An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk - Believer Magazine
header-image

An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Three Remaining Frontiers:
Cults
The Internet
Any exhaustive experience with rules

header-image

An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Three Remaining Frontiers:
Cults
The Internet
Any exhaustive experience with rules

An Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Kathryn Borel
Facebook icon Share via Facebook Twitter icon Share via Twitter

When Chuck Palahniuk didn’t show up for our initial Zoom interview, I assumed he was dead. Chuck is never late, let alone AWOL. Chuck is punctual. Chuck is clear. The subject lines to Chuck’s emails are declarative, to the point of him sounding like AI. The last three I received were, “Hello from Chuck Palahniuk,” “Chuck checking in,” and “Welcome to Portland.”

After fifteen minutes of staring at my own face, hoping the author himself would pop into the frame, I felt a lurch of concern in my stomach, clicked the red button to end the meeting, and went for a walk. Maybe he was just hurt in an accident. Something small, like a broken foot.

Two hours later, he emailed. “So, so sorry.  I’m just getting in.  It’s no excuse, but I had car trouble and got stranded.  Are you free to talk tomorrow??  My apologies.    chuck”

When we met in 2014 for our first interview for this magazine, he picked me up at the airport in a white Prius wagon. Now the car has 57,000 miles on it and eats tires. A rock had jumped from the road and lodged itself between the disk brake and rotor. He was able to diagnose and fix this because before he wrote any of his visceral masterpieces, including Choke, Lullaby, and Fight Club, Chuck worked at the Portland-based trucking company Freightliner, fitting front axles to very big trucks. These two modes are not unrelated, as Chuck is preoccupied by structural exoskeletons as much as he is by the guts. Breaching the membrane which separates them is possibly his greatest talent.

We started batting around times to reschedule the interview. It had to be over Zoom, as I was on another coast. Then he sent me an email with this subject line: “Something a Little Brutal.” Attached was a twenty-page story called People, Places and Things (it will come out as an original on the platform Scribd next month.) At first glance, it’s a mini masterclass on how to write for beginners. As the piece progresses, it becomes a story about his human landmarks—the people, places, and things that shaped him, burned him, and allowed him to achieve moments of grace and ken. The writing is gorgeous, evocative, but with a ridge of dangerous intimacy—reading it caused me to feel like I was being dangled off a subway platform. Chuck was right there behind me, holding onto the back of my belt so that I wouldn’t tumble to my death. When the whoosh of the climax blew by my face, I noticed it was completely wet, covered in tears. I’d averted disaster, but barely. My partner came into the room and became worried. I was able to whimper, “It’s Chuck.” He said, “Oh God, is Chuck dead?”

Chuck Palahniuk is very much alive. When I found him in Portland last week (Zoom, at this point, seemed insane) he was just as solicitous, present, and thoughtful as I remembered. But I also noticed a gentle new freedom in his manner—a little punk, a little Alan Watts. He’s releasing his new novel, Greener Pastures, on Substack, rather than via traditional publishing channels. He teaches a writing workshop with his friend and fellow Portland author, Chelsea Cain, to a group of twenty magnificent, deeply kind weirdos in the back of an old theater. Over the pandemic, he built part of a castle, somewhere near the Columbia Gorge, using only rocks and his bare hands.

At exactly 1:05pm, the Prius was outside my Airbnb, as was Chuck, in a pressed white shirt and pastel turquoise shorts. He treated me to a tuna sandwich at a nearby bakery. We then drove back and sat down for three hours of conversation in the secluded bamboo-walled yard, which happened to be right next to where he attends his AA meetings. Before we began, he said, “I’m freezing” then dashed to his car. Chuck Palahniuk reappeared wearing a rose-colored serape—a blanket-like cloak that was instrumental in attracting his husband, Mike, nearly three decades ago.

The serape dipped past his knees, giving off the impression that he was nude from the waist down.

—Kathryn Borel

I. Showoff

THE BELIEVER: You’re wearing a serape.

CHUCK PALAHNIUK: This serape goes back to 1985. But in 1994, I wore it to breakfast with a bunch of friends at a place called Market Street Café in Portland. I was telling a loud story about the Flamingo Relay—a huge swimming event at the Gay Games in Vancouver BC in 1990. That year, the New York Flamingo Team came dressed as Marlo Thomas from the show That Girl. Dozens of guys, all in A-line dresses and flip wigs, handing out 8×10 glossies of the character, Anne Marie, saying “I NEED A JOB, I NEED A JOB!”

