As if our worth is a tank forever draining that we must fill and fill. Sometimes, this is true. But here is a question: Do you want to be a reliable source of literary art or whatever writing you do , or of prompt emails? To sometimes just let things go. The goal cannot be to answer everything, even eventually.
If you set very high expectations, the only place to go is down, into disappointment. What if you become a big deal and start receiving an outrageous number of emails? Are you going to write exclusively emails? I am not a big deal at all, and if I responded to every single thing, I would get hardly any writing done. Stop apologizing for taking a reasonable length of time to respond to an email.
Knock it off! You are ruining it for the rest of us and yourself by reinforcing the increasingly accepted expectation of immediate response. Immediate satisfaction is only found in a small list of things that includes narcotics, haircuts, and tattoos. Let go of the dream, or sacrifice your art and sanity and freedom at its altar.
That male writer never once apologized to me for his unreliable response rate and he need not have. A week seems like a perfectly reasonable length of time to take. Or longer. Curled up on my couch, I sometimes looked up as if someone might catch me in the act of crawling into her mind and living there for a while. It felt like I was being folded into her prose. She delves deeper into the clouded waters of herself, writing about her childhood living in a small coastal town, and plaiting two passages of her own: meeting her biological father and his family, and an obsessive love affair that becomes as combustive as any addiction.
Here is a work that is both poetic and narrative, compassionate, raw and original. Intellectual, erotic, and lyrical, this book arrives at emotional truths that startle and dazzle.
Febos spares no one. And who would want to be spared such ravishing? Febos is a strikingly talented writer who pushes at the boundaries of her form and shows us just how amazing and expansive it can be. By teasing apart all those ideas, all those parts of me, I was able to see how they are connected—to each other, to other people, and to a much broader history.
I cannot erase or simplify any of it, and thank god I no longer want to. There seems to be a hunger and place for smart, contextualizing essays like yours. What do you think of contemporary nonfiction, and who are you reading these days? Hang on. I think contemporary nonfiction is evolving in a way that mimics the dynamic I just described, about identity.
It, too, is a beautiful mongrel. It changes to accommodate the complexity of human life that we try to name in writing. If the blueprint of our history is encoded in us, then so is our blueprint encoded in the art that we produce.
But it becomes real. The same way that we invented race, and then the power we gave that definition became real. Guernica: The book is an attempt to reconcile your identity—your sexuality, your Puerto Rican father, your indigenous heritage, and the family and historical structures that delivered these to you.
What is that process like for you, at work and in your private life? Melissa Febos: I have always had a kind of split focus when it came to my identity, between myself as I exist in the world and to others and the way I existed to myself.
In the book, I describe being frequently asked, What are you? I never had a good answer for this. At least, I never had a single answer, and I thought the two were synonymous. I was adopted so young and loved so well that I would often forget that he and I were not biologically related. On the other hand, I had this birth father out there—a man to whom I was related by blood, but little else. I knew that he was an addict and that he had Native blood. So, publicly, I felt made up of shards. I was not one thing, so I was nothing.
Inside myself, however, I was entirely whole. These pieces were inextricable from each other. Abandon Me is largely about the process of bringing that complete self into the world.
I had to break myself apart in love to get there. I had to go find my birth father. The genre of victimhood is already so crowded. So gauche. Later that day, while serving on a panel of memoirists, I polled the audience—a room packed with a few hundred readers and writers.
To puff an ego already inflated past safety? It is the reason that I did not want to write a memoir. Then I took a nonfiction craft class for which we were asked to write a short memoir. Though the content of my novel drew heavily from my own experience, I had never written any kind of nonfiction.
The twenty-page essay I drafted about my years as a professional dominatrix was the most urgent thing I had ever written. When he read it, my professor insisted that I drop whatever I was working on and write a memoir. I cringed. Who was I, a twenty-six-year-old woman, a former junkie and sex worker, to presume that strangers should find my life interesting?
I had already learned that there were few more damning presumptions than that of a young woman thinking her own story might be meaningful. Besides, I was writing a Very Important Novel. Do you see how easy it is to poke holes in this logic? So I wrote it. And it was urgent, but not easy. In order to write that book, I had to walk back through my most mystifying choices and excavate events for which I had been numb on the first go-round.
A tally of each time you reach over your depth. You like to be marked. Your mother, though, wails when she drops a blueberry pie from that height, sinks into the gory glory of its mess just before your father leaves port again. Oh, to stripe the floor with your own scalding compote. You stay closed, you hot box, you little teapot. You fill, but never empty. You stay striped. They call it a faggot test. Do you know what a faggot is, or only that you are part boy?
The circle of boys claps when you draw blood. Your best friend flowers your limbs with bruises—indian sunburn, snake bite, monkey bite, her pale knuckles vised into your thigh.
Her fingernails carve you, one time permanently. Only your body flinches. You know the need to engrave things. After baseball practice, still in cleats, when she presses her mouth against your neck under the mildewed blanket in your basement, you are sorry her hot mouth leaves no mark.
These pieces were inextricable from each other. Your job is not to repay the people who acknowledge you by giving them what they want. Tell me about your rape. In the locker room, you perfect the art of changing your clothes under your clothes. So am I. You wake sticky-chested, heart a drum, and listen to him cry.
If I bailed on any friend as often as I bailed on my own work, I probably would no longer have that friend. Abandon Me is largely about the process of bringing that complete self into the world.
At night, you touch each opening, drawing the constellation of your body: Lyra, Libra, Big Dipper, flickering Vega, binary Mizar, you bucket of light, you horse and rider.
Intellectual, erotic, and lyrical, this book arrives at emotional truths that startle and dazzle. Over the course of two months, Febos and I exchanged electronic letters about sacrifice, love, sexual politics, and turning the lived experience into a readable one. I knew she was right. You clench his twitching paws. Your job was to write the thing they read, and you already did that. This sort of admission might make you cringe.
So I wrote it. Interviewers asked only about my experiences and never about my craft.
These pieces were inextricable from each other. Remember this supernova, you black hole, you cosmic shard, your dark matter spilling out. She never meets your first love, a Cape Verdean boy to whom you barely speak. I come from so many things—immigrants, working class people, thinkers and criminals and alcoholics and queers and Catholics and artists.
Febos is voracious in her emotional cravings, but none is stronger than her desire to know and own herself. Who is the judge of this? This book, however, defied my usual processes.
We like things to be singular.