Smoking With Kate Wisel
by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story December 15, 2014
Tell me about your worst roommate experience. Be sure to include the most audacious, disgusting story of bathroom crimes, even if it’s your doing. Especially if it’s your doing.
My roommates have always been some of my best friends, so I’m worried this may be some kind of a setup. But I guess I had a moment in college where I wasn’t sober and I used a guy’s toothbrush, thinking it was cute. I regret it and it wasn’t.
Your story speaks of the things both lost and gained by relationships like these, a theme you carry throughout your story. Isn’t that true of life in general, a give and take?
Yes. I’m always drawn to characters or scenes that have this crushing polarity to them. I’d read “Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie at the time I wrote this piece. Each vignette from grade school has so much turn, like fourth grade, the year the protagonist’s teacher told him he could one day heal his tribe and the year his father started drinking vodka by the gallon.
I have to remind myself of this push-and-pull notion when I’m fearful of change. There will always be something you lose if you move or don’t move, that you’ve already lost. To some people, it’s God who gives and takes away. The only way I’ve been able to express this awe or mystery is through writing.
You mention Freddie Mercury posters. Have you ever seen Queen’s concerts at Wembley, either the Live Aid set from ’85 or the whole two-hour show from ’86? I’m not even a huge Queen fan, but those are the best live performances ever.
I actually haven’t. I was born in ’89, so maybe that can be my excuse. But in the story, Freddie Mercury was before Jess’ time, too, and I wanted her to come through as a character who appreciated and introduced the protagonist to music or art that moved her. It’s back to that whole notion of the give and take with relationships and absorbing each other. You lost something of yourself by becoming close, but somehow you’re more you than ever being part them.
In the last section, Raffa jokes that the women can all move back in together after they get divorced one day. When your protagonist, the you, smiles, it’s so sad, because it’s so clear what the story is about at that point, this love for Raffa, for youth, for this type of bond. If you wrote the sequel to this story, what would this protagonist do to pass the time until this reunion happens?
It’s funny you point to that moment. When I wrote the story I was at a writing workshop in New Hampshire called Sonad Glen Brook. The workshop serves as a cross-pollination between writers and chamber musicians. One of the exercises was to, as writers, observe the musicians as they practiced, and to imagine the story the music told. I looked closely for the dynamic between the musicians and collected their small, unconscious gestures, like a violinist resting her head on the scroll.
At one point, after the end of this massively long and beautiful piece, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, I watched one of the players in this knowing eye contact with the composer, and she briefly smiled at him. I felt it was in a sort of recognition for what they’d just accomplished together. That changed my writing because I realized these gestures told a larger story than I could ever insert.
But back to your question, I imagine the protagonist in this interim trying on a bunch of different adult outfits that don’t quite fit her right, making selfish or individual choices that have bigger impacts on her future. When you’re in your twenties, everyone blooms into these married people, even if it’s to a job or a city, and it’s interesting to wonder when and if people come back together and in what way.
But maybe it’s not such a joke, the dream the girls have of their reunion, the borderline preparation for it. I was talking to a woman who read this story and was passionate about what this line meant. Both she and her husband were committed to their marriage and kids, but both their parents had been divorced, and she admitted it’s hard to not assume it might happen.
And you’re right that the story becomes about this shared love affair between these girls who would have to give each other away at their weddings instead of their fathers.
I’ve recently heard that the phenomenon of menstrual cycles syncing when women spend time together in close quarters is a myth. To replace it, please make up the most bizarre roommate fact you can.
I’m disappointed this myth has been dispelled and we can no longer justify the vicious nature of our fights. But I like this question. It reminds me of an exercise Aimee Bender would give. What if we really did live in literal glass houses, including our mind and bodies? And everyone by default knew everyone’s secrets and true feelings. What would we even do with that information?
About the Author:
Kate Wisel lives in Boston and attends University of Massachusetts Boston. Her fiction has appeared in The Drum and Mad Hatters' Review. Her poetry has appeared in Breadcrumb Scabs. She has interned and takes classes at GrubStreet writing center. She has attended writing workshops and conferences in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Guatemala.
About the Interviewer:
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three books of short fiction, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2012) and he serves as the interviews co-editor of SLQ.