Close to the Bone: A Conversation with Elissa Washuta about breaking containers, Native voices in nonfiction, and writing about trauma and mental illness.
Elissa Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a writer of personal essays and memoir. She is the author of two books, Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. With Theresa Warburton, she is co-editor of the anthology Exquisite Vessel: Shapes of Native Nonfiction, forthcoming from University of Washington Press. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, 4Culture, Potlatch Fund, and Hugo House. Elissa is an assistant professor of English at the Ohio State University.
On February 21, 2019, Elissa Washuta joined Interlochen Arts Academy Creative Writing students for a master class and reading. Interlochen Review editors Lane Devers, Sophie Paquette, and Poppy Rosales sat down with her for a conversation about her essay collection My Body as a Book of Rules, breaking containers, Native voices in nonfiction, and writing about trauma and mental illness.
Lane Devers: In class discussion, we talked a bit about the different connotations the word “autobiography” has versus the word “memoir.” When thinking about the “Cascade Autobiography” sections, can you talk a little bit about the decision to place this word in between sections of something categorized as memoir, and what personal distinctions you have between the two?
Elissa Washuta: “Autobiography” I think of as being life story, told from the vantage point of having lived lots and lots of life. There’s a formal distinction to autobiography versus memoir, too. Autobiography I think tends to have the events recounted, compressed, not necessarily dramatized in scene, and there’s some reflection on it, but there’s sort of a flattening of those events that comes with autobiography. When I was working on that essay, I had started reading a lot of autobiographies by Native people. Some of those were actually written by Native people, mostly in the early 1900’s, some late 1800’s. Some of these were authored by Native people, but some of them were what we call “As told to” stories, so they were told to anthropologists and taken down with the idea that the anthropologist felt that this was a “vanishing, dying race,” as they would say, so they wanted to collect what they thought were the best parts, the cultural products. The same is true of Edward Curtis, the photographer who would take lots of portraits of Native individuals and families and groups, because the idea was that people who dressed like this and lived like this were going to all be dead. Instead of stopping that genocidal force, these anthropologists and artists decided to try to capture what they thought were the parts worth saving, I suppose—the aesthetics rather than the lives.
That was my context for the word “autobiography.” In creating My Body is a Book of Rules, I was trying to create a work that was so close to the bone, it was coming from the inside of my body, some place that was deep that I had unlocked through trauma. This was really the first nonfiction I wrote. “A Cascade Autobiography” was the first personal essay I ever wrote, and I wrote that during college, and it felt very transgressive to write about myself. As a 21- or 22-year-old Native Woman, I felt that my life was not worth writing about. I didn’t feel important, I didn’t feel like I had a story worth telling, I wasn’t Jonathan Franzen or something, so I didn’t think anybody was going to listen to me. I didn’t really know what memoir was, I thought of it as being something like: an athlete writes a memoir after doing something great and winning a medal, a president writes an autobiography long after the presidency has ended. I didn’t think I had the authority or the right to write about myself, but then this happened. I wrote it. I had been writing fiction at the time, so in going back and structuring the book after all of it was written, the very last thing I did in creating this book was actually break “A Cascade Autobiography,” which was a single essay, I broke it into the pieces that became my inter-chapters in My Body is a Book of Rules. That was done at the advice of my editor Nicelle Davis. She saw that “A Cascade Autobiography” had material in it that was so necessary that it needed to be at the beginning, it need to be in the middle, it needed to be a the end—it needed to be everywhere, so we broke it. That reminder of the title that comes again and again, to me, I wanted it to serve as a reminder that a young woman’s life is worth writing about. It’s an important cultural product in the same way the story of a long-dead chief would be. That’s also why I started by talking about Chief Tumalth.
LD: When thinking about your essay “I Will Write a Bestselling Native American Biography,” which appears separately from My Body is a Book of Rules, you push against these set conventions of what some would categorize as a problematic genre. When writing My Body is a Book of Rules how conscious were you of what some readers might expect of you or your book, and how did you play into or push against that expectation?
EW: I wrote that essay probably two years after My Body is a Book of Rules came out, but as long as I had been writing prose, I had been thinking about these concerns of audience reception and audience expectations. I started as a poet in high school, and then I was a fiction writer starting college, and I told you how I got started writing nonfiction at the end of college. When I was writing fiction, I was very aware of the representations that dominated Native fictions, and they were all representations of reservation life— my tribe at the time did not have a reservation, all of our land was stolen by the U.S. Government, and we were without a reservation land base until the tribe successfully placed 152 acres in trust in 2015. There was no way for me to grow up on my tribe’s reservation because we simply didn’t have one.