At one point, one of them fell off the high board and crashed into the pool. To demonstrate this whole thing, I stood up and threw my arms out in the middle of this noisy breakfast restaurant. The waiter was leaning in with a little plate that had a scalding hot pitcher of maple syrup on it. I hit it. I knocked it out of his hand. And I swear it spun in the air for about forty-five minutes in slow motion, spraying hot maple syrup on everyone in the restaurant. While it was still in the air, I heard a woman at a nearby table say, “Did you see that? The big loudmouth. The big showoff. I hope they throw him out. I hope he’s arrested!”

The pitcher clattered to the floor. The waiter went into the kitchen and told the owner of the restaurant, “I’m not going back on the floor until you throw him out.” I got up and I left. I felt terrible. I kept phoning the restaurant and asking to speak to the server, offering my apologies. I kept saying, “How can I make it up to you? Can I take you out for dinner?” He said, “No. You’re a psycho, why would I go to dinner with you? I said, “How about coffee?” And he said, “Okay.” That’s how Mike and I met. That was twenty-seven years ago.

BLVR: Why did he agree to coffee if he didn’t want to do dinner?

CP: The serape! Mike is very New York and rural. Conservative, Irish Catholic. I think he was attracted to wilder personalities. I tend to be more exuberant. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “In every relationship there is one who loves and one who is loved.” He would be the one who is loved, and I would be the one apologizing for the rest of my life. That worked in my favor.

BLVR: Mike is your mysterious husband who never gets mentioned. Is it okay we’re talking about him?

CP: You know, it doesn’t matter to him anymore. We got invited to the Rome Film Festival in 2018. The day we arrived, there was a red-carpet protocol. We’re at those press stations where you have to stop, standing six feet apart. The press is saying, “Closer together! Closer together!” Suddenly Mike grabs and embraces me. He’d never touched me in public before. All the cameras were going off and I thought, “This is a watershed moment for Mike.” He’s the one who makes the action. So, I think it’s okay now. But we started our relationship under much simpler terms.

BLVR: Mike comes from a blue-collar background as well. Did he do physical labor, as you did?

CP: During that time Mike worked in a windows warehouse, stocking trucks. His hands would be claws from carrying these heavy windows in the freezing cold. I would put heat on his hands, then straighten his fingers out.

BLVR: There’s something very meaningful about you fixing your boyfriend’s hands. It’s such a simple, loving way to be of service.

CP: Yeah. And it’s one of the reasons why we don’t really live very extravagant lives now. Because that was, in a way, the best time. Why would you need anything else?

BLVR: I’m going to engineer some tenuous connective tissue here from what you just said about simplicity, and the first question I’d originally planned to ask you, before you walked into the backyard in the serape. The last time we spoke was in 2014. There have been some “Mike hugging you on the red carpet”-level cultural watershed moments in the intervening years. Some positive, some less so. Legalizing same-sex marriage. Facebook getting Trump elected. Trump himself. #MeToo and BLM. The climate crisis becoming un-ignorable. The pandemic.

You’ve said before that you don’t consider yourself a very good writer, but that you have a talent for identifying stories and piecing them together into something larger. Can you see a pattern in those moments?

CP: So much of the 20th century was about unifying and standardizing things. You could blame that on Le Corbusier. You could blame it on the Soviet Union. These meta-narrative ideas that were supposed to draw people together into larger and larger groups. We had huge mass circulation magazines, like Collier’s, Scribner’s, the Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Time. Then suddenly, there’s television and radio. Which caused magazines to become much more specialized and settle for much smaller audiences. That’s what’s happening now with streaming platforms, with the Internet. I think we’re seeing a great falling apart, a great fracturing and fragmentation. In one way, groups are united. But because we have access to so many more spaces, we’re able to fragment into smaller and smaller groups. We have access to greater pools of people with whom we can find finer and finer distinctions of compatibility.

BLVR: That’s true of even the streaming platforms themselves. They bundle, they unbundle. Back and forth, forever.

CP: And Steven Hawking! The bang, the collapse. The expanding, it’s the contracting.

BLVR: Do you think America will fall apart like the USSR did?

CP: Parts of it will. But I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I think it’s natural. There’s a belief that a person can only have 135 people in their lives. Beyond that, you can’t maintain a relationship. You really can only affect your immediate environment with any kind of accuracy.

BLVR: I find it interesting, how analytically you’re able to speak about these big changes. Does your ability to pattern-identify preclude feelings of sadness or grief or fear, when it comes to processing change? 

