The Cupboard Interview with Molly Gaudry

TCBP: Paired epigraphs open Desire: A Haunting:

   “It is in a house that one is alone.” —Marguerite Duras

   “But I am not alone. I have you.” —Lydia Millet

What inspired the decision to set these writers in conversation? In having done so, to what extent do you speak to the bindings between We Take Me ApartWild Thing, and Desire: A Haunting? What is it about the dialogue that intrigues you? What opportunities does dialogue offer you in your writing?

MG: I’m noticing now just how much weight Millet’s “you” carries at the end of those two lines. The idea of the necessity of there being a “you” is everything to me. I attempt to address this in the next book in the series, a lyric memoir, at the end of which falls an essay titled “You” that opens with a snippet from James Tate’s Paris Review interview. Charles Simic says to him: “There’s always a you—it’s not clear who she is—but it’s someone whom the speaker is enamored of.” Tate’s reply: “The yous were changing.” For the first time, and with this new book Fit Into Me, I claim the personal I for myself and I address a specific you. It’s terrifying. Just as it is for the narrators of We Take Me Apart and Desire, who directly address specific yous in their own lives.

 

TCBP: Wild Thing is populated with waters—oceans, swimming lanes, and cerebrospinal fluids—waters that reappear in Desire: A Haunting. In Wild Thing, you write:

   I’m killing myself in all that water but I can’t stop.

And in Desire: A Haunting, you write:

   but I am not joyful 

   my only triumph today is I have risen 

   before dawn and forced my body into water  

   where there is nothing but water to feel

Why these waters, with their internal and external qualities? With their implied dangers? How do they serve to link both books? 

MG: This summer, I had a revelation about the water and why it figures so heavily in both Wild Thing and Desire. I can’t say more because it would give away too much from Fit Into Me, but what I can offer here is that before this revelation I at least knew this: in Wild Thing, I confess that I didn’t commit suicide by swimming into the ocean; in Desire, at the edge of the water, dog too loses all resolve.

 

TCBP: Wild Thing and Desire: A Haunting deal in deaths and reflected others in shared spaces. What for you as a writer is compelling about these severances and reflections? How do they complement each other, both within and between the books? 

MG: In Wild Thing, I wrote myself an elegy and an epithalamium, mourning the death of my former self who had hoped of one day finding someone to love and maybe even marry. It makes sense to me now that in Desire, dog’s family is a ghost family. It makes sense to me, too, that the ghost who comforts her is a literary character, Pearl Prynne, and that the space they share is Hester’s cottage. Or, at least, it makes sense to me that dog thinks it is. Rebecca Solnit says, “A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.” Sometimes, a book is all we have.

 

TCBP: Desire: A Haunting transfigures the male pet dog of We Take Me Apart into the adult daughter of the seamstress. In Wild Thing, you cite a brainline.org article about the high occurrence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in the military:

   Head injury has become known as the ‘signature injury’ of the Iraq war. The Web site of the Defense and Veterans

   Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), a congressionally funded research and outreach agency, cites a brain injury rate of 62%

   among troops returning from combat duty in Iraq. The figure is based on a study of 155 soldiers who were screened for

   traumatic brain injury (TBI) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003.

To what extent does the choice to reframe the male dog as an adult woman relate to the article’s acknowledgement that TBI is an injury most often associated with (typically male) combat veterans? What is gained by reframing what might originally have been perceived as “male” as “female” experience? Or do the sliding identities documented in each book transcend gender to include something else altogether?

 

MG: Regarding the gender transformation all I can say is that, as a result of the necessity of creating a daughter, I was able to also tap into and express thoughts on how perception is everything—in We Take Me Apart dog’s mother perceived her to be a boy; in Desire, when dog tells her own story, she is a young woman.

And when we first meet her, she has been traumatized by the act of violence committed by her mother at the end of We Take Me Apart. My own trauma, which I reveal in Fit Into Me, is also violent. For years, I blocked it. And then I hit my head and started having flashbacks. Dog, too, willfully denies the violence in her past. People talk about violence on television and in video games as if it is real. Real violence—real, bloody, bodies-cut-into-pieces violence—is something no show or game can prepare a person for. Of course soldiers are traumatized. Of course, in order to do their jobs, they must willfully deny it, or push through it, or justify it, or something. But if, after returning home, they start having flashbacks, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine having to experience (or re-experience) combat violence.

Returning soldiers were on my mind a lot, during my recovery. At one point, I was a guinea pig at the University of Utah’s Life Skills Clinic, where I received free occupational therapy in exchange for being able to provide them with firsthand patient reports. OT’s work with children, and children don’t always report accurately how they’re feeling. And parents’ accounts aren’t great either, as their own moods may account for what they say about their kids’. One surprising tidbit I’ll share is that for a long time I avoided going out, especially to restaurants (too many smells, too many moving bodies, too many voices and forks clinking and background-music songs, etc.); but I could not always avoid it, and over time my records showed that on the occasions I’d had a drink, I remained in the environment longer. We all know that alcohol dulls the senses. But in this context, it was an interesting research find, because perhaps it could be useful to therapists working with this huge adult demographic of returning soldiers. And while dog doesn’t suffer a head trauma, she is still in trauma. That she drinks heavily, to numb herself, is at least a little bit influenced by my own past as a heavy drinker and my subsequent ambivalence about whether or not to drink in stressful situations. But, I mean, I also just want you to worry about her.

 

TCBP: What’s next, writing-wise?

MG: I’ve finished Fit Into Me ahead of schedule, so the pressure’s off to deliver the next manuscript to my publisher. I’m going to take a little breather—a necessary one. Now that my PhD coursework is done, it’s my reading year and I’ve got 120 books on my exam lists: 40 historical from Homer to Saurraute, 40 contemporary from Ellison to Rankine, and 40 theoretical from Aristotle to Marie-Laure Ryan. My exam is in May 2016. I don’t think I’ll be writing much, but I know I’ll be reading. And this is a gift. I’ve come a long way since Wild Thing, when I could hardly read at all and it was all I could do to keep from feeling sorry for myself every morning when I woke. Today, I feel as if I’ve got my life back. And I’m loving it.

Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil, named 2nd finalist for the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry, and has earned her comparisons to Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras, Angela Carter, and Cormac McCarthy. The verse novel continues to be taught at Brown, Wesleyan, Cornell College, Queens College, CUNY, and other creative writing programs in the US. In December 2015, Ampersand Books will release its sequel, Desire: A Haunting. Gaudry teaches fiction, flash fiction, and lyric essay workshops for the Yale Writers’ Conference, as well as teen workshops for New Haven’s Company of Writers.

Here, the Cupboard Pamphlet speaks with author Molly Gaudry about Desire: A Haunting and the ways in which it intersects with her chapbook Wild Thing (the Cupboard Pamphlet 2014).