I first met Candace Walsh in person, in Manhattan, with her then fiance (and now wife) Laura M. André, at a little cafe--and we had a blast. She's warm, hilarious, smart, and one of the bravest people I know. Her memoir, LICKING THE SPOON is a different sort of memoir, about food and identity and how we come to be who we are.
She's the managing editor of New Mexico Magazine. She edited Seal Press anthologies Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women, (a Lambda Literary Award finalist) and Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. Her essays have been published in the anthology Here Come the Brides, onSlate.com, and in the Santa Fe Reporter. She lives in Santa Fe with her wife Laura M. André, their two children, and two dogs.
Thanks, thanks, Candace!
Food is such an integral part of our lives--I've always said I don't trust anyone who doesn't have a passion for food because it almost always means they don't have a passion for life. Would you agree? And can you talk a bit about your changing relationship with food?
I honestly can't think of anyone who doesn't have a passion for food. I'm sure they exist, but they haven't outed themselves to me. I can think of people who are very stringent about what they allow themselves to eat, but they simultaneously give off extremely lusty vibes of longing when they're presented with food. I once had lunch at a restaurant with one of those types. She allowed herself to have a piece of chocolate cake because it was her birthday--and she proceeded to make such loud, orgasmic noises as she ate it that it was a little bit embarrassing.
My relationship to food is always evolving. In the same week that I crave something familiar, like red and green chile-smothered huevos rancheros, I'll also be on a tear, trying to master the art of macarons. When I'm on vacation or not working full-time, I have the bandwidth to try lots and lots of new recipes in a row. But if I'm working full-time (as I am now), I'm thinking about getting my family's basic needs met, quickly and nutritiously, and then I save up my adventurousness for weekend or once-a-month excursions into new recipes and cuisines. On the one hand, cooking is an art form. On the other hand, it's like filling a gas tank. And in the middle, there's lots of room for inventiveness and enjoyment.
What was it like writing a memoir? I so admire the bravery in this memoir! Were there ever moments when you felt you were revealing yourself too much--or not enough?
It was rather terrifying and also very exhilarating. When I think about how it felt, the image of being at the prow of a ship as it pushes through the ocean comes to mind. I definitely had moments when I regretted choosing to write my story in the form of a memoir and not go the thinly veiled autobiography route. I've put super-intimate stuff out there, because why bother writing a memoir if you're going to be cagey and occluded? It seemed to defeat the purpose. I've always respected the advice of writing teachers, like Tanya Taylor Rubinstein and Theo Pauline Nestor, who encourage writers to write the most cringe-inducing material that they can think of. You may not end up including it in your book--heaven knows I left a lot on the cutting room floor--but when there are elephants in the room of a memoir writer, the reader can feel it and it doesn't inspire them to stick with your story.
I sometimes flip through my book and get a bit of an "Oh, crap," feeling, when I think of all of the nodding acquaintances who read the book and now know disproportionately intimate things about me. It just comes with the territory.
In terms of not revealing myself enough, I guess the one thing that surprised me was that I thought I'd be more forthcoming when it came to writing about sex. When it came right down to it, I decided that I didn't feel comfortable going into too much detail. I have small kids; I didn't want my exes, or my wife, to feel overly exposed. And I'm glad that I followed my gut.
I also loved the very matter-of-fact way you wrote about the fluidity of sexuality and how you found your true love, your remarkable wife. Can you talk a bit about that?
The evolution of my sexuality was very matter-of-fact. When my marriage was ending, I said to myself, "I think I'll date women now." Of course that was preceded by a big same-sex crush, and a kind of falling in love with the idea of being in same-sex relationships. It seemed like a fantasy land of mutual empathy, making Caesar salads together every night, listening to Tracy Chapman, hiking, edgy piercings and tattoos, being far away from the stiflingly normal world of middle class married heterosexuality-with-two-kids.
My relationship with my wife, Laura (we got married in October of 2010) has nothing to do with piercings, tattoos, or hiking (she hates hiking). We do like Tracy Chapman but never seek her music out, per se. We live a very middle class life with our two kids, and the only difference is that I don't find it stifling. It doesn't feel stifling because I am so much happier partnered with a woman that what used to feel like drudgery feels a lot closer to butterflies and rainbows.
The book brings the reader through the journey a lot more specifically and with much more of an arc. When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to marry my best friend Stacy. As soon as I voiced that, I started learning how much pursuing that elemental desire would cost. It took me a long time to be strong enough to take it on, and surprise, it wasn't that big of a deal. I wish I'd been stronger, earlier.
You also went through eating disorders to now come to a very different relationship with food. Can you talk about that, too?
I definitely had an Eating Disorder Lite. On the one hand, my father pushed food on me--on all of us in the family. Seconds on dinner and dessert were very much a default part of every day. On the other hand, my mother was very judgmental of her own body and went on a series of fad diets. She also projected that onto myself and my sister. I wanted very much to keep the peace, so it made sense to eat as much as my dad wanted me to, then to throw it up so that I wouldn't get fat and disappoint my mother.
As an adult, any time that I ate a big meal that made my stomach feel stuffed, I'd have a very strong desire to throw up (and I did so until I was 35). It was like my stomach was conditioned by those early experiences. But I didn't binge and purge systematically, or feel like I needed to be a size six or anything.
The first time that I made myself throw up after I started dating Laura, I didn't tell her for two weeks. She didn't know that about me. But I noticed that it created a distance between us, perhaps one that only I noticed. I knew that if I kept on doing that, I'd be isolating myself from her, more and more. I didn't want anything to come between us, so I told her the truth and also told her that I'd tell her if I felt like I needed to make myself throw up, or if I had done it. She was very understanding and yes, empathetic. I've only slipped up one or two times in the last five years. It's much easier to just stop eating before I get too full.
So without that rewind button, I've embraced exercise more, I've become more mindful of my eating, gotten in better touch with my body. It's been such a blessing to embrace healthier ways of being moderate.
What's obsessing you now and why?
French macarons with floral or herbal flavorings. I made my first batch of rose macarons last month after tasting one from Laduree in France. It was like eating the sensation of smelling rose perfume on a beautiful woman's neck. I also want to make lavender ones, bergamot ones, violet cassis ones...
I'm also obsessed with the writing conference I'm teaching at March 15-17, the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, keynoted by Cheryl Strayed. It's at the Sleeping Lady Resort outside of Seattle, and other teachers include EJ Levy, Suzanne Finnamore Luckenbach, Ariel Gore, and of course, the visionary who dreamed it all up, Theo Pauline Nestor. I'll be teaching on the topics of how to write about sex and sexual identity; and how we can parlay our obsessions into memoir. Here's the link to find out more:
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
What's your next book going to be about? I would like it to be a work of fiction. I have an idea brewing, and it feels very seductive.
Thank you so much for sharing my book and this interview with your wonderful, intelligent, and charming readers! I'd love them to to connect with me here:
@candacewalsh on twitter,
my writer page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterCandaceWalsh
on my website, candacewalsh.com.
My book's website/blog is lickingthespoonbook.com.