Note: My Monomania is a series in which I interview those with whose work or mission I am obsessed. This is part 3.
Myriam Gurba, photo courtesy of Myriam Gurba
Myriam Gurba is a writer who lives and teaches in Long Beach, California.
I first heard her work read live, when she performed in Portland at Lewis and Clark State College with the incomparable Sister Spit. I had read with Sister Spit twice before, as a guest reader in Las Vegas, and thought, “Oh. I have something in common with her!”
I realized quickly I was no god damn Myriam Gurba. My mouth hung wide open the whole time she read. I could not believe how lovely and delicate was her beauty vs. the blunt force words coming out of her mouth. I could not believe what I was hearing, and I could not believe how hard I was laughing. Afterward, I could not believe how hard it all made me think. Finally, someone who would say these hilarious, true things and not be sorry about it. Finally, sometime the next day, I shut my mouth.
I then read her chapbook, “Wish You Were Me.” ($5! Buy it!) It was released a couple years ago by Kevin Sampsell’s Portland based Future Tense Press. It is also available as an e-book, but I think the one with staples trumps the one for your Kindle, even though they say the same things, and even though I have a Kindle.
Here’s the trailer.
I have since read basically everything else she has written, including Dahlia Season, which won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, among other honors. I feverishly and stalkerishly, though we are friends there, so not over the top stalkerishly, read her Facebook status updates. I read her blogs at her website, Lesbrain. I need menudo & Herb, her new chapbook. I even want to get some of her books distributed in China, even if it means I send someone at HAL Publishing few of them and they just leave them in some English language bookstores there. Let me tell you, it would be difficult to get a Chinese bookstore to agree to carry Myriam’s books. She writes about a lot of things the government there wouldn’t really want people reading about. She writes about a lot of things the government in Arizona probably doesn’t want people to read about.
Sometimes her work is hilarious, sometimes it’s heartbreaking and sometimes it’s just damn fine writing and always thought-provoking. Myriam can, above all else, wrangle the alphabet.
Here, my interview with Myriam Gurba.
photo courtesy Myriam Gurba
Q: Your book Wish You Were Me has a bunny on the cover and a poem about how you could be a better lesbian. Tell all about the bunny, and do you have any new betterisms to add to your lesbianism?
A: The world divides into three kinds of people, cat people, dog people, and the rest of us. I am a rabbit person and I believe that Kevin Sampsell, the genius behind Future Tense Press and the publisher of Wish Your Were Me, put a bunny on my chapbook’s cover because he supports the rest of us. I was thrilled when I saw the final product because rabbits have the best RBFs, resting bitch faces. They express so much perfect disgust. My wusband and I recently adopted an iguana and iguanas have amazing faces, too. Ours constantly expresses a slow rage. A rage that never quite gets off the ground. I think Wish You Were Me also has some rabbit joke/poems in it.
As for adding to my poem/chant/incantation about being a better lesbian, I think I’ll leave it alone, but maybe I’ll write a poem or something about the word lesbian. I like to occasionally think about it spoken in different accents. Like, I’ve heard Japanese turn it into resbian and a black lady once asked some friends, “Y’all a couple a lebians?” and lebians sounds so tough to me, so maybe someday I’d like to write something about the way mouths eat the word lesbian. Oh, also, I was telling some students of mine that I remember that on the playground an epithet that would get yelled at girls holding hands was, “Lez!” and these students claimed THEY HAD NEVER HEARD ANYONE BE TAUNTED BY SHOUTS OF LEZ. I found this so strange and almost sad. It almost made me want to drive around in my car shouting, “Lez!” from the window so that young people can know what that feels like.
Q: You write a lot about culture and language and gender and religion and sexual identity and feminism, and yet I have passed your writing on to feminists who were confounded by your tone, which was once described to me as “tough.” I think maybe since the first time I really got to experience your work, you were giving a reading with Sister Spit, and so I heard it, and immediately felt your humor. Do new readers to your writing ever get confused about how they should feel about it? Does it sometimes take people a moment to get how progressive it is? Do you ever think about how you might be the Howard Stern of feminist lesbian writing?
