Last night I had a dream where I was surfing internet job sites, and you were everywhere. Your avatar flashed red and blue, and you kept talking about SUCCESS!!! in writing. I’m assuming this was a message from my sleep-deprived brain addled by too much computer use. But it also got me wondering about how you view your public persona. How do you see yourself as a writer in the world? What’s your measure of success in writing?
I find that visual hilarious because I’m one of those writers who is loath to introduce myself as such. I’d rather claim to be the sequin-clad lady who spins plates during the halftime show at NBA games. And yet … I love participating in readings and classroom visits and whatnot. In fact, I’m currently planning events around the Spring 2017 publication of my story collection, Benedicta Takes Wing. My writing community is primarily made up of Filipino American writers and poets, and I respect their work more than I can say. My personal measure of success is whether or not I feel my own writing grants me a seat at their bountiful table.
Your story “Ruby” also got me thinking about the relationship between teens and slick, seductive, mainstream magazines. Were there any favorite magazines stashed under your bed when you were sixteen? (Full disclosure: I always secretly read my mother’s Ladies’ Home Journals when I was a teenager. Needless to say, I did not have a boyfriend in high school.)
I’ve always been a magazine addict! Seventeen (first girlcrush: Phoebe Cates) and Tiger Beat (hello, Andy Gibb) were my go-to rags, but I also enjoyed my mom’s copies of Sunset and McCall’s. In a pinch I was happy to read Reader’s Digest cover to cover.
To me, “Ruby” is at its core about the mother understanding her daughter’s sexual discovery and its clandestine quality even though Mom knows exactly what’s going on. Do you think that’s a more common experience for parents than we as a society admit? In other words, when we’re teenagers we think we’re being so very sneaky and naughty with the boyfriend in the basement, when really Mom and Dad are upstairs listening to the music blasting and wondering when they should start pounding on the door?
I have three teenage daughters who, I’m relieved to say, feel comfortable (so far) talking to me about their relationships and what’s going on with their peers. At the risk of throwing my fellow parents under the bus, it seems like so many of them are in denial about the sexual lives of their children. Or maybe I’m just incredibly nosy, and the other moms and dads are allowing their kids some semblance of privacy! It’s served me well, as a writer and a mother, though, to excavate my own memories and experiences of high school, and to share those openly with my daughters.
At one point, the narrator says Ruby’s boyfriend has “the profile of an Aztec god.” Why do you think gods and the divine always enter the picture when we lust after someone?
We idealize our beloved, I think, especially when we’re young and everything feels so new and mysterious. And especially when the object of our love is unattainable. We construct narratives around these shining few, and we remember them, always. Or is that just me?
Finally, in the past year or so I’ve seen the word “quirked” as you use it: “mouth quirked to one side.” I’ve never seen that usage before, and now I see it everywhere. Any words pop up on your radar recently that seem to follow you around?
Chaos. Rapture. Undulate. Sepulchre.