It’s April, and that means it’s time for the Get Lit! Festival (April 23-29). Top events on my list include the Brit Bennett and Maggie Smith reading (I loved Bennett’s novel, The Mothers), and the Native Women reading, featuring writers Tifffany Midge, Dawn Pichon Barron, Tiffany Midge, Ruby Hansen Murray, M.L. Smoker, and more. Check out the Get Lit! website for a full schedule of events, getlitfestival.org.
Local writer Chelsea Martin is involved with a whopping FIVE events at Get Lit! this year. Her most recent book, the memoir Caca Dolce, is a tour de force, stirring and hilarious, damning and redemptive. Chelsea was kind enough to answer some questions I sent her over email:
You and your boyfriend, artist Ian Amberson, moved to Spokane about a year and a half ago. What drew you both to Spokane and what’s it like being here at this stage in your artistic careers? We basically moved here because it was an inexpensive city close to family. Spokane is a small city and there are a lot of cultural gaps, which can be frustrating, but I think it’s cool to think of it as an opportunity to be a part of filling some of those gaps. Ian and I started Spokane Zine Fest last year because we noticed no one was doing it, and it feels really good to be able to bring that to Spokane and see how many people here are already making zines.
At the book’s end, you write, “I’ve come to think of all of my past selves as if they are my daughters. I want to stand up for them, to make sure that even when they were being very bad they were still loved and understood, even if only by their future self.” This was a profound moment for me. Was this idea present as you wrote the memoir, or did you uncover it in the process? It was definitely something I came to while writing. One of the most positive things to come out of writing this collection was coming to that realization. The idea that I could love my past selves instead of feeling embarrassed or regretful or nostalgic about them was a revelation, and has also helped me forgive myself and move on from a lot of things.
Caca Dolce is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve ever read, yet there is also this very sobering behavior in it, particularly from adult male figures who should be acting parental, but who instead act like petulant (and abusive) toddlers. How do you see pain and humor functioning in your work? Within a memoir, especially my own, I see humor working as a nervous tic, as a way to make readers feel comfortable and happy as they’re presented with uncomfortable and vulnerable stories. I use humor a lot in my work, but I intentionally tried to tone it down in this book, for one because it felt like endless nervous laughter, but also because I wanted each essay to feel like it had been written at the time I was writing about, and I’ve never viewed the present moment with much of a sense of humor.
“Voluntary Responses to Involuntary Sensations” was one of the hardest-hitting chapters in the book for me because it so deftly describes your experiences with Tourette’s and OCD. How is memoir writing different from other forms of writing/art, and do you find the work agonizing or cathartic or both? In general I found writing about myself very stressful. It didn’t feel playful, like putting fiction together does. It felt like building complicated IKEA furniture without instructions. I knew what stories I wanted to tell and the feelings I wanted to portray, but I had no idea how to get there. The Tourette’s piece in particular felt difficult because I didn’t want to misrepresent what Tourette’s or OCD are, but I also don’t really know anything about them outside of my own experiences. So it felt like a balancing act of being honest about my experience and also making clear that none of the characters in that piece knew what they were talking about.
What memoirs would you recommend to Spokane Coeur d’ Alene Living readers?I recently read and loved Trip by Tao Lin, which is about Terence McKenna and psychedelics but is also very personal and insightful and completely delightful. I also love and always recommend Bandit by Molly Brodak about her life as it was affected by her bank robber father.
Sharma Shields, born and raised in Spokane, is the author of Favorite Monster: Stories and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac: A Novel. She lives on the South Hill with her husband and two children.