Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lori Horvitz talks about The Girls of Usually, outsiders, memory, and so much more

Writer. Teacher...magician! Lori Horvitz's work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Epiphany, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Hotel Amerika, and Chattahoochee Review. Her book, The Girls of Usually comes from Truman State University Press. Horvitz is Professor of Literature and Language at University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she teaches courses in creative writing, literature, and women, gender and sexuality studies. I'm delighted to have Lori here. Thank you, Lori!

 I love the title—How did that come about?

“The Girls of Usually” is the title of an essay in the book. That story focuses on a Mexican woman I dated when I lived in New York City. She was a non-native English speaker, so every now and then she charmed me with a mistranslation. Once, when I asked her who’d be going to a dinner party, she said, “You know, the girls of usually.” In a way, the slightly skewed translation is a representation of the whole book—there’s something not quite right, something always a little off, but right enough to make sense of it.  

I love the whole idea of the outsider—a Jewish girl adrift in a sea of shiny blondes—but what I love more is that instead of trying to be them, you decided to reinvent yourself as something totally new.  What surprised you in the process?

I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision to reinvent myself, but through trial and error, through following my heart instead of my head, the road to reinvention came a lot easier. I always had a rebellious streak, but then again, societal pressures were like a magnet pull. Simultaneously I wanted to fit in, to not call attention to myself, but I’d also go out of my way to get attention. In college, I shaved stripes into my hairy legs and walked around with shorts on. I’d blow dry my hair straight for three hours, only for it to frizz back up into a wild mess. It took a while to embrace the wild mess. I embraced the rebel while secretly, or not so secretly, shunning it. I remember sitting in the kitchen of my East Village apartment while a college friend asked about our mutual friends and if so-and-so were dating anyone. At the time I had a girlfriend. My sexuality was the elephant in the room. She didn’t ask and I didn’t tell. I hated her for not asking, but I hated myself more for not speaking up. What surprised me (but in retrospect is a no-brainer) is when I truly embraced my identity, when I no longer hid from who I was, I was a whole lot happier.

I’m deeply interested in memory, and I always want to know, when someone writes memoir, how the event you remember changes as you are writing about it.  Can you talk about that please?

Through the writing process and through time, memories are re-contextualized and re-visioned. My first draft of “The Weight of Stuff,” an essay about my mother (who died in a car crash while I was touring the ruins of Pompeii) was filled with anger. Anger about her inability to nurture and see me. But with each revision, the anger dissipated. I began to find compassion for her, to understand why she didn’t have the tools to mother me. In my final draft, my anger turned to a deep sadness, which gave me the ability to understand her and to find compassion for myself in the process. It always takes time and perspective to make sense of an experience. A number of the essays in the second half of my book speak about hopeful love connections that eventually don’t work out. Without the time and perspective to revision the stories through a lens of humor, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

Although your book is a memoir, it really reads like a collection of short stories—very funny ones, at that. What made you decide to do a memoir instead of pure fiction?

This book is made up of a series of memoir-essays; many have been published as stand-alone pieces. As a collection, the essays speak to each other and build on each other towards a bigger whole. I didn’t plan to write a memoir. I just started writing separate essays, which all shared similar themes of identity, love and travel. Although I started off as a poet, and then moved to fiction writing, when I left New York City for a teaching job in the South, I began to write nonfiction stories about New York. Of course, there are elements of fiction in essay writing: in re-creating dialogue, scene, setting, etc.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

How will I find more time to write? It’s hard to get writing done with a full-time teaching gig. But I do have summers off!

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

How does it feel to expose yourself by putting your stories out there? Don’t you feel vulnerable?
At this point in the process (the first essay was written over ten years ago), I no longer have the emotional attachment to each piece as I once did. I suppose it’s like sending a child out into the world after nurturing them for eighteen years.  And now it’s time for the child to make her own mark; she’s out of my control, out of my hands.

No comments: