I had just unexpectedly left my beloved home in New York City and holed up in a new temporary home when Ari Braverman’s novel, The Ballad of Big Feeling appeared in the mist surrounding my unfamiliar mailbox. Without the grounding spirits of the familiar characters I’d regularly see in the subway station on the corner, the warm oddball jokes made by the woman at my juice bar, or the funny bearded dog who circled my block and always panted for chin-scratches, I felt forcibly divorced from my place. While every minute spent watching news or social media seemed more bombastic than the last, inside myself the days seemed to pass into being almost indistinguishable from one another. The only thing that marked one cup of tea from the next was so subtle it was invisible to anyone who wasn’t myself.
When I started reading The Ballad of Big Feeling, I was relieved to find myself immediately submerged in the vague yet familiar world it contained. What was missing from the algorithmic stream of news I’d been consuming, I found, something that The Ballad of Big Feeling is rich with—subtlety and nuance.
Fortunately for us all, Braverman’s debut novel is committed to exploding the interior voice that festers inside human loneliness. The protagonist, devoted to her own stuckness, finds herself trapped in only the present tense and Braverman, through vignettes and lists and formal diversity, dedicates herself to excavating what exists beneath the layers of the present moment in scene. The centrifuge that holds it all? Despite what’s going on in the exterior plot or in the external relationships, the body always returns. Braverman poignantly makes an adventure out of the mundanity of life in a body. The exterior world transmorphs when the body becomes messy or pained or goes through some kind of cringe or change. The body becomes its own animal, the human animal that returns with vengeance, persistence, and surprise. Using the animal body as the novels’ clock by tracking things like hair growth or menstrual cycles, time changes its definition to reflect something truer to the human experience than points of action on a line of plot. The roaring quietness of this book is one that is just right for this moment, but I have a hunch that it will be just right for any moment, or, at least, for as long as people are stuck with themselves.
THE BELIEVER: So, Ari Braverman, we’ve connected virtually with our faces to talk about your book, The Ballad of Big Feeling, at last. This novel is a strangely constructed book that, in a lot of ways, works against the conventions we’re taught create a novel in literature. Your characters, many of them are identifiable by their personalities, their characteristics or their specific positions within the story—they don’t have names, and are operating in places that don’t have names. I was wondering how you came to the idea of this unnamed identity, how you found this namelessness. Even the job of the protagonist is never named.
ARI BRAVERMAN: Yeah, I don’t know why! All of that felt so extraneous, because really, to me, it’s a narrative of internal life. And external life, but really just of being submerged in the world, in relationships and in place, and in feeling, both physical and emotional, and in thought. When I talked to Liza [St. James for BOMB] about the book she said that there was something really non-hierarchical about all the relationships, and I’ve been thinking about that because that was such a smart observation.
I think what I was going for, without really articulating it to myself, is that I wanted there to be a non-hierarchical rendering of all these experiences. Names felt extraneous because I thought they removed some of the immediacy of being confronted with what things feel like experientially.
BLVR: It’s especially odd because the book is in third person and usually, a first-person narrative might have someone be relational and unnamed, but in the third person generally everything is explicitly named. It’s an interesting contradiction that personalized the omniscient narrator in a way, also. How did you juggle the namelessness with the close third person perspective?
AB: I think the namelessness is part of what makes the book feel so intimate. The third person helped me get a level of omniscience that could depict the breadth of this person’s experience, which I think conversely allowed for a level of intimacy I don’t think would have been there if I were to have written her in the first person. There’s a lot we’re really blind to and blinkered by when we’re in a first person. There’s so much about one’s own experience that one doesn’t understand or can’t conceptualize. It was actually easier for me to fully render this character and the world as she experiences it because then I could be that much more objective. I didn’t have to portray her own self-blindness, you know?
BLVR: Did you start the book with a place or a character? What was your jumping off point?
AB: The jumping off point was trying to write short. It was something I’d always wanted to do and was nervous about and then I just tried. Part of the third person was tactical at that very beginning point. There was a good marriage between writing in the third person and writing something short for me that made these little vignettes feel much more complete. Third person allowed me to slip in more externalized or more objective details that made the pieces feel more cohesive and satisfying to read.
When I was doing them in the first person, they felt more like one-off reflections of X character. But when I started doing them in third person they felt more whole on their own. Later, as I started layering them on top of each other it began to reveal itself as a longer project. They were all getting at some kind of—I’m hesitant to say “narrative” because the book doesn’t have a traditional kind of narrative—more fully realized portrait of an experience. The more I layered them, and depending on how I arranged them, they started to be in dialogue.
BLVR: You’ve written short stories before. Do you have an orientation toward making things concise?
AB: No…and yes. The short stories I’d written before were struggling toward that form. They would have really strong scenes that in retrospect I could have just taken and had that be the piece. Or they were short stories that were twenty pages long, comprised of weird fragments or numbered lists, which is what this book is comprised of. That was just me muddling my way through and trying to figure out how I could write something that was broken up but also cohesive.
BLVR: How did you juggle all the fragmentary forms and vignettes around?
AB: It’s had many different orders. I had a really great editor, Athena Bryan, who helped me finalize this last order. I wrote them all very much out of order. There’s not a plot logic I could have followed because there’s not really a plot, but there is an emotional logic that I needed to follow in order to make the character feel compelling.
BLVR: And while you were writing these different sections what was your routine?
AB: The bulk of the book was written after grad school. I would get up every morning before work—for an hour at least, sometimes two—and I would just write and then I would get ready for work and I would go to work. My routine was very much: wake up in the morning, make coffee, sit at the desk for probably two hours, and just work and then stop when I had to stop. I actually realized that I’m someone who doesn’t do well with very long and sustained periods of writing.
BLVR: Yeah, same. Once, thinking I didn’t have what it takes to be a writer, I was talking to Stacey D’Erasmo, telling her how I could work intensely for a short period of time but then suddenly only wanted to do anything else, and she told me that many writers work best using a processes she called “burst working.” There’s this myth that writers think that they’re supposed to commit to the same routine and a certain creative modality forever, but there are people who benefit from having periods of time where they work more intensely and then rest. Like interval training.
AB: That’s very much how this was. I don’t know if it’s going to be like that for the second book, I’m not really sure. But I think that the literal routine is very much rendered in the book. Each piece is super tight, compressed and very dense, because I would sit every day with blinders on. Yes, I was writing, but it was really painstaking. I really feel like I pulled the sentences out of my brain. Sometimes one sentence or a couple words at a time. Then just stitched them together really slowly.
BLVR: What was it emotionally like writing it in those mornings?
AB: It was hard. Draining, I would say. I often would write and then feel really out of sorts afterward and I haven’t written another book so I don’t know if that’s going to be a common experience for me or if it’s just unique to this book because the subject matter is so intimate. It really did feel kind of like an excavation of my own emotional life. It was a really frustrating book to write. Often it was really kind of impossible for me to put feelings to language so I just would sit there. Writing sentences that were garbage or whole vignettes that I ended up not using, just placeholders. As long as the book is, I think there’s probably that much material that didn’t make it into the book. I was really writing into spaces that resist language.
BLVR: Since finishing it I’ve been thinking a lot about how emotions, which are a really powerful driving force, are largely so powerful because they’re non-verbal.
AB: Yeah, you and I, in our friendship, we’ve talked about that a lot.
BLVR: Writing from an emotional logic has a particular challenge: how to express in an acute way something gut-wrenchingly specific that’s non-verbal. It’s like trying to paint a hole. There’s a feeling in reading it—the text tries to get at something that’s intangible, which actually delivers the effect, in the reader, of experiencing the emotion. It ends up feeling much stronger than naming it would have. When you say something is “sad” that doesn’t evoke much. The word almost belittles the depths, and potential spectrum of the feeling.
AB: Yes, that’s a huge reason also why I didn’t have names. I was trying to transmit the feelings, I wasn’t interested in what they were called. And I also think, as I said, names of feelings or names of people never encompass the full totality of what the thing is. When I think of you I don’t think LEAH encompasses this whole person. I think about how you make me feel, the things that we talk about, how you look, how you sound, I think of all of that first way before I think of your name.
BLVR: I think, also, one of the strongest but most non-verbal and intangible relationships in the book is between the protagonist and her mother. I was racking my brain to think of other books with daughters and mothers, where that was the focus. I actually couldn’t think of many. I definitely couldn’t think of any like this. I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of the book, the strange but understood way that the two observe one another and pass judgement. How did you come to that relationship?
AB: It does hue closely to my own experience of being a child, an adult child of an adult woman at this point. I think the way I got at it was really thinking about how children relate to and respond to their parents as adults, but also from within the container of all of the earlier experiences that make them the adults that they are. Those things are always going to impact that relationship, but at the same time, you end up becoming yourself as a grown person. That maybe is where some of the observational quality comes from: the distance you have once you are no longer totally dependent, but still with your memories of being so intimately connected.
BLVR: Did you feel that when you were writing it? It feels like there’s a spectrum of closeness. To me, the ebb and flow of the book is the intimacy of the distance and how it wavers between feeling quite far away and then suddenly brutally close. Were you aware of this while you were writing?
AB: I was aware of it because intimacy and ways of relating to people, interpersonal connections, just make different types and gradations of intimacies. You can have intimacy with a stranger, which is something that I’m really fascinated and haunted by. It’s something that for me on the one hand, much like the character in the book, can feel really good but on the other hand it’s really painful—or doesn’t feel good or feels threatening or feels encroaching, but also feels like communion. For me, that explains the book’s preoccupation with relationships. Everything that that character has or does is relational. I think that’s why place is so important, because her place impacts her life. Our places impact our lives.
BLVR: Which was especially interesting to read now. I’ve read various incarnations of this work but then when I finally got the final copy I was reading it in the middle of a global pandemic, where everyone is sort of trapped in some place, both physically and psychologically, in a type of isolation that feels very present in your book. I often get this sense of indefinite isolation. How do you think that intimacy is shifting in this time or is it?
AB: That’s so interesting. I think people see how important intimacy and connection are. But it’s so non-physical right now, it has to be not physical. Well, if you’re me…. I live alone. So now my intimacies have to be over the phone. I text a lot. I’ve made a couple new friends who I do feel very intimate with over texting. But they don’t feel any less part of my life because of that. I think that has been facilitated uniquely by this situation and real life, even more than it used to, encompasses intangible connections between people. I think intimacy must mean something different for people who are quarantined together. I was quarantined with my mom for two months right at the beginning of COVID-19 and it was both a strange replay of childhood and adolescence—we hadn’t lived together for that long since I graduated high school, so there was a recall to the intimacy of being my nuclear family which was the two of us, but also a new kind of intimacy that was forged as we got to know each other as adults in a new way, which we hadn’t done before. I also think that everyone is having a hard time.
There’s an intimacy in a necessary vulnerability that everybody is kind of willing to engage in with each other right now, I think both because of corona virus and because of the uprisings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I’m talking about white people here, many of whom have chosen to reckon with their privilege and the violence of being white. I think that’s an intimate thing to see played out. To see friends talking about that. To hear other white people coming to terms with that in ways that feel very bad and scary. I see a lot of vulnerability right now.
BLVR: There’s a lot of vulnerability in your book too, so it was almost brutally brilliant timing, for this to come out now. In a lot of ways it is about a very solitary internal experience, which I think a lot more people are being involuntarily submerged in with the subtraction of external stimulation or the consist pace of their old lives.
AB: I think that’s right.
BLVR: There’s this concern in your book about the body and the animal body. It feels like as soon as the mind becomes somewhat dissociated, the body makes itself known, it always returns. Hair growth, menstrual cycles—the animal body feels like the clock of the whole novel. It’s almost structured in a cyclical way that tells the reader how much time has or hasn’t passed. What drew you to that? This idea of the animal function that exists inside of people?
AB: What you just said was so poignant to me. We’re always brought back by the body, you know? I think for me that feels really true. It’s always been true, but especially now during a pandemic where we are living life very much mediated by technology but at the very same time we still live in these bodies that need us to attend to them. This whole isolation is driven by the vulnerabilities of the human body on a massive scale. Everything always comes back to the body. At base, we’re animals. I’m so interested in the body as the location for everything. It’s the location for all of these things that we think of as intangibles, like emotion and thought. We’re never separate from the body. The brain lives in the body. I don’t know where the mind does or doesn’t come from, I can’t really pretend to understand that. I feel like it comes from my head but that might just be because that’s where my eyes and mouth are. I’m fascinated by the fact that we do live in the world and are of the world and are physical manifestations of it. That’s also why I love to think about and write about animals. The body is also the site of communion or intimacies when language fails or doesn’t fail but can only lead us so far. I don’t really mean sex, though that could be part of it. There are so many moments in the book where there are ruptures of privacy. That’s when two people really are as close to each other as they could be. Like when the woman has diarrhea and her lover is there trying to care for her. I’m really interested in a bursting forth from a physical limit, in terms of how it happens emotionally and affectively and with thought. That process is located in the body and those things, we articulate them as thought and feeling and language, which we understand sort of nominally as non-physical, but I think everything begins in a material place.