CP: Emotion is usually the last thing I put into a story. There’s no heart until the very last rewrites. I need a lot of structure before I risk emotion. Which is probably why Mike didn’t hug me in public until we’d been married for twenty-five years.

II. Big Enough

BLVR: One of the things I’ve thought about frequently since we first spoke was you telling me about how you’d always write with an Ativan in the breast pocket of your shirt. Not necessarily to use it, but to touch it to know it was there in case you were overcome with the emotion of exploring “the unresolved thing.”

CP: Yes, my superfluous nipple.

BLVR: And in your book Consider This, you talk about taking two Vicodin to prepare yourself for being on camera with Anthony Bourdain for his show No Reservations.

CP: With Vicodin, you can write a piece like Guts in one sitting. After that, it’s just a rewrite. It’s just making things better.  

BLVR: The old adage: write drunk, edit sober.

CP: Another effective way of getting to zero is death. So often the best things I write are right after someone I really loved has died. It kind of negates everything and puts you in that Kierkegaardian place—that everything is a distraction, and nothing amounts to anything, because you’re always going to be facing death. But it’s in that moment of emptiness and meaninglessness where anything becomes possible. Sometimes Vicodin is just an artificial way of achieving neutrality.

BLVR: You’re sober now. What was the moment which caused you to change that part of yourself? 

CP: I’d been invited to go to the Barolo Festival in Piemonte. They took me to a lot of parties, and at one point I was with John Irving and his wonderful daughter Claire. I took a lot, I drank a lot. I was running around with Claire and having a great time. We were causing a ruckus and I knew I had to sleep that night. So, I went ahead and took an Ambien. And now I’m so drunk and I’m on Ambien. I start getting messy and embarrassing. I’m confronting and accosting people and being a jerk. I came back from that trip thinking, “I’m not doing that again. That wasn’t fun for me, and it wasn’t fun for anyone around me.”  

BLVR: I remember Tom describing seeing you for the first time, looking at you from outside his window, before your first Dangerous Writing workshop with him. You arrived early, wearing a white dress shirt.

[Chuck smiles and tugs at the sleeve of the white dress shirt he’s wearing.]

And even though all you were doing was hanging around near your pickup truck, he said he sensed such rage in you. You’ve clearly channeled it in productive ways since all those years ago. But when something like the Barolo Festival night happens, do you wonder if that rage is still there, lurking? Is there honesty in it?

CP: I think it speaks to an inability to express conflict. I see that in a lot of writers. They come from a circumstance where their childhood or home life was so fraught with constant tension and upset and conflict and hostility that they flee from it. It’s hard for a beginner writer to create tension in their fiction—they’ve spent their whole life avoiding it. That’s why I think learning to write is so important for them. It gives them a totally controlled and consensual way to explore that aspect of themselves. But when you have a few drinks and no skills for dealing with that, then you’re just a mess. You’re a disaster. Because it comes out.

BLVR: It’s difficult to properly calibrate how to make the private stuff public. Especially when it comes to core childhood wounding. You shared with me a piece which will be public in October about one of your own formational wounds—a terrifying moment with your mom. I don’t want to give away what you revealed, but what struck me about the essay was how it shocked me more than anything I’ve ever read of yours. Because it was about something so personal. Did writing it make you nervous?

CP: It did, but not because it was revealing anything about me. Because it could conceivably be used to judge my mother. At that time, she was a very young woman with a lot of talent and potential. She found herself in a really limited circumstance. She was really suffering. No one knew she was suffering. I don’t want people to think less of her just because her plans went down a road that she never took.

But she did consider some dark things. You know, I will stand on my head and whistle Dixie and do all these crazy things because to me, being a genuine writer means that you’re able to shed all human dignity in a moment. People depend on you to express something that they can’t express. But I don’t want to betray people I love. That’s why Mike has always stayed in the background. That’s why I didn’t want to write about my family. I don’t want to hold them up for ridicule or judgment.

BLVR: What about the part where you’re just a little boy, who doesn’t have the ability to understand the context of what your mom was going through? Do you consider that scared small person?

CP: My brother and I do the same thing around things like that. We both disassociate and imagine ourselves as big. His counselor said for years, “Do not do that! That’s a very unhealthy thing to do!” To withdraw oneself to the point of almost disappearing. But it’s interesting that we both do it. I think that’s why so much of my work is about a character and “an other”—is that Tyler Durden or is that the brother that’s not recognized?

