Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of The Chronology of Water, a memoir from Hawthorne Books, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She has also written three books of short stories, Her Other Mouths, Liberty’s Excess, and Real to Reel. She teaches in Oregon with the filmmaker/writer Andy Mingo. Her first novel, based on Freud and Dora…but mostly Dora, is titled Dora: A Headcase. ( Hawthorne Books). She is the Editrix of chiasmus press.
She is first person I thought of when I dreamed up Nola Studiola. If you don’t have one of her books easily at your fingertips, find a few essays by her over at the Rumpus, one of my favorite reading holes.
What makes you laugh?
My son makes me laugh, because his heart is still filled with the purity of children and his way of seeing and feeling the world is better than the word “joy.” But I also often bust a gut laughing when our human vulnerabilities are exposed without anyone suffering … little daily occurrences where our bofusness slips through … like when I walked around an entire day with my skirt on inside out, mistaking the attention for “damn, I still got it.” Or when I get home from an important lunch with an important person and realize I’m wearing half of my lunch on my rack. Alison Bechdel, Kristen Wiig, and Monica Drake make me laugh in their writing all the time.
How do you feel when you start a new project?
Like the world just started and I get to be alive.
When are you afraid?
You mean in writing? I’m afraid when I write into territory of psychic or emotional mega pain – the far end – the psychosis end. I’m also quite dangerous in such a moment.
How does it feel different from being in the midst of a project, and at the end of a finished project?
I’m almost always only interested in the PROCESS of writing. Once something is completed, it isn’t mine. It’s away from me. It belongs to the world or even just someone else. Inside the process I don’t even want to come out. I’ve had to learn to come back out. There are good reasons to come out. But I love it in there. You have no idea how much more real it is to me inside art than the world …
Do you have a physical space and routine that helps you create?
Yes. I have a writing room that I made up. First I made a diorama of it. Really. In a shoe box. Before I was able to “have” such a room. I’d look at it and pretend I was there. Later, I made it exactly how I’d imagined it. Before I write I have to meditate or kind of put myself in a trance-type thing. It’s another kind of “leaving” this world and entering the world of language and image. Oh yeah, and I’m a drinker. I don’t mean I get shit-faced, but I do drink when I write. Just enough to wet the wit and whistle.
How has your creating schedule (time of day, whether you need to be naked, talismans, etc.) changed over the course of your career?
I think women in particular have a hard time creating the schedule and space and permission of a writer’s life. We are conditioned to be caretakers, for one thing, or at least to care about things other than the self and art. So when we manage to do it, it’s a big fucking deal. When I first started writing I could write in a kind of mobile and nomadic way. Coffee shops, bars, trucks, etc…Later in life it became VITAL to have a dedicated space that was “mine” and of my own making – the old Virginia Woolf rule. At this point my writing room / space is so sacred to me you’d lose your arms if you tried to take it away from me. I’d bite them off. I truly believe women need this kind of self-made and privatized writing space. If you don’t have it, make it. Like now. Don’t wait one more second. I don’t know what men need, maybe they need it too. I know artistic men who seem to need it too, like the Mingo, but for women, part of what is essential is to claim it and stand up in it and never let anyone violate it. It’s a second body. The studio or room or space you create in.
Would you rather have the ability to be invisible, or the ability to fly?
Fly. Hands down.
What fruit and what vegetable each deserve a week-long celebration? Please explain.
Tomatoes. Because they are my favorite food. Home grown ones, preferably grown by the Mingo, because he grows the most fantastically mouthgasm tomatoes in the universe.
I also think there could be tomato-inspired songs and images and poems and stories, tomato super hero outfits, tomato jewelry, and tomato imaginary friends, culminating in a showing of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
Is there a time in your life you could have used a Nola Studiola? (alone, in New Orleans, semi off-the-grid, unemployed) When? What’s one thing you’d be sure to do if you were ensconced alone in a tiny apt in New Orleans this summer, with just yourself to entertain?
Yes. When my parents both died and my son was born I was in a very weird space psychically and emotionally. So weird I had to write an entire book to find my way through it. I was lost and yet also standing on the cusp of a new world. So it was like standing at the edge of space or something.
Terrifying and wonderous at the same time. As it happens, though I was not at a Nola studio, I did hide out in a house in the woods that the Mingo found for us. I count those years as a kind of respite, a healing, a birth – me coming back into a self and into a new world. One of my own making.
The one thing I’d be sure to do if I was ensconced alone in a tiny apartment in New Orleans in summer with just myself to entertain is write and paint and eat and drink and pleasure myself in ways that I and only I can. I make sure to reinvent myself and my writing. I’d also bury all my underwear in the freezer and wear them icily and deliciously. Summer in NO is hot and wet and iced underwear are KEY.