BLVR: As I say this, there is a very sweet looking and tiny kitten brushing up against your arm. Were you writing alongside animals and pulling from them in some ways?
AB: Yeah, I mean, my dog is like straight up a character in the book. I think that just speaks to my regard for her, also my fascination with her and her body and her experience. The relationships of people to animal bodies and animals, as you were saying, I’m always interested by because it begs the question of consciousness and like—fuck, what universe does this dog live in? I’m so interested in that.
BLVR: Totally. One of the major things that struck me in the discussion of the animal body, was I came to the realization that men are often glorified as being animalistic but female bodies are often romanticized in ways that sort of subtract their inner animal, the animal drives. There is—I don’t think it’s grotesque, but there is normal body stuff happening in your book that isn’t being glorified or shamed—which is kind of what it is to be animal, it’s just stuff that happens to one’s body. People get sick, they bleed, their guts go through varieties of experiences.
AB: Yeah, I really didn’t want to be sensational about it. I think part of it must just come down to something as non-mysterious as my own sensibility. Which is that
BLVR: What physical activities have been redeeming you in this weirdly stagnant time? You have a dog, so you walk your dog…
AB: I walk my dog. I am a big exerciser, I was boxing regularly before the shut down and I feel really sad that I can’t do that so I’ve been doing a mix of HIIT and yoga and I have to do those things in my house but I have found that exercise has been 100% necessary in keeping me sane. Maybe just because of the endorphins but yeah, it feels bad to my body and my mind to sit in one place.
BLVR: Tell me about boxing!
AB: Wish I could tell you more about boxing! I did a class at a boxing gym for about six weeks right before quarantine and I loved it. It’s very challenging, and I had no idea what I was doing, both of which were really good ways for me to feel at the time. I’m someone who needs a lot of exercise because otherwise my mind starts to turn in on itself; I need to tire myself out, to counteract my internal/auto-cannibalism with endorphins, or else I feel nuts. Boxing was a perfect way to do that, especially, too, because it was a kinetic way of relating to other people.
BLVR: What else has been helping, have you been reading anything you really like? Watching anything you really like?
AB: I’ve been watching a lot of garbage TV. My friend and I split a subscription to the Criterion streaming service [Laughs]. I want to be like, “Well Leah, every night I sit down with a cup of tea and watch an art film” but my life right now is its own art house movie full of existential horror so I actually try to go easy. I’ve needed it. But I have read some amazing books. I read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch which is about primitive accumulation and essentially the creation of gender roles but also colonial expansion and the subjugation of brown bodies in primitive accumulation. I’ve read The Sellout because Paul Beatty is incredible. I’ve read almost all of this funny edition of Mavis Gallant short stories which is like a very hefty tome on rice paper, hundreds and hundreds of her stories. I’m reading The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin which is a book-length essay on films, which I don’t know where it came from. I found it in my book pile so I started reading it and it’s so so good. But I will say, honestly that corona virus… I spend my time looking at my phone. Because I’m desperate to connect with people. I don’t really look at dumb websites, I do look at Instagram a lot but I spend most of my time texting people because I’m fucking lonely, man. I just want to talk, I just want to hang out.
BLVR: It’s funny you say that because I’ve been having a really hard time focusing on watching things, but when I read a book I feel like there’s some sort of intimacy and demand of my attention that’s so much easier now than watching a film. You’d think the opposite would be true, but the book demands my total participation in order to activate it, it’s not going to play itself in the background.
AB: It does feel better to read, especially lately, than watching TV. I think I might be maxed out.
BLVR: We do so much screen time anyway, that now the TV is just another screen.
AB: Yeah, I don’t want to look at a screen. I think also… it’s weird, I always think it’s going to feel good to watch TV but it doesn’t really feel good. Probably because it’s a screen. I clean the house a lot.
BLVR: A lot of people are going to come out of this, in whatever shape out is, into clean houses I think.
There’s this line on page 61 “I’ve always been bad at being my own parent.” I was thinking about this, yesterday when I was cleaning my house, because we’re all sort of isolated in our groups or by ourselves where it almost seems like this is exactly what is being demanded of us.
AB: To parent ourselves?
BLVR: Well, without the routine imposed upon us, without people looking over our shoulders—a lot of people are working from home, you don’t have to be at the office like you once did, there’s a new laxity, looser boundaries, even this meeting between you and I, we were supposed to do this a few weeks ago but everyone is in a state of adjustment and there’s so much chaos and grief and confusion and adaptation going on so there’s this laxity that many of us did not have previously, around work. That line just stuck out to me, because, what does it mean to be your own parent?