You know, it’s also…

BLVR: In the past.

CP: Yeah. Years later, when my mom had her breakdown about it all in New Orleans, she was trying to resolve a thing that she hadn’t done with how well things had turned out. If she had only seen the future as this constant extension of the misery of the present, then she might well have done what she planned to do. She was having to forgive herself for almost precluding such a pleasant future. The breakdown was about the idea of having lost faith in a better world.

But you need perspective for that. You need someone to talk you out of that very limited worldview in that moment. My mother didn’t have that. There was nobody for her to go to. That’s the part that chokes me up. As a child, I didn’t know why we were doing what we were doing in the middle of the night. I didn’t know what was really taking place. I don’t think I really felt frightened at the time.

BLVR: The utter loneliness that some of our moms had to deal with… You can’t—

CP: You can’t really hate them for that. They were so young, and the times were so different. And knowing that keeps you from falling into that trap of inauthenticity, where you start blaming other people and saying, “Everything I do wrong is because of this.” If you do that, then you must keep making your mother more wrong for the rest of your life. And you still don’t get anywhere.

BLVR: What has wounded you recently?

CP: One of my longest-term friendships ended. Somebody I’d known forever asked for a loan of $350,000. It was to keep his business afloat. He said he’s pay me back with interest on the loan. We signed promissory notes. We had contracts to cover all legal expenses if he defaulted. Then before he’d paid any interest, he asked for a second loan of $200,000. By that time, I didn’t want his business to fail, so I lent him another $200,000. I was into this loan for a $550,000. Then something else happened. He asked for another $30,000. I lent another $30,000. I was in for almost $600,000 and I thought, “If I don’t lend him this money, our friendship will end.”

And guess what happened?

BLVR: He paid you back all the money, and your friendship is stronger than ever.

CP: [Laughs]. He broke off contact and he didn’t make any payment on principal or interest. I didn’t want to turn it over to a collection agency and I didn’t want to sue him. I kept on hoping that the friendship would still be there if I didn’t pursue those things. Then seven years went by, which is a statute of limitations for debt. It’s no longer actionable.

The friendship ended as soon as he got the money. And his business is doing well now!

BLVR: You saved the business!? I didn’t think that was going to be the ending.

CP: The lockdown has really helped him. I should have let the friendship die a natural death at the time he asked for the loan. But I didn’t. It broke my heart once I realized the friendship was over. The gases of shame that now surround the loan will always be there. They’ll always create their own natural division.

BLVR: Then the accountant at your literary agency embezzled millions of dollars—many of which were yours—and you went bankrupt in 2018.

CP: It was right during that! During the embezzlement thing. And also the death of Mike’s father. It was a real crowning year.

[Palahniuk smiles].

Okay. To dial it back for a second. When I was a kid, we went on vacation every year from Burbank, Washington, to the beach. We’d get in our old beater car and we drive to the ocean.

BLVR: With your mom and dad and brother and sisters.

CP: Yes. And we would not lock the doors to our house. I’d say, “Mom, why don’t we lock our doors?” She’d point and say, “Look, we have a black and white TV. All our clothes are handmade. We have plastic dishes. We have nothing anyone would ever want to steal. That’s why we don’t lock our doors.” So just the fact that I’ve got a Prius…

BLVR: Right. It’s amazing you’ve got something.

CP: Whether or not it’s progress—my problems are glamorous.

BLVR: You are in the position where you can lose that much money and still be on your feet.

CP: I’ve lost more money than my dad made in his entire life. [Laughs]. God bless him, but I think he’d be proud of that. I think if he were alive, he’d been going to all of his friends and saying, “Do you know how much money my son lost? Yeah, sure, he’s a fag…”

BLVR: [Laughs]. Who built a castle during the pandemic!

CP: The gyms were closed, so I ordered a dump truck full of building rock. I started to build it on some land up in the woods that I’ve always wanted to have a ruined castle on. I built one room and I put in a tall arch, eight-foot windows, and then I put stained glass in the windows. I put in statuary niches that I got precast from a concrete place. I would have the most fantastic leg cramps every night because I’d be up and down these ladders with forty or fifty pound rocks, putting them at the top of ten-foot walls.

BLVR: Your butt must be incredible.

CP: [Laughs] My butt is largely theoretical. But it felt good to be out in the air and doing something that would normally be a completely abstract activity at the gym. Having to balance irregular weights, going up and down ladders, in the air, with my dog, with all this nature around me… It was a blast. Then I built another room, and then a courtyard, and then one more room. At one point, Mike said, “I think the castle is big enough.”