I knew that, if I was writing about my experience and writing autofiction or fiction informed by something that I knew, I was going to be writing something that the reading public was not going to be expecting.. I was very relieved that in writing nonfiction, I was able to just finally relax in a way and write about myself and my experience. I was grappling with these identity issues in My Body is a Book of Rules and I was trying to get the complexity of white-coded Native identity on the page, and I think I did okay, but could have done better. I was writing about something I knew, and I knew that audiences were going to be formed from some people who would response really well to this, because they shared the lived experience, and audiences would also be formed from people who were disappointed because they wanted something else.
Sophie Paquette: A lot of the book explores private and public language, and the productive complications that occur when this language is placed side-by-side. For example, in “The Dread,” when language from campus posters interrupts the personal narrative, the implications of the posters are called into question. These tensions occur throughout the book—like with the revisions and publication of a confidential psychiatrist’s note, or the evaluation of your private life alongside the very public lives of celebrities or television show characters. In what other ways do you see the relationship between the private and the public operating in your collection?
EW: I really like that idea of private language and public language. My Body is a Book of Rules is built in part from received forms (also called hermit crab essays by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola) and I think of that as a way of bringing together private and public language. The received form uses language that many of us will find familiar: like the form of prescribing information from the drugstore, or the form of the questions on the online dating profile. That language I think is intentionally crafted to be universally applied, whish is kind of a ridiculous thing to think about when we’re thinking about language. The universal is a pretty impossible thing to reach for. I knew that I didn’t want to keep trying to reach for the universal. I was writing a book that was going to be so deep inside my skin that if somebody else recognized themselves, then great, but I wasn’t going to take anybody by the hand and show them how it was going to be applicable to their individual lives. I really feel that the more deeply personal and private the language that we use, the more that reader is going to find something that resonated with them. I feel that as readers we’re all looking for ourselves in what we read. Maybe we’re looking to identify, maybe we’re looking to learn something that helps satisfy some kind of need we have, but I think we always are approaching reading with these private wants and our own private needs. That’s why reading is so great as a private act in a lot of ways. In My Body is a Book of Rules, I tried to create that confrontation in the page between the documents that try to shove us into a rigidly shaped mold, and I wanted to show that when I put myself inside that container, I had to break it. There’s no other way for that kind of container to hold a person.
Poppy Rose: Many of your essays seem to be questioning the roles of authority through subverting, exposing, or even tampering with the amount of power given to them. Specifically, I was interested in several essays’ appropriation of typically academic forms—like the bibliography, footnotes, and academic essay. What new realizations did you come to by placing personal narrative within academic structures, and how did you hope to challenge or question these institutions in the process.
EW: While I was writing these essays, I was a graduate student. The term paper essay that you mentioned, that was a paper that I wrote while I was in my senior year of college, the hardest year of my life at that point, really. I wanted to find a way to represent the seeming impossibility of what I was trying to do, which was to excel at school to appear as though I had everything together, and yet to have this experience of falling apart mentally. I wanted to try to find a way to bring all of the different voices I was using into a conversation on the page. In writing the term paper essay, I used that linguistics class term paper, and I footnoted it with language that I was trying to get very close to the language I would have used that year. I wrote it not long after, I wrote it probably a year, at most two years, after the time when the term paper was actually written, and what I wanted to do was to show in a way that I could do both: one person could be that smart on the page, in the term paper, and could also be foolish and self-destructive and wild, and all of these things, and it didn’t change the fact that I did have this ability to be excellent in writing. In that essay, I also of course was trying to show the limits of that academic language, and the writing that I had been required to do for those four years really was not saying nearly enough. It wasn’t saying what was relevant to me, so working with footnotes, what I was trying to do in part in that book was just to create tension in the friction between the body text and the footnotes, and to allow that friction to propel the narrative forward.
