Question: So, Ecdysis seems to be a painful story to tell. Did that make it more difficult to work on?
Answer: It did. I waited about a year before I started the first draft. I find that with every piece I work I work on, I learn something about writing in general and how I write–this was the piece in which I learned that it is okay to let an experience sit for a bit before writing about it. I wasn’t emotionally ready to deal with the story for a about a year and I had to give myself permission to wait.
Right now, I’m working on a few pieces that also deal with very intense feelings and I’m finding that self-care is incredibly important when working on pieces like that, as is taking breaks and working on other writing projects
Q: Do you find that writing about an experience helps resolve your feelings about it?
A: I do. A colleague in a workshop recently asked us all why we write. For me, it is how I process the world and my experiences. Though sometimes, part of that process is not finding an objective answer, but finding a new question about the experience. For “Ecdysis,” I realized that part of the struggle was not about stripping at all, it was about me permitting myself to be a writer and owning that, rather than waiting for someone else to tell me it was okay.
However, my thoughts about the whole experience have kept evolving, that’s the weird thing I’m discovering about about publication.. It’s like a photograph that freezes a set of thoughts and actions at a particular time. Which is wonderful, because it preserves them, but also strange if you’re the one who wrote the words and you’ve continued growing because the story it may not reflect what you think anymore.
I think that is why a lot of people have such a love/hate relationship with past work.
Right now I’m just hoping to produce enough writing that I can actually have past work and can be angsty about it!
Q: The story seems to deal a lot with issues that come up in social science, things like the male gaze and the silenced voices of women in society. Do you feel that your work is influenced by your own background in social science?
A: Definitely! I can’t get away from it! Basically, I’m obsessed with people. Social science and writing always felt like two sides of the same coin for me–I studied anthropology and sociology because I wanted to understand people (and consequently, myself) better, and I write for the same reason.
And there are so many rich concepts in the social sciences–it’s like an endless toolkit for writing.
Q: Do you find it difficult to get away from the language of social science when writing more personal pieces?
A: Yes, I was recently critiqued in a workshop for sounding “too social scientist-y” and when I was a student, I was critiqued for sounding “too much like a creative writer” in papers and field notes. What is difficult is that social science provides great shorthand for complex topics, like “hybridity” or “fictive kin” or “reciprocity” and I want to be able to use the terminology so that I can move on and explore the subject. But if you want to write for a broader audience, you have to be careful not be inaccessible and set up wall with your jargon. On the other hand, when writing social science and trying to describe an experience, sometimes you need to be evocative in order to capture it–but evocative writing is often looked at with suspicion in the academy because it is seen as manipulative or too subjective. So it is a hard line to toe both ways.
My favorite writers are ones who manage to do this–Bill Bryson and Rebecca Skloot write about science and ethics poetically, Kurt Vonnegut, Luis Alberto Urrea, Clifford Geertz, Ruth Behar, and Piya Chatterjee all write about culture in an evocative, informative way, though from very different vantage points.
Q: How did you choose the title for the piece? Was it something you knew of before the experience or something you came across while writing?
A: Sort of both. I knew that Gypsy Rose Lee’s publicist had created the term ecdysiast for her and when I was looking for a title I researched the word and found the idea behind it, i.e. molting, becoming something else etc. fit the theme of the piece well. I also like the history of the term, the way it was used to “dress up” an occupation to make it acceptable to a general audience. I thought it was similar to the way I tried to “dress up” and retell my own experiences to make it fit a narrative I found acceptable.
Q: Last question—best writing advice you’ve received?
A: The worst story on the page is better than the best story in your head. You cannot edit non-existent crap.