Friday, August 12, 2016

Lidia Yuknavitch interview.

The Lenny newsletter this week has an interview with Lidia Yuknavitch, whom I love, and whose book the Chronology of Water reached me, and moved me. Mainly because she was using language I understood in a way I'd never experienced before. 

Her interview with Suleika Jaouad is great, I'm basically re-posting most of it here:
Suleika Jaouad: In The Chronology of Water, you wrote: “Aspiration gets stuck in some people. It’s difficult to think yes. Or up.” When did that absence of hope hit you the hardest? 
Lidia Yuknavitch: When my daughter died on the day she was born, a traditional definition of hope was sucked out of my body. I’m not saying I’m proud of this, but it just happened. For me, what became important was learning to breathe again in a way that used regular air. The word aspiration has a breathing sense to it. It dawned on me that we have to breathe and to find reasons to stay alive on our own terms. Sometimes that doesn’t come from what we’ve been told our whole lives. 
I believe in art the way other people believe in God. I’m not trying to make a tricky sentence. It’s just true. I have found reasons to breathe again by living in communities of people who choose self-expression over self-destruction. It’s another way to form hope, without hierarchizing it so that you’re looking up toward a God, or someone smarter or more famous than you are. It’s a lateral definition of hope where you just need each other, and you need to stand up and not leave each other hanging. 
SJ: I think a lot about how much pressure there is to be someone who “suffers well.” There’s a mythology surrounding the “survivor’s story” that can be inspiring to some but can make others feel like they’re suffering the wrong way. 
LY: Boy, I hate that narrative so hard, to be honest. The truth is, suffering sucks and it can take you to a place of wanting to kill yourself, and there’s nothing beautiful about that. Suffering is not beautiful. Suffering, from my point of view, is about a real place in a real body where you face the other side of living. How you choose to understand that story probably determines how you’re going to live the rest of your life. I feel kindred with fellow sufferers, and I don’t ever want to romanticize the story of suffering, because then you’re just playing into making it a good story or a sellable story for a culture. 
SJ: You write with so much rawness and honesty about your life, but I’m interested in the experiences you touch on but choose not to delve into, like the specifics of your father’s abuse and your relationship to drugs and alcohol. How do you decide what to write and not write about? 
LY: You don’t have to read very far into my writing to find those things, but you won’t find them literally represented. There’s no scene of actual sexual abuse by my father in my writing. On the other hand, that sort of paternal sexual violence is threaded through every word I write. It’s as if it’s in the language. It’s in my habit of being. It’s a structure of my consciousness. 
You don’t have to always name the explicitness or literalness of a thing to represent the essence of it to a reader or listener. That’s the reason poetry works and it’s the reason painting works. It’s not explicit. It’s figurative, and it gives you the whole soul-body experience without naming it in a literal sentence. I think the work of art is to push for that so that the reader feels it in their body to be true, whether or not the explicit sentence is there. That’s how I work with material, but I am filled with respect and enthusiasm for people who also represent it explicitly. 
SJ: I think of you as someone who rejects tidy narratives and who doesn’t seem to care about the rules. I’m curious about where your outlaw spirit comes from. 
LY: If there’s one phrase that I should probably tattoo on my forehead it is this: “I’m not the story you made of me.” The more people I can convince to hold that mantra, the more I’ll have been of good use in my life. We don’t have to accept the stories we inherit, the ones that tell us who we’re supposed to be. We can stand up and say no at any point, even if we’ve been saying yes our entire lives. It’s never too late. We can always reject the story placed on top of us, and we can always revise and destroy one story and restore another. It’s a never-ending possibility. 
SJ: What are your best words of advice for fellow misfits and aspiring writers? 
LY: I’m trying to help us remember that we invent our own beauty and our own paths and our own crooked, weird ways of doing things, but that they’re not nothing and they matter, too. We’re the half of culture that doesn’t take the paths that are sitting right in front of us. Our song may be a little off-key, but it’s a kind of beauty, too. I know I’m not the person who thought that up, and I’m not the person who invented that as a truth, but I can sure stand up and help remind us not to give up, that we have a song, too.
She's someone I look up to. She's survived and she's living off her art. That's as much of a win as one can hope for. As I could ever hope for.

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