So much of this book is kind of anti-narrative—the narrative is not linear, it’s not like starting with my birth in New Jersey and then ending with graduating grad school. From the beginning, you pretty much know what’s going to happen over the course of the book. As far as the plot points go, you know it’s going to be about rape and trauma, you know it’s going to be about mental illness and feeling afraid and threatened and unsafe. I tried to get all of that out of the way by the second chapter. The way the book has to move forward is through this repeated failure process of taking up these questions and concerns, and using a certain type of form and a certain type of examination to see whether I could answer my own questions and solve my own problems. If I was successful in doing that in this first essay, then the rest of the book wouldn’t need to exist. It has to be a repeated failure process, until I find something, until I begin to have an answer at the end. A lot of what drives the narrative forward is this kind of friction between voices, between my voice and other voices, and between different voices that I use: my academic voice and my voice with friends, my voice with which I brag, my voice with which I plead, all of these different voices. The friction between them drives the book forward. That sense of straining, trying to fit into those academic forms, I think is another failed attempt of the essay. In the “Preliminary Bibliography” section, I’m trying to cover my whole life and take on this project of autobiography, beginning with my earliest reading history and going through—I don’t even know where that one ends. I was trying there to show the limitations of spanning a lot of time, too.
SP: Earlier when thinking about writing what’s personal to you, you used the phrase “going close to the bone.” A lot of the book deals with trauma, mental illness, and often a detailed revisiting of these experiences. Because one of the essays’ projects seems to be about asserting a certain power over these experiences, I was wondering how you navigate writing about trauma in a way that doesn’t further harm its writer, but instead offers a productive space for both the reader and the writer.
EW: It’s such a good question and it’s so hard to answer because, honestly this writing harms me—it’s extraordinarily hard on me and writing this book harmed me a lot. I have a better process now, I mean I’ll tell you about all of it. Writing this book started, in earnest, when I was twenty-two I believe, and at the time I was smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, while writing this book. I don’t smoke anymore, but I was smoking a lot, and I was drinking a lot. I didn’t have coping mechanisms, and I didn’t know anything about being triggered. I don’t think I had heard that term at the time, I don’t feel like I did, and I didn’t know that I had PTSD. All I knew was that I was writing the book, and it seemed more and more necessary to be smoking cigarettes, and to be drinking, and to be completely checking myself out of my life, while simultaneously pushing harder and harder into memories. Through the writing process, I think one of the most powerful things about the drafting process is that it gets us to places we’re not expecting. That, to me, is how the essay works when it’s working best: we’re getting somewhere new, we’re getting somewhere that wasn’t in our heads, and in a way that we were easily able to access.
What my experience was of writing this book, was that I was in graduate school and I didn’t have anything really going on other than writing this book. I was taking classes but my whole life was this book, so there was no real escaping it, and I didn’t want to, I wanted to write a book. When I was not at my desk, all the memories would come back to me, that I had really tried to forget. It was hard. This book was extremely hard on my health. It wasn’t around until probably 2015 that I cleaned up my act. I quit smoking before then, I quit drinking in 2015, and, at some point, a couple years before then, I started doing therapy weekly. Really, really good therapy. At some point I learned what being triggered was. It was 2016 when I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, so I realized that all of these feelings had really been Post Traumatic Stress Disorder episodes. It was a medical thing, and it was a process. Any professional that had looked at me could say, “Elissa, you are triggering yourself when you are writing.” It was really useful to get that diagnosis and see what was happening, and this is why I can’t write everyday. I had beaten myself up for so long for not writing everyday, for not writing the 1,000 words a day or whatever people tell you you’re suppose to write, but if I wrote 1,000 words a day every day, it would be terrible.
I think once I learned more about what it was to be triggered, when I was really able to pay attention to my body, and my thoughts, and my feelings, and to what was happening to me when I would write, I was able to recognize what it was like to be triggered by the writing process. I realized I was having all of this anxiety about other things—about friendships, interactions, about if I said something wrong to my boss—and all of these anxieties that had been driving me to drink, I realized, were just kind of byproducts for me of the writing process, and other sources of being triggered. Once I was able to recognize them I was able to find much better ways of coping—talking to friends, taking breaks, playing video games—you know whatever kinds of things that I do.
Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve solved any of this. I still have PTSD, I probably will for the rest of my life, and so the writing process still harms me. It doesn’t do irreversible harm to me, and I’m not doing harm to myself in using substances to try and feel okay anymore, but it still hurts. I still have a very hard time writing about things I haven’t written about before, with unlocking memories for the first time through the writing process, and all I can really do is pay attention to that, stay in therapy, and try to just be gentle with myself. It’s a bit of a cliche I guess, but I don’t worry anymore if I take two months off from writing or whatever. A big thing I do for myself, is I try to really pay attention to my history as a writer, and I don’t get worked up over two month, or even longer, dry spells, because I’m able to look back and remember the last time I went two months without writing, and I remember a time before that, and I remember how it felt when I came back to writing. It was just fine, and there was no problem in taking that time off for myself. I try to catalog all of the times that it was okay to take care of myself, so that I can remind myself that it’ll be okay this time, too.
