A quick chat with Lidia Yuknavitch…

…just to keep us tided over ’til she comes to town to chat with us in greater depth in May. Enjoy! (…& thanks, Lidia! ❤ )


So, Lidia, here we are. Thank you so much for chatting with me—and advance thanks on behalf of the many writers who are looking forward to talking further with you at Evenings With Our Authors next month. We can’t wait.

First. Every April I host an informal Every Day in April challenge across my various workshops and writing communities—a ton of folks band together and commit to producing new writing every single day for a month, knowing that they’re part of an invisible band of fellows scattered all over creation who are in it together. Lots of big writing happens, inevitably. Moreso during that month than at any other time of year, I notice the other plates of my life rearrange to serve that commitment, and I get a good hard look at what complements my creative life and what challenges it. When do you write best? (& how do you define that?)

I very much like what you describe. If we could just “arrange” the pieces of our lives like that all the time, writing would be at the center, yes? I write best in large blocks of time in my home—in my writing room—when I can hear my family living around me. Unlike some writers I take great comfort in their company—their nearness. For this reason I’m not that interested in writing “retreats.” I tend to “go away” internally, and find no desire to leave in order to write. Ever since I invented my first two imaginary friends, Boca and Modart, I’ve known I could be utterly in my own world and still near other people. In these large chunks of time, and I’m talking about 2-5 hour chunks, a little bit I go into a kind of trance. I suspect some people know what I mean by that. It’s essential. In this other “place,” writing comes from the nonlogical nonlinear nonsensical part of my imagination. Also, I write in the afternoons or evenings or at night. I am SO not a morning person. Seriously. I’m a dead woman in the mornings. I come alive after noon. I think I might be a lucky kind of writer. I don’t ever feel like I don’t have enough time or I have to force writing into my routine. I wait for it, and she is always there, she comes when it’s time, and fills the room of me and the space of the page. I don’t worry about the not-writing time. All it means is writing is happening inside of me, turning like a beautiful blue stone in water.

When The Chronology of Water was released last spring, I know I was one of many readers whose entire headspace around memoir/personal narrative was knocked onto a whole new axis. I’ve been teaching nonfiction workshops year-round for almost a decade, and have never read something that claims its story space quite as assertively as COW does. (I’m thinking at this moment about the line “I don’t know why women can’t make the story do what they want.”) My first response to the book was deeply personal—it helped me realize some pretty defining questions about my own narrative, on top of questions about how to integrate the threads I’d labeled “non-story,” and how to realize a foreground and figurative shape that could support my own essaying. Those questions have lead me into the most integrative writing period of my life. How did you arrive at the point where you could integrate story and sense and “write your guts out?” What do you say to writers who are in that space?

I like how you put that. A lot. And when you mention the figure / foreground—that very much resonates with me. I learned a great deal, if not all I know about formal strategies in writing, from painting. The fastest way to say it is that there was no other way to write COW. It had to be in non-linear fragments so that I could foreground and mimic the way memory works. It had to have emotional environments now and again because emotions rise and fall like waves in life. It had to detour into poetics and lyricism because our lives are never sentences. It had to interrupt grammar because we don’t live grammar. It had to be a wholly invented language of the body, because I wanted to tell a body story.

What I tell writers is that: to work on a body story. To bring the body to the foreground, to listen and feel for sensory truths, to stop repressing our corporeal truths in favor of our thinking truths. Then I give them Leaves of Grass. Ha.

What is teaching about for you? What role do you assign yourself as an instructor? Your Ecstatic States workshop through LitQuake was a hell of a ride. I think I learned more about how to work with myself in that workshop than I have in any other.

For me teaching is about jamming my foot in a door before it closes and helping as many humans as possible get through. I don’t identify with any kind of “mastery” or “expertise” on any given topic. I identify with a kind of art activism whereby I am kind of like the person standing at the border of things helping people to cross territories of danger or difficulty. Do you know what I mean? The people I’m fortunate enough to get to work with are already inside a momentum and creativity that is astonishing. I consider it my profound duty to usher them toward their own song. Not toward mine or anyone else’s.  And this: you already have what you need to push up and through. I reflect it back to you so you can claim it.

You wrote in COW about the importance of finding one’s tribe, and one’s twin in one’s tribe, and specifically about how twins make one another’s words more possible. I can imagine few more healing conversations we can have at the cultural level than a more inclusive one about lineages, plural. Whose work has made space for yours? Whose do you hope your work will make space for?

Painters have made way for my work, filmmakers and poets and musicians. There are specific individuals I could name, like Marguerite Duras or William Faulkner or Kathy Acker or Gertrude Stein, but when I think about it, it isn’t really an individual. It’s like a stream I witnessed and wanted to be part of so I dove in. And it is my hope that anyone who finds any of my work at all moving or “useful” sees that we are all part of a larger storymaking set of streams that lead to an art ocean. I often hope my work helps people who have felt invisible, or wrong, or damaged, or freakish to feel less alone… we are none of us alone. I found a world in art. I can live there. I can show others how to get there too.

What kind of dance with lit-to-come do you hope to find yourself doing through your work with Chiasmus? (Alt: If the press had a soundtrack, what tunes would be on it?)

If the press had a soundtrack it would be music we haven’t heard yet. I’m fundamentally fascinated by a kind of unending “what if”-ism to things. I’m in the process of taking the press out of hiatus, and I’m looking to reinvent it in terms that open up good questions about the literary arts. If there could be a music that reflected DNA and space matter and the natural world…

Creative folks tend to be driven by pretty fierce beliefs. What do you believe in?

Love and art.

Favorite day of the week?

Hmmm. My favorite day of the week is from fall through Christmas.

What message(s) has the universe been sending you lately?

Follow your joy. I’m not good at this—I work too hard and have trouble with shame issues. But I’m motherfucking working on it, because I can see it’s worth it, and I am too.


2 thoughts on “A quick chat with Lidia Yuknavitch…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s