AB: God, I feel like you make yourself do the things you don’t want to do. Like brush your teeth, wash your face, get up. Have a meal that isn’t just crackers.
BLVR: Have you been eating better than crackers?
AB: I have, I’m not a great cook but I have been eating pretty well. Also, just because cooking is a thing to do and going to the store, when I do go to the store, is one of the only social things that I’m allowed to do. It’s like a relief to be able to go to the grocery store and it is nice to put on music or a podcast and cook myself dinner. Processes like that that are generative are means of parenting one’s self that feel good to me, especially when I start to feel really lonely. Texting all day and drinking beer, not me being my own parent I would say. Going to bed at 10 or 11 and waking up early to make sure I do some reading, drink some coffee, have an actual breakfast I feel like yeah that is me being my own parent.
BLVR: Have you been moved to write lately?
AB: I was writing a lot at first because things felt so wild and stimulating. I haven’t lately because I’m tired and I’m burned out. I think with the book coming out I just want to sit with that for a while, and let having written my first book and the experience of that offgas, until I’m really ready to get into the other one. I’ve taken notes. It’s also such a weird time that it feels crazy to not take notes.
BLVR: Agreed. When did you first like realize that you wanted to write a book, in your life? Or be a writer?
AB: I’ve always wanted that. When I was little I used to make books by stapling pieces of paper together and then drawing stick figures on them. I also was the kind of kid that played a lot of pretend games and was always narrating my own life to myself like it was a really scintillating novel, which it was not. If you’re a weirdo that talks to yourself inside your own brain you probably end up writing something at some point. For me writing is related to talking, and I like to talk, as you know. Like I could just talk forever. I could just talk until I was dead.
BLVR: Me too.
AB: Writing is the way that I’m like, Oh my god I’m taking how much I like to talk and just making it as good as it can be because I get to think about it. I don’t really think about what I say before I say it, as you have seen in real life, but I think that’s what it is.
BLVR: A way of censoring your own inner narrator?
AB: Yeah, I get to editorialize, you know? That’s why writing is so hard. It’s easy to be like blah blah blah blah, but then to take that out and put it on a piece of paper in any way that gets at how you think it should be or think it should sound or have the intended effect for anybody else looking at that language, that’s what’s hard.
BLVR: So, since you’ve always wanted to have a book with your name on it, which you now do, did you ever feel like that was not going to be possible? Have you ever felt super discouraged or not wanting to do it or…?
AB: Yeah. Yeah. I was a person who thought of myself as someone who wanted to write during high school, and I was really lucky and privileged enough to be in an educational environment where I had teachers who really encouraged me to do that. Then I went to college and majored in English and did Creative Writing in the way that college students do it, after graduating I didn’t write for two or three years at all. And then I started doing it as someone who was not in any kind of educational system and I had no idea how people were writers. I was the kind of person that met people who were a little bit farther along and a little bit older than me and they were doing local magazines or whatever and I would literally completely earnestly look at them and be like “how do you be a writer?” They would look at me and be like “who is this person asking me this?” but they would almost always answer “you just sit in your room and you write.” I had to really learn how to give myself permission to do that and then to write the weird whacked out stories that I wanted to write. Because I knew that I wasn’t going to be good at writing a super normative plot because that was never the stuff that drew me. Or when I sat down to write that was never the stuff that came out that felt engaging to me. But I was good at finding books that let me feel like the kind of stuff I wanted to make wasn’t stupid or insane and then I kept practicing.
BLVR: What books made you feel that way? Any stand outs?
AB: New Narrative writers were really instrumental to me because it was so fucking cool to me that they were taking their own gossip and their own sexy stories and the stories of their friends and turning that into literature. I don’t actually think my book has that much in common with it, but I can remember feeling struck dumb by that moment of literary thinking. I remember reading William Burroughs in high school and being shocked. Especially his Wild Boys books, I remember being stunned that he could write so beautifully and so wildly and make whatever he wanted to happen happen on the page. I started to realize that as long as the project adhered to its own logic it didn’t matter what it was doing. There was no set rule for what you did or didn’t have to write. That was pretty game changing for me. And then Lydia Davis and Diane Williams were women who write stories that are really short that are often about things that you wouldn’t think would be super exciting but they become totally compelling because of the power of their language.