A: I am a feminist and, therefore, my writing is feminist. Whether or not people get that, I don’t know and I don’t care. How people interpret my writing is none of my business. I do like that your feminist cronies, or should I say, crones (btw, whenever I hear people complaining about Crohn’s Disease, I always imagine witches running amok in someone’s intestines) described my work as “tough.” That makes me feel like my work is meaty. Tough meat, but still meaty. A hard to eat steak. It makes you sharpen your knife.
As far as how readers or listeners respond to my work, usually it’s pretty good. Sometimes people will be so thankful to have heard me read, they’ll come up to me and offer me drugs and sometimes, instead of using paper to roll me a blunt, people use to it write me a letter explaining why I shouldn’t use the word retarded. When I got that letter, of course, the first thing that came to mind is, “This is really retarded,” and that’s because if you tell somebody, “Don’t think about elephants,” you’re thinking of an elephant right now.
I don’t think about how I might be the Howard Stern of feminist lesbian writing but Ali Liebegott did knight me the Andrew Dice Clay of Sister Spit.
Q: I saw you are selling a new chapbook – I am looking forward to reading it. What other projects are you working on?
A: Well, my wusband and I plan on doing some stuff together. Her name is TJ Huberg. She’s a comic, and a white person. My favorite cracker. I want to write some poetry with my schizophrenic uncle. He develops new ways of using language like it’s nobody’s business. For example, he once described mariachi music as “very enchilada.” I’d like to write a children’s book and a surreal novel. I’m kind of working on a novel-like thing at the moment, and I think its genre is magical atheism. I also write poems frequently because they happen as hiccups.
Q:You blog furiously and well, and your tone and subject are really broad and have a notable range. Dahlia Season and Wish You Were Me and your blogs are all similar but so totally different from each other. What comes over you when you write? I ask because it amazes me. Do you keep a practice or do you just get hit and go running for the computer/typewriter/moleskin?
Um, okay, I’ll break down my writing process (or lack thereof) for those three things. My blog, lesbrain, grew out of me wanting to force myself to look at each of my days more narratively. I used to do that in high school journals and narrate my WHOLE DAY to them, sometimes ILLUSTRATING IT, while my friends watched 90210 in my living room. The blog makes me travel through time trying to make sense of the eventfulness surrounding me as a story. It’s easier when something brand new is happening, like somebody has died or been born or is blowing through a milestone, but even boring days have their stories. You can find them in conversations or in paying attention to the visual beauty around you. If things are getting really dull, you can make things happen so that you can get a fun rush and have something to talk about. I used to keep a clown mask in my desk at work for such purposes.
Okay, next Dahlia Season. Dahlia Season is a novella and short story collection. The short stories I mostly wrote while I was living in San Francisco. Some are sort of “erotic” (what if there was a person named “ “) and it seemed easiest to get published and paid doing “erotic” writing so I tried that and did it and yeah. The novella I wrote super fast and its sort of my real life growing up experiences smeared with a lot of lies. I wanted to write a book about a hard-to-classify protagonist so I came up with DS’s Desiree Garcia. I kind of hate that book now and get nauseous if I skim a line from it but it’s too late to abort. Also, the book won the Edmund White Award, which came with a cash prize, and I’m not interested in giving any refunds.
Wish Your Were Me was written in revolt. After writing DS, which I felt was such a stupid, frivolous book, I felt like I had to write THE EPIC CHICANA NOVEL. I forced myself to do that for several years and felt my inner narrator atrophying because the voice I was writing in and the subjects I was taking on were so unnatural to me. So, one summer, I thought to myself, “My EPIC CHICANA NOVEL is a terd. I feel like I have to write something really DEEP and I’m scared to write things that are frivolous and insignificant. What do I do to overcome my fears? Mate with them. Dive into them. Wallow in the insignificant, the strange, the off-putting, the too-specific, and the unrefined. Follow a trail of brain farts. Write that way because you are so scared of it.” My writing took a turn down that stinky path but flourished, slightly. The Wish You Were Me stuff came, as have other poemic things and nonsenses. I love nonsense as long it’s done well.
Q: If everybody on earth had to read one book, essay, poem or recipe, what would you demand it be?
My demand would be self-serving. I’d require every man, woman, and little person to buy my latest chapbook, menudo & Herb, and carry it with them at all times or risk tasing. Don’t tase me, lesbro!
Here is a sample poem from it:
Recipe for Lasagna
Tell my girlfriend I’m hungry.