LD: Can you speak more generally to the placement of the essays or chapters, especially taking into consideration how diverse they can be from one another in form? Earlier, you described this friction between voices—did you see yourself gravitating towards forms that were more in conversation with each other to be set near each other, or were you more interested in this distribution of different ways of looking at texts?
EW: It was so hard to figure out the order of the chapters, because ordering the chapters was the last big thing I did in creating this book, and they didn’t get fully into place until after it had been acquired by Red Hen Press. I had the help of my editor because, again, “A Cascade Autobiography” felt like it needed to be everywhere, the chapter “Please Him” felt like it needed to be everywhere, and “Dear Diary” needed to be everywhere. I was trying to figure out how to handle this sense of simultaneity in the chapters, because I was going through the same stuff over and over again. I’m trying to remember what ended up being the reasoning, and I think the ordering process was largely intuitive. That’s my recollection, and looking at it, that’s sort of what I’m seeing. I know there were chapters like “Sexually Based Offenses,” that were always in the same place in the book. It felt like this book didn’t adhere to traditional dramatic structure, but I think it still has a very noticeable arc, where the tension rises and falls.
I did place them carefully, but the placement of “Sexually Based Offenses” represented where I was going to go deeply specific. A chapter that hard can’t start the book, and I can’t leave the reader with that—it felt like it was at the core of what I was trying to do, and so that’s why that was near the middle. Everything else after that felt like it was a way out of the book. The chapter “Actually” of course has to come after, since that is a chapter in which I’m questioning my memory of what’s come before, and I think the other chapters are largely about trying to understand what happened to me, and trying to move on, and trying to find a better way to live. I think the earlier chapters are speaking to trying to define the problem, and trying to navigate the problems, and then at the core of the book, there’s the act of looking this problem in the eye, and in “Sexually Based Offenses,” that’s when I was really remembering things I hadn’t remembered before. I also wrote that, already, at the time the second assault happened—that was the actual chapter I was working on at that time. The rest of the book is trying to figure out what I do after, about how to move on this time.
PR: A lot of your essays utilize forms that suggest a sort of movement from narrative truth to emotional truth, and a lot of them also contain multiple versions of the same voice, such as a present self and a past self layering over each other to allow or show how some truths have changed over the passage of time, and I was wondering what your motivations were for complicating your readers perception of the truth.
EW: It’s something that I keep returning to. Right now I’m working on a book that has so much to do—it feels silly to even say it—but it’s about trying to figure out what is reality. This feels like some sort of stoner question I would have asked in my old life, but I’m just really interested in truth, authority, and reality. The way that I was handling it in My Body is a Book of Rules, is that I was so anxious about and consumed by this responsibility that I felt forced upon me, to get to the ultimate truth of who I was, and it felt unfair; it felt like other people didn’t have to do this. I was constantly having to prove myself, and to find some kind of settled account of who I was, with documentation. I wanted to prove to non-Native people that I was Native, and nothing ever seemed good enough at one time.
Things have really changed for better in recent years, but at the time that I was writing this book, people’s understanding of rape was very different. Acquaintance rape and date rape were still considered grey areas, in a way that I think they aren’t as much now. I think it's gotten a lot better. That was something that was really weighing upon me, and I think that’s at the heart of the book.
And the third thing, mental illness—bipolar disorder is not something you can take a blood test for, or have an MRI to determine, and so it turned out that the diagnosis was wrong, which is not covered in My Body is a Book of Rules, it's in the book I’m working on now, White Magic, but it was really important that we get to the truth of what was wrong with me, because my treatment would depend upon that. I wanted to write into what was riding on the truth, and why I needed to figure out the truth about myself and what had happened. In some ways it was for other people, so that people would get off my back, in some ways it was because my life depended on it.
I guess I was, over and over again, essaying into the question of how am I supposed to exist when some of these truths can never be settled, or can’t be settled right now? How am I supposed to go on living and healing as a bipolar person, when we’re never going to know for sure if that’s what’s wrong with me? How am I supposed to go on healing my trauma if I don’t feel that my narrative conforms to the television narratives, or news narratives, or the sort of legal definitions of rape. I think it was important for me, chapter to chapter, to unsettle these ideas of truth—outsider truth and my inside truth—and to constantly question them, to show that the problem wasn’t that I was untruthful or untrustworthy or unreliable, but the problem was that it’s just impossible to get to those kind of truths. No solution exists because there’s just no way into them.
