Tuesday, May 2, 2017
The body as story. The story as a force of change. The incredible Lidia Yuknavitch talks about THE BOOK OF JOAN, stardust, swimming, writing and so much more
How can you not love Lidia Yuknavitch? First, there is her TED Talk, The Misfit's Manifesto. Then, of course, there are her phenomenal books. She's the author of the national bestseller The Small Backs of Children, which won Oregon's Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and the Reader's Choice Award; Dora: A Headcase; a memoir, The Chronology of Water, which was a finalist for a PEN center USA Award. She's the kind of person who says things like this about not drowning: "When pulled under, kick."
I'm totally honored to have Lidia here. A million thank-yous, Lidia!
You write about a time in the future when people etch stories on their bodies. Would you also say that our bodies themselves tell a story about us, and sometimes those are stories we fight against?
ABSOLUTELY. For one thing, we are “made” from everything around us—as Dr. Michelle Thaller (and Neil De Grassi Tyson and Michio Kaku) reminds us, we are composed of dead stars looking back up at the night sky. So in that sense our bodies carry the trace of all human history; we are the walking body stories of existence itself. And of course if you include our psyches and emotions, yup, the more difficulty stories we are carrying around from our life experiences are also written by and through our bodies. It’s almost as if our bodies “hold” the experiences for us. So many of us have pasts that are fraught with hard experiences (maybe all of us. I’m not sure I know anyone who isn’t in some kind of struggle with the story of their past). But I try to remember every day that anything that can be storied can be de-storied and re-storied. We can loosen narratives and remake them. We can listen to our bodies as fiercely as possible.
What amazed me about the book is how much it made me think this world you created has already happened, with Trump et al. in power. For you, the political seems to be very personal, and I’d love to hear what you think the best and most powerful things people can do to fight this.
Weird, isn’t it. These ideas and some of the writing were coming out of me 2-3 years ago. And then BOOM. Scary. But I think the tensions of our present tense are also opportunities – like cracks and fissures in the earth – we have to recognize that the same cracks splitting systems and seemingly creating new horrible oppressions also contain the possibility for radical change. But we have to act. My friend Rebecca Solnit reminds us that the word “emergence” has the word “emergency” embedded within it – something to remember. We must of course resist but also remember that resilience and reinvention are what is called for. This is our present tense calling.
Your writing seems to get more and more amazing and ambitious. Does anything scare you?
HA! EVERYTHING scares me. I’m a fairly hard core introvert and misfit, and so getting out of bed and walking out of my house scares me every single day. However, I am not scared to commit myself to artistic practice and creative expression. On the page or canvas I can be radical. I can fight. It’s regular every day life that is most difficult for misfits. What scares me the most isn’t creative expression or telling the truth on the page—risking what…humiliation or embarrassment? Or that people won’t like me or that they’ll be mean to me? That is nowhere near as frightening to me as poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, hate and war are. I’d do pretty much anything in my power to stand up against oppressions and repressions. With my whole body. The fact that I’m scared would never stop me. Fear is a portal.
You’ve got such a generous heart, and so many people would follow you anywhere. Where would you want to lead them?
I’m no leader. We are all pieces of each other. I think if we could remember that and radicalize that idea – that we are all made from a little piece of everyone we’ve ever known – if we could change the idea of “self” as center and move toward being as a collaborative, extraordinary set of energies connected to the planet and space and animals and each other, we’d begin to have a shot at really understanding our existence. But we’d have to let go of some old stories to do it. I’m for that. For inventing new stories together.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
Astrophysics as it finally catches up with indigenous knowledge and storytelling. Because I feel a new narrative coming. Because to me, that’s hope.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
!!!!! Well, here’s one for all of us: how do we keep from giving up in the face of atrocity and hate and fear? Maybe it’s time for us to redefine what we mean when we say love. To break open the word and the myths and the stories and re story them. To love into the otherness, into the unknown, from the inside out, from the body toward star stuff, which we are, in fact, made from.