The story has these wonderful systems of symbol and imagery, and they’re all fully present in that final image. When I write a poem, this happens only partly through calculation, but partly as something the page gives back to me; the collective unconscious or the muse or whatever just sort of does its thing. What was it like for you? Were you working toward that final image of the mother, or did some of that imagery just crop up?
It was very much like that for me—an unconsciousness at work, sort of simmering a lot of themes under the surface while I insisted on bringing the mother character back. I had decided at the inception of the story that I wanted the parallel of the narrator’s mother to feel firm throughout because the worth of feminine-centered labor was the heart of my interest in this scene, but, even in its final draft, a lot of that feels buried without the final image of her mother.
Once I had decided on that image, partially because of the necessary monotonous skill and partially because of its edge of weaponized femininity, I felt like the piece had finally come to a natural close. For me, that unconscious muse is really just the part of myself that knows when to stop talking.
I’m gratified to see a first-person story in the voice of a sex worker, and I particularly like its frankness and transparency about that profession. What made you want to write about this world?
I’m very invested in reading the stories of women and femme folks’ experiences from different voices, and it’s something that seems more urgent/important every day. There are so many ways that people come to sex work, and unfortunately the narratives we propagate are rarely comprehensive. These characters are very specific perspectives to sex work, and I didn’t want this story to be about imminent danger or pity or shame or hearts-of-gold. This story is meant to tell an aspect of sex work that is specific to a certain degree of autonomy and privilege that doesn’t encompass every sex worker’s experience. I decided that there were going to be pieces of them and their lives that were unanswered and contradictory and that allowing that was more of a service to them. Sex work is a huge part of our culture, and the way that it is talked about changes the lives of a lot of people, families. Shying away from the labor aspect of it—the job of it, the it, really—helps to dismiss the diversity of this experience.
I like the undergrad psychology at work in this story, where the deeper psychology is so lush and intriguing. There’s an interesting juxtaposition, I mean, between the sex worker’s analysis and the more complicated truth of the story. What are you up to there?
I wanted this character be the kind of person who is always ready to rationalize, sometimes defensively, but also for herself. What we’re willing to tolerate is really just what we’re willing to excuse. And the pseudo psych analysis the narrator seems to live in excuses a lot of stuff. She is too smart for herself, but also, she thinks she’s too smart for herself. That post-Psych 101 mentality can really fuck you up.
Since it’s a story about a profession, I hope it’s not too much of a sideline to ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up. (I wanted to be a truck driver.) How close have you come? Will you make it?
This is silly but when I was very little I wanted to be First Woman President of the U.S.A. (full title). I’m pursuing an MFA right now, so I can’t say I’m going to make it. But, I said this all the time, wrote it on elementary school papers, blah blah. Then, my father, who lived in NYC at the time of Clinton’s Senate tenure, told me that it looked like Hillary would be the First Woman POTUS, and I would have to settle for Second Woman President, and I became so appalled that I couldn’t be first, I decided I wanted to write instead.
Where do you get your story ideas, and is this part of a larger project? If so, I’d love to hear about it.
This is tough. I keep a notebook, like everyone does, of ideas that come to me in the thrill of daily life—the future Pulitzer I thought of at the Laundromat, my bestselling YA novel from traffic, etc. But, I think my favorite story ideas come from moments in my life that I am able to hide under fiction and type, delete, rewrite until they read how I wish they had gone.
Bonus question: You have an unusual nom de plume. Is there a story behind it?
When I married, I added my partner’s surname to my long list of surnames: my middle name is my mother’s maiden name; next, my father’s surname; now my new surname. Caitlyn seems like the only one that’s exclusive to me. I typed out Caitlyn GD and asked myself, “Will they let me do this?” and I decided, “Fuck them if they don’t.”