LD: A large project of the book seems to be pulling from a specific curated set of imagery, building outwards, expanding on these core ideas in a variety of forms. When deciding what would be in the final manuscript, did you have a personal set of requirements that would allow for each individual essay to contribute to this broader accumulation?
EW: You know, I think so much of this book felt like it was done by magic. I don’t remember what my intentions were for a lot of it and I think that’s a pretty common experience for writing the first book, especially when working in a new form like this. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just reading a ton and I was writing really fast and I was in graduate school and I had instruction and I had peers who were helping. Basically, I at first knew I was writing the essay “Faster Than Your Heart Can Beat” and I didn’t know I had a book at that point, I was just trying nonfiction. And then the Law and Order essay came after that and then the bibliography essay. All of these were written for class assignments, and so that’s really where the essay structure came from. After I wasn’t turning in assignments anymore I had already kind of set up the structure for the book to be like that, and then I knew I was writing a book. I wasn’t writing with a lot of intention when it comes to images that reappear or things that keep coming up, I just knew that I was trying to do something in a pretty standalone way in each piece and I kept having to talk about the same stuff over and over because all of it was intertwined.
That was at the heart of the book. I could not talk about rape without talking about mental illness. I could not talk about eating disorders without talking about medication. Everything was just coming up over and over again. And that was very intentional. Since I was so new to nonfiction, and so new to all of this knowledge about myself that was creepy and horrifying, I was going to the bookstore looking for models of a book that was like what I wanted to do. And I wasn’t finding anything. There were eating disorder memoirs, there were rape memoirs, there were bipolar memoirs but I hadn’t yet read anything that was doing what I wanted to do, not having any single one the focus, but rolling them all together in a way that was true to my experience. I think the way these things keep coming up over and over is just a function of the fact that there was no other way for me to talk about them.
SP: You touched on this earlier when you were talking about simultaneity and the noticeable arc of the collection. I was really interested in the overall self-referential quality of the essays, in particular the essays that actually respond to each other—you said earlier how “Please Him” and “Dear Diary” both have two parts and you felt like they needed to be everywhere in the collection. With “Dear Diary” in particular, I noticed a distinct difference in the tone and concerns of the essays. Even though in a temporally the second one doesn’t occur that much later than the first, I read the first as being more situated in the speaker’s immediate disordered behaviors and thoughts, and the second more reflective as we reach toward emotional closure with the end of the collection. Were these two-part essays written with the full-length project in mind, or were they composed independently of the book and eventually placed together within the manuscript?
EW: “Please Him” was composed as a single essay that was supposed to be in the beginning. It didn’t work in the beginning so it needed to be split. “Dear Diary” was built from LiveJournal entries that were written before I had any sense I was going to be writing the book. This is a curated selection of LiveJournal entries, so think that the shift in tone is partly a product of my intentional selection of those pieces and also partly a product of what’s around them, where they are in the book and what you have built up as a reader in approaching them. And I think of the writing process as being super mystical in some ways. Some of it is not, some of it is tedious and boring and requires an accumulation of skill, for sure, but some of it I think, and this is what’s driving the book I’m working on now, there’s source material that feels magical in a way, that feels like exactly what I need it to be, and I’ve already got it or research gets me to it. And I think that was probably true of that. When I saw those things, I thought- oh my gosh this is everything I’ve been trying to express, I’ve already done it in my LiveJournal.
SP: Including actual pieces from the journal but also curating parts that felt most relevant, did you feel any internal tension with pairing stuff that actually came from a diary or a journal but also selecting only specific parts of it and then pairing that with writing that had been curated for publication?
EW: I didn’t. And I think part of it is how I was trained in graduate school and the things that we were talking about then. In no place in the book do I basically lie and say that this is my entire LiveJournal. I don’t at any point say that this is an actual artifact. And I think that something I was trying to do was also to play with the idea of the artifact and of the document and mangle it a little bit, and to do with it what I wanted and needed to do. So I didn’t have any concerns really. I thought “This is mine and I’m going to edit it as I need to.”
PR: You spoke to this earlier when you said a lot of the recurring themes in your book tie together naturally, but once you realized that your book was going to include all of these different topics and kind of work together to tell the story that was most true to you, were there any other specific techniques you used to create callbacks or tie these things together?
