Jené chatted with Bridget recently about authors who have inspired her, weird women, and not conquering anxiety.
How long have you been writing and what's the first thing you remember writing that left a significant impression on you?
As a kid, I was obsessive, pig-headed, passionate, inventive, and convinced I could do better than those garbage See Spot Run samplers they were making us read in school – so basically, I was born a writer. The first story I ever wrote was about unicorns that lived in the clouds and savagely attacked airplanes until all human passengers were killed. I wrote and illustrated all 10 pages, and I bound it myself using cardboard, yellow yarn, and Lisa Frank wrapping paper. I feel like maybe I haven’t changed that much; my vocabulary’s just gotten more impressive, and I use semicolons now.
Oh wow, that’s great. I want to read that story!
Oh, I definitely kept it.
I think it's under my old Girl Scout uniform.
Who are some writers or artists who have inspired or helped inform your work in some way (besides Lisa Frank! also have you’ve seen Nihilsa Frank?)
Oh, Lisa Frank. She gave us 90s kids so much. Nihilisa Frank is one of my favorite things the internet has ever made.
It’s hard for me to not give you a 50-page list of every artist and writer who has meant something to me. I’ll try and be brief.
I didn’t even realize until recently that this is weird, but when I was growing up I read a lot of young adult fiction about the Holocaust. Those books were often narrated by girl protagonists surviving a reality of horror, which, for personal reasons, I found important and necessary, and is a sentence that can also be applied to my work even now. My current reading list isn’t terribly different: I like writers who deal in horror and erotica, and who enact careful intention with their language and construction. I found Shirley Jackson last year for the first time, which is ridiculous because we were made for each other. Kelly Link means a lot to me. Her story “Catskin” kept me from quitting writing, which is not a hyperbolic statement. The poet Aase Berg is another favorite – I bring her book With Deer around with me everywhere. Her work is just so haunting and quietly terrifying in a way I’m always trying to emulate. The Czech New Wave film Daisies is basically how I have felt on the inside since I was 13, so that’s probably splattered all over my work, too. ALSO. (I promise I’ll calm down after this one.) I read Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love two years ago, which is beautiful and insane and sad and grotesque, and also it takes place in Portland, OR (where I grew up), and I kind of feel like part of my mission in life was to read it so that it could chemically alter my brain cells and change me as a person. Which it did. So if you’re looking for that experience, that’s my recommendation.
I'm familiar with these but haven't delved deep enough. Plenty of friends have also recommended them!
Yeah, dude, weird women is where it's at. I'm entrenched in Anais Nin's diaries right now, too. So good.
Probably the weirdest lady book I've read is Wetlands and it was adapted into a movie that I watched on Netflix.
I LOVE THAT MOVIE
The two stories I've read of yours (“Credo” and “Little Animal”) both feature characters who are somewhat misunderstood, or are perceived as outsiders in some way. How does your experience inform a theme like this?
I mean, I was a weird, ugly, neurotic kid who didn’t have much money and was always hiding in the bathroom having panic attacks, so it’s not like my past isn’t at least tangentially related to those two pieces. But I think my real interest lies in the moment when a person feels unsafe (perhaps because they’ve been misunderstood), and what they choose to do with that moment. Both of the children in those two stories you mentioned move from helpless to powerful. Sure, both make choices that have detrimental consequences for the people around them, and I think that’s how real life works: when we first learn to acquire power, we break a lot of shit around us. I like the breaking. I like telling the story of the specificities of what they break, and how they break it.
What do you think are some of the most overused themes in fiction writing? Which themes/concepts/ideas do you wish you’d see explored more often in fiction?
I get more irritated by credit being ascribed to the same people over and over again when there are so many other incredible writers who get little attention for the work they’re doing, for whatever reason – their age, their gender, their race, their nationality. I just want more people to read small presses, and to cultivate wider reading tendencies. I think a lot of people do, which is great, and I would also like that number to triple.
What do you hope people will take away from your work?
What’s the word for that feeling you get when you see something small in the road, and you’re grossed out and also kind of laughing, and then you take a second look and you feel like its eye reminds you of someone and suddenly the whole thing breaks your heart? I hope people get that word from my work.
How do you conquer self-doubt? What’s your advice to other writers trying to overcome the voice telling us we totally suck and should never write anything ever again?
Yeah, I don’t “conquer” self-doubt. I’m an anxiety train wreck. I rarely sleep well, or enough, and in the last month my panic attacks have been ceaseless. There’s been a lot of hiding underneath my kitchen counter, eating a tube of raw cookie dough and telling myself I’m no good. Obviously some of that is actual anxiety I should get treated, but a lot of it is the self-loathing that comes with being an artist. I think my advice is just to ride it out. Agree with the voice. Give the voice what it wants. And then, when you’ve lulled the voice into a raw cookie dough coma, firmly say to it, “Van Gogh thought his paintings were such crap that he sold them for milk, and he still painted them anyway. So fucking chill out.”
What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had as a writer? What about the most rewarding?
I am my own most frustrating experience. I assume the work is terrible, I don’t trust my own ear, I worry myself in circles. The most rewarding experience, though, is getting up every day and writing anyway. It’s such a comfort to have a forever companion, and to have an art form that directly correlates to the way I see the world. Like, "Oh, I see the world this way and I operate this way in public because I'm a writer, not because I'm a barely-functioning human being." When you can say that sentence to yourself, no experience becomes a couple of wasted hours. You have a tool to make things useful for yourself.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
The writing world is a challenging place for me sometimes. Not my own private writing nest; I mean the politics of the writing world, the goop of a community trying to function. A lot goes on that just makes me feel tired and angry and also like I will never understand anything. So many weird moments people try to justify as some kind of “experiment in publishing” or “edgy fiction” that are actually just hurtful for entire communities of people. If I as a white person am tired of those lazy, colonialist ploys, I can’t imagine the weariness of the communities and voices they are directly violating. And being a woman in any space is challenging, and isn’t any different in the writing world. There can be such a wide gap between the joy of making the work, and the difficulty of representing the work to the world/being represented in the ways you hope.
What’s the work you are most proud of?
I refer the reader back to the first story I wrote about unicorns, etc.
Is there something (a tool, a beverage) you absolutely can’t write without?
I have a friend who can’t write without eating his boiled “writing eggs,” which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I have anything that definitive. Recently, though, I bought a sample of Mitsouko perfume, which was Anais Nin’s favorite, and I’ve been wearing it while I write. It kind of smells like a severe woman who cries a lot, which seems fitting.
What’s the most recent work you’ve engaged with that totally blew you away?
I am so late to the game with this one, but I just read Yoko Tawada’s novella, The Bath, which is truly one of the most wild and unique things I’ve ever read. The first sentence is, “Eighty percent of the human body is made of water, so it isn’t surprising that one sees a different face in the mirror each morning.” Goddamn amazing. Completely unpredictable, spins on its own symbology, works language in ways I haven’t seen anywhere. She wrote a book a couple of years ago that’s about three generations of polar bears, and I really hope it gets translated soon.
What are you working on now?
A bunch of little things and a bigger thing, and a zine I’m writing and illustrating about Catholic saint relics. It’s a good, weird time.
See Bridget's work here.