BLVR: I was really into William Burroughs too. There is something about his writing that always reminds me, a thing about human evolution is that an individual human has the capacity to learn a lot of things and then they die. So, it’s only by reading things from people who are no longer alive, or listening to our elders, people who have had more life, a different set of experiences, this is what gives the future generations the ability to accumulate all the knowledge that has been left for them. Everyone shouldn’t be starting from square one. We are so fortunate to be able to springboard off the backs of other artists and to start in the new spaces they’ve created. So many incredible writers, many of them no longer with us, have left us a trail so that we can accelerate and break rules and play and move language and the future of storytelling. Your book is really innovative, but I can sense that there were these other people inside you that provided you with a step stool that allowed you to reach such a high height.
AB: Just so many. Also, so many that I read as I went along too. I’ll talk about this book forever, but Jean Toomer’s Cane was a touchstone for me. It’s a modernist book that’s an amalgamation of poems, vignettes, there’s drama in there, it really defies any kind of interpretation but it’s incredible. Anytime I doubted myself I picked up that book and looked at it and was like “never mind, I’m good.” Poetry also! I know you feel this, but I don’t see there to be much of a distinction between a lot of the fiction that I’m interested in making and poetry. I read Eileen Myles’ Inferno, of course. And I did interview them for something and I remember them saying that they didn’t see much of a distinction between their novel and a poem insofar as they just really considered their novel to be their own epic poem. And I was like, Oh, if you consider something that way you can do whatever you want. I read a book called Oreo by Fran Ross.
BLVR: Damn, what an amazing amazing book, that book changed me.
AB: It’s a weird picaresque, right? Yes, there’s plot but it doesn’t feel like it builds to much? It’s just these funny things happen to this wild girl and one of the chapters is a menu… that the grandma cooks? The grandma’s a great cook. And I read that, when I was in the editing process, but there were just so many touchstones to look back on and just think, there are people who follow the path of their own sensibility. The more writers do that, the better the books are. The better stories and language become.
BLVR: The construct that a story should be told in a certain way is also, I think, a violent idea.
AB: It’s not a coincidence that the writers that I’m mentioning are queer, women and people of color. We live lives that don’t exist inside a master narrative.
BLVR: Which includes cyclical time, which includes menus being a whole scene, which includes more than just the breakdown of beginning, middle and end.
AB: Yes. I wanted to render a life like how I feel I get to live it and I think that I am someone who—is it because I’m a woman, is it because I’m nominally gender non-conforming? I don’t experience life according to the penance of most linear novels or according to the master narratives that I perceive in mainstream culture. And not because I’m trying to make a stand but just because I’m like—that doesn’t really make any sense to me.
BLVR: I was so happy when this book came out in part because I feel like a lot of publishing is trending towards books that are just easier because they resemble the types of narrative structures that mass culture has been made to become acclimated to. They are faster to read, normative, I was so excited to see this project come to fruition being itself and not having to morph itself into that easier structure. It’s only easier because it’s been so imposed through television, media articles, the mainstream publishing industry for years.
I guess my last main question for you, based on the title is, how do you feel now that exists.
AB: I don’t know. On one hand I feel a deep satisfaction, it feels a lot less intense and wildly pleasurable than I thought it would have, in part because the publishing process takes a long time. It also doesn’t feel super real still, because I look at the book and it doesn’t feel like I’ve made it. It doesn’t feel like I made this book. I wonder if it still needs to sink in, but also how much of that has to do with corona virus. Celebrations with people you love in-person are really important ways of marking accomplishment– that hasn’t happened. I’ve had readings in my house, just Zooming. At the same time, I am kind of grateful for that because the deep satisfaction I felt has been possible because I’ve been sitting solo while a book comes out and really feeling my way through why that felt important to me. I think that’s a thing that every writer has to think about—why write for an audience versus just journal? I think that’s an important distinction. I wrote this book and I wanted people to read it. That comes back to a feeling of desiring some kind of intimacy and communion. I wanted to put a part of myself into the world and be able to have people hold onto it. Both physically, and cheesily because it’s literally a book, but it is a fragment of my own mental process that other people can apprehend. It’s the closest anyone’s ever going to get to being inside my brain because it’s my language. If someone else feels a little less isolated because of that, I think that’s the best thing I could get.
BLVR: Even though the timing was such that you couldn’t have a book party and couldn’t travel around and see all the faces, it’s almost the most intimate gift you could give people at this time.
AB: I think that’s right. I’ve been reflecting on that. If somebody reads it and feels comforted—or maybe even un-comforted or disquieted but close to me, then I think I can’t really imagine anything better than that.