out, mainly because they are not books that I would generally read.  You should definitely give your students books you think they should read because again, they are probably books that they would not have chosen otherwise.

I am also going to read Proust.  

I want to hear more about how you feel about sending off your book.  This is the first book of yours that I have really seen a progression of from cover to cover.  I mean, I feel pretty close to Women, but this new book I feel more of a sisterly kinship with and I worried so much about you and this book, kind of how you worried when I went off to residency.  Fuck.  So yeah, what did it really feel like to send off this latest version to your editors?

CC: I shouldn’t have said that gun to your head thing, it’s a fucked up expression. I can’t believe you’re going to read Proust, you sound like Frances Ha right now. It was funny when we spoke on the phone last week and you kept dropping the bomb, “Prose Poem.”

Yeah last February you and I were in San Francisco, sitting at the waterfront eating yogurt and drinking Blue Bottle coffee and verbally sketching out my collection. We came up with a theme of female friendship and mentors, because I was writing that essay about Maggie Estep and her death and our friendship and I think I told you I wanted to write an essay about not having a sister and my relationship with CS’s daughter which I ended up doing.

And now the collection is broken into 3 parts like we talked about.  I think you’ve read the FIRST version of almost ALL of the essays besides the ones I wrote a few years ago. Thank you. This is only one of the many reasons I’ve dedicated the book to you.

In January the book will go through a few rounds of copyediting, in Feb, proofreading, and in May, galleys. The final proofread is due in late June, and the book will be released in November. I am excited to see how it will be received. Turning it in has opened my brain back up and I don’t have to think in such tunnel vision anymore. I’m going to write for fun (for fun! imagine?) and not worry about a next book or anything like that. I want to enjoy writing without the pressure, the way I used to. I feel ten pounds lighter and I mean that literally. 

I love the music idea so much; I’m wondering how that Jessica Hopper book you read was?

I do agree that fiction writers move through the world differently than non, and we’ve talked about this at length. For example, the anxiety of releasing a personal essay collection is very different than, say, a novel or short story collection. It’s very exposing. Like Mary Karr said on Bookworm the other day, there are psychological consequences.

You’re working on a new book that I love—are you thinking of fictionalizing it, sort of like Department of Speculation or do you think of it as a memoir? If you weren’t a writer, what kind of artistic expression do you think you’d have? Like, were you ever into drawing or any visual art or crafts? We’ve never talked about this–do you enjoy crafting? I hate it.

What are you looking forward to doing in NYC when you come in December?

FB:  I feel tightness in my chest around the fact that your new book will not be released for another year, as if things will be so different and we will be these different people in a full year, living in some far-flung location like France or Indonesia, almost forgetting that you wrote that book of essays.  But we will probably be the same people doing the same thing, neuroticizing about food choices and acupuncture and tinctures.  And then the book will come out and we will have something to focus on other than figuring out if someone is a narcissist or not.  

Planning and organizing your book in the very early stages was so much fun my heart starts racing thinking about it. I get really excited about talking about other people’s writing and discussing over-arching themes and outlining and deciphering how a book will be organized.   Um, if I had my shit together and had an inkling of who I was as a person, I probably should have been a book editor back in the day instead of working in corporate advertising — being the band manager for The Fragile Egos.

Speaking of bands, that Jessica Hopper book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, kills.  I think you would dig it.  It’s music criticism for sure, but her writing is way more casual and relatable than say Richard Hell.  I mean, she has gone to a shit-ton of shows and knows how to write about it in a way that makes you feel like you were there too.  I’ll send it to you in our next batch of postal book-swapping…..  

And to answer your question about what artistic expressions I have other than writing, dude I am sooooo Miranda July, I am into so much shit.  No really, just kidding — I dunno, I have always been super creative and artsy, but I never had any confidence in myself.  I dabbled with just about everything:  photography, drawing, film-making, ceramics, music……and the only thing I found my way back to was writing.  Writing has been constant.  But never crafting.  This girl ain’t crafty.  I don’t have the patience.  John is the crafty one around here — he makes the Halloween costumes.  I buy the shit and plan out the ideas.

Not sure what the book I am working on is going to turn out to be — it is kind of abstract right now to be honest, but I am glad you have been digging it, that helps in so many ways.  But I do picture it being 120pp for some reason, which a friend pointed out is the length of a screenplay.

But who fucking knows.  It is a painful book to write.  It hurts my stomach.  

Yup, NYC in December.  Hang with you for sure.  See family and friends.  Eat at Angelica Kitchen.  Go to the Russian Baths.  Catch a couple of films.  Take the kid to The Museum of Natural History – you should come with us!   

CC: I know what you mean about a year away–in my sort-of-foreword opening essay (you read first draft) I acknowledge and explain my thoughts about that notion, and say that some of the sentiments in the following essays are not true anymore. I wrote some of the essays in 2013 so there’s sort of a range of perspective in the book. I think the emotional distance from it will be good.

Museums can be hit or miss with me and I’m not great company at them, I get tired and depressed in them, but I will come cause I wanna hang and because of Squid & The Whale.

I ask about your book because I just remembered something I heard Lidia Yuknavitch say on an interview. She was being asked about her book DORA: A Headcase, and she goes, “See, after I wrote my memoir, I needed to have fun.” Makes sense, right?

I didn’t get it then, but I do now. Her memoir must have been fucking grueling to write and then she needed to work on fiction, and have fun. I remember when you sent me your essay The Light (I think?) a few years ago, and in the subject line, you wrote AHHHHHHHHHHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGGH. Because it was such dark and difficult content.

My last Q: The other day I read in Sallie Tisdale’s essay collection VIOLATION that the reason some people are so attached and anal about remembering dates and little facts, the way I am, it’s cause they came from chaotic childhoods! I’d never heard that before, what about you?

You’d be a great manager for The Fragile Egos. We should write a screenplay with that name.

FB:  Dude, I am totally dragging you to The Museum of Natural History just to witness you getting depressed and fatigued in front of those weird-ass dioramas.  That will be our album cover photo shoot.

I have not heard that Sallie Tisdale comment specifically, but I totally get it…..and in therapy parlance, it is called being hyper vigilant.  I am super hyper vigilant and it is so exhausting but I think it has allowed me to have such a crazy ability to remember details.      




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