A story we think is true

Oakland writer Chelsea Martin on her new novel, unwarranted psychoanalysis, love and regret

Arts+Culture Q+A
Chelsea Martin

Chelsea Martin’s work, which includes a deadpan comic series for The Rumpus, as well as several books and chapbooks, has always been fluid – it’s not totally clear whether what the Oakland-based writer/artist is putting out is fiction, nonfiction or poetry. To some, that’s confusing; to others, it’s more authentic than anything that conforms to cut-and-dry genre.

Her latest book, Even Though I Don’t Miss You, out a week ago from Short Flight / Long Drive Books, is no exception: a prose-y, poem-y something that cuts Daria-esque one-liners with a sincere emotional core and a driving sense of narrative that seems to draw from the author’s own life. Dazed talked to her about autobiography, subjectivity and what her writing process looks like.

Dazed Digital: A lot of people assume your work is autobiographical – probably because the emotion feels authentic and the character matches what people think they know you to be like. Do you find that frustrating?

Chelsea Martin: It is a little unfair of me to say that the book is fiction. I did put a lot of myself into it, and it speaks to issues I have had to address in my life. It’s more like a collage of things that happened, things that could have happened and things that are made up, then curated to imply a storyline that never happened. A collage isn’t necessarily misrepresentative of reality, but it’s not a photograph—you can’t trust it (not that you can trust photography, but, whatever, I’m not gonna get into that).

Extract from Even Though I Don't Miss You
Extract from Even Though I Don't Miss You

I just asked my boyfriend if he thought my book was autobiographical and he said, “No,” but then he said, “Define autobiography,” and I found that I couldn’t, so I may not be the right person to ask.

DD: It reminds me a lot of Sheila Heti and How Should a Person Be? With that book, all the reviewers were sort of willing to allow that Sheila the author and Sheila the character were different, but they were always referring to Sheila the character with raised eyebrows.

Chelsea Martin: I’m really interested in the relationships readers have with authors, especially given how easy it is to connect with them and see what they’re doing online, the personas they develop, etc. People seem to be automatically more interested and invested in stories they think are true, and I think I was trying to capitalize on that fact (which may be a sociopathic way of forcing a connection with my readers, I don’t know).

DD: Do you ever feel like you’re a particular target for people psychologizing you, though? Because your writing makes people feel like you're confiding in them?

Chelsea Martin: Yeah, I get a lot of unwarranted psychoanalysis and commentary about my personality. I try to be flattered by it. It seems like it could be kind of flattering that my personality is so interesting that other people want to spend time thinking and talking about my behavioural patterns and potential reasons for them. But it’s kind of awkward when I’m expected to have opinions or answers about my own personality. It seems like trying to talk to an onion about its flavour profile. 

Ultimately, I think any real understanding is impossible, and at best you can achieve some kind of self-hypnosis that makes you feel connected to another person

DD: Since the new book in particular deals with subjectivity (and the ultimately impossible task of understanding someone else's), it seems like it should be even more inappropriate for people to make assumptions about you. 

Chelsea Martin: Ultimately, I think any real understanding is impossible, and at best you can achieve some kind of self-hypnosis that makes you feel connected to another person, but I think it’s a worthy achievement even if it is an illusion.

DD: It seems like you could have constructed ETIDMY in a weird order, gradually – is that accurate?

CM: Most of ETIDMY was written on my couch at night after work while partially drunk on gin and tonics. I tend to get a little emotional when I’m drinking, so I think most of the love and regret stuff arose out of being in that state. I would open a new Word document and type whatever stupid things came into my head, totally unfiltered. Some of this writing would make its way into different Word documents with other writing and I would move things around and edit. At the time I had a shitty stressful full-time office job that made me really depressed. It really motivated me to get more serious about art and to try to get to a place where I wouldn’t have to work for somebody else (at least not full time). 

DD: What’s your writing process like in general? Do you let things come together in a sort of serene-acceptance-of-the-unpredictable-nature-of-art sort of way?

CM: I definitely feel like I keep writing the same thing over and over. I don’t really see where one stops and another begins, except for the arbitrary lines created by publishing things. I was working on the comic and the book simultaneously, and often I would take pieces of text from one project [and put them] into another, and back again, trying to decide what medium would best serve it. So, the two projects really blend together in my mind, not just thematically but because I spent time envisioning them in the other form. 

It’s confusing, and I’m not totally sure that all of it ended up in the right place, or that it shouldn’t have been part of the same collection, and I think there may be some pieces of text that literally occur in both. But it’s too late to change any of it, probably.

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