Since I was a teenager, I’ve always tried not to conform to beauty standards, because I’ve never thought it’s safe to be like anybody else. I’ve had a hard time in finding role models who reflect my personal vision of fashion and beauty: I’ve found them especially in past times, women who lived their lives in the name of free expression, who fearlessly experimented with their bodies without caring for negative comments or censorship. Nowadays, thanks to Internet and to its infinite sources, sometimes it happens to find other fearless women and I’m extremely proud to introduce one of them here.
This week’s guest writer is Roxanne, a Californian girl currently living in Colorado.
*What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I just read Ole Edvart Rølvaag’s Giants in the Earth–his character Beret experiences what seems like fairly low misery to me: taken from her home (her husband, Per Hansa, is the one who makes the decision to move the family from Norway to the Americas, and then from a settlement in Minnesota to the open prairie in the Dakotas), forced beyond all endurance to a place that she can’t see as anything but desolate and threatening. “How long will human beings be able to endure this place? she thought. Why, there isn’t even a thing one can hide behind!” (Rølvaag 29). It isn’t that her exact situation is miserable, but that her ability to adapt to it and her own desires run counter to the life she is pushed into. Her torment in the book is so palpable. It made me think a lot about what my own ancestors went through; they were also immigrants who homesteaded in the Dakotas in the 1870s. I guess misery is usually about a body’s uncomfortable position in regards to the place or circumstance it is in. There’s a terror in feeling that you can’t have control over your own life.
*What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Warmth & comfort. Sitting by the fire with the cat in my lap, drinking tea. Sometimes I get frustrated because I feel like I’m at home too much (we lived in a remote log cabin in the Rocky Mountains), but really I am lucky to be able to do this, and every time I look out the window at the pine forest I am amazed.
*Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Oh, so many! Difficult to fixate on a few… Catherine in Carole Maso’s The American Woman in the Chinese Hat; Merry Kat in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Fevvers in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. They are all remarkable women. I also really like Nomi in Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. That movie is mind blowing, transcendent.
*Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
I always liked Opal Whiteley. Her childhood diary was published by a major press in the 1920s but then fled to obscurity when questions of authenticity arose. Whether truly a diary or not, her writing is splendid and the world she created at an Oregon mining camp in the early part of the last century is pretty astonishing and magical. Plus she went on to lead this extraordinary life… My teachers, who have been really influential to my writing practice: Carole Maso, Thalia Field, Selah Saterstrom. The writer Colette, who struggled with her ex-husband for the rights to novels she wrote but which were published under his name. The singer Diamanda Galas, whose voice carries aggression and contempt and love at once. Beatrice Wood, a Dada artist who lived in the small town where I grew up: she had such a fierce, wonderful personality–plus she lived to be 105!!! Making art and living the life she wanted all the way.
*What is your most vivid memory of the 90s (from music, fashion, politics, culture)?
In the mid-to late 90s I went dancing at goth clubs in Hollywood with my friends every week. It was about an hour drive each way and some of my favorite memories are of those nights, listening to music as we sped up the grade, putting feathers in our hair and lining our eyes at my friend Kim’s apartment, splashing faucet water on our hot, flushed faces in the bathroom at the club, the weary, long drive home after hours of dancing. It always felt thrilling and exciting to go to Los Angeles; it was this exotic, ‘othered’ space, because we lived in a small foothills town up the coast and my parents were more into hiking than visiting the city. Now, when I watch films about LA, I get this intense nostalgia from scenes where they drive through the city–so many landmarks and buildings are so, so familiar to me. I lived in Hollywood for about 3 years after college but I moved away 8 years ago, so I experience a kind of homesickness/youthsickness whenever I see Sunset Blvd. or Griffith Observatory. I’m still pretty influenced by my teenage gothdom–I have so many black dresses! Lately I have a thing for the Gothic novel, particularly as evidenced by 20th century women writers (DuMaurier’s Rebecca, Laura Mullen’s Tales of Horror, work of Joyce Carole Oates, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Caroline Blackwood, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Ann Quin, etc.). Anyhow, I think the simple choice to start wearing a lot of black made a lot of other things easier to do–like a permit for difference. I could read, write, dance how I wanted. My patent leather, my black velvet coat.
*What does “feminism” mean to you?
The equality of and esteem for each person’s autonomy.
*Have you ever given an active contribution to the feminist cause?
I’m not sure that I’ve contributed to the feminist cause as such, but I’ve contributed writing to feminist publications and I assign texts by (a majority of) female writers when I teach classes. I have my favorite male writers, too, but I have always been particularly interested in women’s writing, and especially the diary, the original écriture féminine.
*Have you ever experienced sexism?
Nothing strikes me, but that doesn’t mean things don’t/haven’t happened. One of my friends recently got turned down for a job (tenure track professor) she was being considered for because she was 8 months pregnant and couldn’t make it to the on-campus interview (she couldn’t fly). That seems really fucked to me.
*The quality you most admire in a man?
Kindness and creativity.
*The quality you most admire in a woman?
Kindness and creativity.
*What is your motto?
Once, I worked on this archive of mottos this man had collected over 50 years… I never think much about mottos though, other than that. Maybe, “Boy, u better act like u understand / when u roll with pussy control.”
*What is the object that represents you most?
The vessel. In our workshops at Brown, Carole Maso always used to say this thing about creating a vessel instead of writing a story. It has stayed with me, because I like the notion of a text as a method of transporting experience, rather than being about the narrative or story it contains. I guess that means I’m a formalist?! There’s also something at once precious and useful about a vessel–it can perform the most ordinary tasks, but it can also hold and protect the most extraordinary substances.
“Always trying to attatin the unattainable. Container of the uncontainable. Weird, gorgeous vessel. Voluptuous vessel. Room for the random, the senseless, the heartbreaking to be played out. A form both compressed, distilled, and expansive enough to accomodate the most difficult and the most subtle states of being.” –Carole Maso, Break Every Rule: essays on language, longing, & moments of desire.
*Who would you have liked to be?
Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a cat.
*Could you put your identity into a few key words?
Snapdragon, curiosity, writer, reader, camera, collector, archivist, recorder, paragraph, dress, diary, ax
*How do you imagine your identity changing in ten years? Or twenty?
Hopefully I will be more firmly entrenched somewhere than I am now. This year is a big year for things happening–I will receive my Ph.D. in creative writing in June; I am getting married in July; I moving across the country in August; my ‘first’ novel will be published in the fall (Glamorous Freak: How I Taught My Dress to Act, Jaded Ibis Press) etc. So, I suppose I will be much the same only more professional. & Writing because I enjoy it.
I first got to know Roxanne through her amazing photostream on Flickr: I realized she was an incredibly original photographer and model, and I immediately became a fan of her unique style. In a world where conformism is the rule to follow, Roxanne stood out like a bright flower in the rough. Later, I realized her talent for writing and I knew I had finally found another “restless soul”, a woman who lives according to her own rules, who doesn’t hide her inner self under layers of fake personas but lets it shine through all the expressions of her art.