III. “It Was My Butt.”

BLVR: You talking about redirecting your pandemic energy toward something concrete, like building, makes me wonder about other outlets for male energy. Such a theme of your work is the vectors by which men express themselves—anger, violence, aggression. To me if feels like it’s hit such a crescendo recently, especially as a kneejerk reaction to #MeToo. Are you surprised by it, or does it feel like more of the same?    

CP: I always try to think of how society dealt with things like this before.

BLVR: Before the Internet.

CP: Yeah. It would be typically to send people to a frontier. People on the fringes had a place to go where they could be in isolation and live their own lives. We don’t have that frontier anymore. Which is why the Internet has sort of become that frontier. But when those people want to act, there is no physical frontier for them to go to. I’m hoping one solution might be that art creates a frontier. Maybe if people can find a cathartic way of expressing these feelings, they can be worked out through a popular narrative. Because if you see your experience reflected and resolved in a narrative, then you no longer feel that loneliness and isolation. You no longer want to throw your life away. But until it’s reflected in conventional culture, I think it’s just going to keep cropping up in these uncontrollable ways. The manifestos. The escalation. The going out and killing people. Sure, it’s a sort of cathartic release, but…

BLVR: When you say art as a frontier, do you mean writing?

CP: I don’t think it has to be writing or painting pictures. It can be something as literal as Fight Club. As long as it’s structured. As long as it has rules. Somewhere for people to go and have that exhausting experience. Cults might be the thing, too! I think we’re coming into a golden age of new cults. I got to live through the seventies, after people had lost religion in the sixties. It came back in a kind of charismatic burst, with experimental religions and cults. That might be what happens now where people will find an institutional or social model that will give them that fulfillment, so they don’t have to act out in violent, victimizing ways. At least it’ll be predictable and ideally, it will be consensual.

So much of Fight Club—and I’m only recognizing this after the fact—was built on the labors of Hercules, of Perseus. Men who were given these impossible tasks. They had to define themselves by their abilities and problem-solving skills to complete them. In that is the discovery of a larger self.

BLVR: Right. You need to struggle to find purpose, to find your larger self.

CP: The last tour I did just killed me. At the signing table, so many people came forward with copies of the Fight Club 2 graphic novel. I’d say, “So who’s it for?” I’d be all phony-bubbly. This group of like five or six young people would say, “Make it out to Tim.” I’d say, “Tell me something about Tim!” You know, so that I could put it in the message. I’d say, “Let’s surprise him! Let’s embarrass Tim!” And they’d say, “No, Tim is dead. He ordered this book and it arrived after he’d overdosed. We’re planning to bury it in the coffin with him.”

They were burying my book with their dead friend. That happened to me so many times in city after city. Those were the days I’d go back to the hotel room and just weep. There’s not enough Ambien. There’s not enough minibar. But I’d drink everything in there and take every Ambien because I knew I had to do the same thing the next day.

Unless these men and women are being served in one way, they’re going to destroy themselves in another way. It would be nice if everybody got to grow up, but that’s not going to be the case.

BLVR: How do you make it not destroy you?

CP: It’s not a bad thing that I’m destroyed. I’m a human being and I’m engaged. I’m alive and I’m not supposed to live forever.

BLVR: But how do you make sure it doesn’t become so overwhelming that you stop being engaged? Because it sounds like many of these people you meet on tour need you as a model for those outlets, those frontiers. 

CP: What always saves me is that someone will tell me a story, and I’ll spin this other story as a way of escaping that pain. No drug has ever got me as high as a good idea. You get that idea and, oh my gosh, you’ve got nothing else. You don’t need oxygen. That idea is meth. You don’t need sleep and you don’t need food. Because that idea is going to run you for a year. That little idea is your armor and it’s your savior.

BLVR: I get that. The little idea is better than drugs because it has an engine.

CP: And it tends to be the thing that engages you with people. It sends you out into the world.

BLVR: It gives you purpose, and struggle, and the access point to the larger self. If you choose to tangle with it. 

CP: I love that you relate to the little idea.

BLVR: I remember exactly where I was when I realized it was the most important thing. December 30, 2008, with my best friend Sheila, who’s also a writer. We were at Billy Bishop airport in Toronto. She said, “The idea is the baby.” And we turned to each other and shrieked, “Don’t kill the baby!”