EW: You know I honestly can’t remember because it was long enough ago, but I can definitely speak to what I’m doing in my current manuscript because I was just doing this today before I came over here, looking through some of my notes for the manuscript. I’m at the end of my full first draft. Everything is kind of written, there's a bunch of stuff I forgot to include, it needs to be revised, it needs readers’ eyes on it. The book is not done, but it is drafted. Something that I’m doing now, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this with My Body Is A Book Of Rules, I certainly wasn’t drafting with this kind of intentionality: I have a set of motifs in the current book manuscript like eclipses, portals, doors, magicians, rivers, Fleetwood Mac, drowning, hanging, choking, mines, the devil. There’s this whole set, and I knew that their recurrence was a very important part of the book to me, in part because of what the book is about. The book is about magic, and so to me magic has so much to do with synchronicity, and seeing stuff come up over and over like “Oh my gosh it’s a jackrabbit, I just saw a jackrabbit”so I wanted the reader to have the same experience that I have in tracking synchronicities, I wanted the reader to be able to track motifs in that way.
At one point when I had a partial manuscript I printed everything out and would circle things and would draw them at the top of the first page to track what symbols were in that chapter. And that lets me go through and think about whether there’s an opportunity to bring in some of the symbols into a chapter that I might’ve missed that are somewhere else, like “Oh, obviously fire is supposed to be in this, it’s about Twin Peaks.” I don’t know whether I did that with My Body Is A Book Of Rules because I forget so much, partially a function of what my life was like and partially because I’m so focused on this new book now.
I have a metaphor for the drafting and revision process. Recently I got these counter stools. I got them from Target, they were in pieces, and I thought “I know how to put together a chair, you just turn it over and put the legs in, and then tighten everything and sit on it.” No, I turned it over and it was wobbly, and then I was like “Ok I did something wrong, I gotta look at the instructions”. The instructions said you’re supposed to not tighten everything all the way, you’re supposed to get everything in place, tighten it partway, then turn it over, and then tighten everything when it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Now I’m at the part of the process where I’ve flipped the chair over, the draft is done, and now I go through and I tighten everything, unify all the motifs, and I see what I’m missing. That adjustment gets all these images as resonant as they need to be.
SP: Earlier, you said the new project is about questioning reality. I was wondering if you’ve experienced with writing a lot of nonfiction, especially with what you’ve said about synchronicity and locating patterns in own life, if that ever affected your perception of reality in any ways, having this documented version of your life, but also the memories?
EW: I haven’t talked about this a lot because I wasn’t going to talk about it until I had published something about it, but as of last week I’ve published something about it in Guernica. My bipolar diagnosis was changed in 2016. I saw a new psychiatrist and he told me that I had never been bipolar, I was misdiagnosed. That was really hard for me, and he and I had to talk about it a lot, because he said “Is this going to be ok for you? Because you wrote a book about it.” And I realized how much it really did solidify my identity to write a book about myself as a bipolar person. It was scary. I definitely welcomed the change because bipolar disorder was not the right diagnosis, and I just needed to get better, but having published this thing with an ISBN—the Library of Congress knows I’m bipolar, so what’s going to happen now?
I mean, beyond that, I do find myself sometimes living in such a way that I realize I’m living with writing in mind. The way I established my writing process in My Body Is A Book Of Rules, I was writing while things were happening to me that were horrible. I wrote about one of my assaults right after it happened, so I got used to this practice of documenting things as they were unfolding, and coming to understand who I am and what happens to me through the writing process. I’m sure that has a profound effect on my reality, it means that writing is my reality, which I’ve never really thought about and it’s kind of freaky now that I’m thinking about it. These books are not just reflections of my reality or reporting my reality, they are making my reality. That’s how I exist—I exist through books. I’m going to have to think a lot more about that because that’s terrifying.
LD: Directly off of that, you’re making this net or filter that you have to look through, do you then go back and be self conscious of what you’re creating because of how it might change what you’re perceiving as reality?
EW: The short answer is yes. The book I’m working on now, one of the chapters is 100 pages long. It’s a very long chapter, and I won’t get into too much of how it works or what it is, but basically as I was writing, it became clear that the chapter would end at the end of 2018, the very last day. I kept thinking, What’s going to happen? Something has to happen that’s interesting to go in my book, and what if it doesn’t? I have to make something interesting happen. If the wrong kind of thing happens, then I have the wrong kind of ending to my book, and what am I supposed to do? In the end, nothing interesting happened and that ended up not being the end of the book. Something else became interesting that let me find an exit to the book. There were six months of my life where I realized how messed up this all was, that the book and I were glued together in such a way that could be very damaging to both.