CP: Those epiphany moments are so visceral. They anchor you, and you remember the entire circumstance of the epiphany. There was this woman in Texas, in this Dallas Barnes and Noble. I was asked to swing by and sign all their stock. She was this seventeen-year-old Sissy Spacek type. Dishwater blonde hair, very slight, no makeup. She had no idea who I was. And she looked at me and said, “What sign are you?” I’m signing books and I said, “I’m a Pisces.” And she said, “Hm. The only water sign with no shell.”

Oh, I wanted to hit her so bad! [Makes a joke slap motion]. She had said something I’d never considered that was so true. Because the little idea is my shell. [Shakes head]. Oh, how dare you. Oh, how dare you say that true thing. You remember those moments because they are full body memories.

BLVR: What is the one thing you can say for sure about yourself?

CP: Hmm. I will never be able to sleep. Last night I even dreamt that I couldn’t sleep and then I woke up and realized, oh my gosh, I was asleep having a nightmare about not sleeping. I was doing all the things I typically do when I can’t sleep. All the visualizations, all the exercises. But I was doing them within this nightmare. Because I was so nervous about today.

BLVR: Because of your Substack launch! How did it go?

CP: It went well. Here’s a horrible admission. But it’s true, so it can’t be that bad. When I was in second grade, my mother gave me all these invitations to give out for my birthday party. I was so afraid that people would not come that I threw them away. When the day of my party came, my mother had a cake and decorations, and everything was set. Then no one showed up. She was furious because she thought that all the kids had rejected me. She phoned around to every house and she said, “You get Billy over here!” Finally, one kid showed up with a used toy wrapped in the funny papers.

For years I told myself that no one had shown up! And that I should never throw another party. But no, the truth was I never invited people. I was able to recognize that big fallacy, but I’m still triggered by it. So doing a Substack is part of that terror. What if no one shows up and it’s chaos?  

BLVR: Was it?

CP: No, we had a terrific opening. But that’s the kind of terror—it causes you to get yourself screwed down to a tighter and tighter way of being, because you’re so afraid of making past mistakes. That’s one of the glorious things: when you recognize events that everyone has lived through, but no one has talked about.

In my last workshop, we were offhandedly talking about this used magazine store downtown that was closing, Cameron’s. I had done a bunch of research there once, and mentioned how every half-hour, a different guy would bring in huge boxes of old Playboy magazines. Thinking, you know, that they were worth something. Cameron’s would say no, because nobody ever throws away a National Geographic or a Playboy. Therefore, they have no value. Somebody else in the group said, “I wonder if that’s how the big box of porn in the woods happens, because you just can’t get rid of it.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Everyone in their childhood has found a big box of porn in a natural setting.”

Everyone at that table had the same look on their face. One of my students was nineteen. The oldest one was sixty-two. They thought they were the only one. They had never talked about it. The whole room—it was just electric! People were asking, “What was yours?” It was a duffle bag on a golf course. It was in the desert. It was on the beach. It was partially buried. It was in a tree. Everyone had a different manifestation of the box of porn in the woods.

We were going to do an anthology where everyone fictionalized their story. The only person who hadn’t had the experience was Patricia. Patricia said, “I think we should call it Children of the Porn.” And it demonstrated that complete joy that occurs when you identify the common experience that everyone has had but that nobody has processed. Yeah. So often when people have had that experience, it’s one of the things that shames them down, smaller and smaller.

Chelsea found hers in Key Largo when she was seven. She put it on her bike and rode it home, this huge weight. She was so proud. She burst in saying, “I found these magazines!” And her father said, “Chelsea, this is FILTH. This is a shame on you.” He made her bike it all the way back to where she found it.

You become such a limited person after those events.

BLVR: Because shame is the big silencer. I love the part in Consider This, when you talk about a woman who came up to you at an event and thanked you for writing “Guts”—a story where a skinny man loses half of his lower intestine after masturbating with a pool filter. She thought it was autobiographical. And she was like, “Chuck Palahniuk, if you can talk about such a personal humiliation, then so can I!” You didn’t correct her. You were like, “Yes. I did that. Yes. It was my butt.”

CP: Yes. I’ve been disemboweled. Yes. I weigh 135 pounds. Tell yourself whatever you want. Just don’t stop talking about it. 

More Reads
Interviews

An Interview with Alison Bechdel

Kristen Radtke
Interviews

The Process: Steve Sharp, “Vista Peace Vigil”

Nate Rogers
Interviews

Jeff Tweedy in Conversation with Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy
More