A LITERARY COMMUNITY POWERED BY VIDA: WOMEN IN LITERARY ARTS

Lady in the House Questions: Ali Liebegott

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR ULTIMATE JOURNEY?

In 1998 I took a road trip from Brooklyn to Idaho with my Dalmatian, Rorschach. I was really unprepared. I didn’t know how much motels cost and I didn’t have a credit card. We ended up on this three-week trip. That’s how I accidentally wrote my first book, The Beautifully Worthless. It felt like this vision quest in a way. I wasn’t expecting Idaho to be so beautiful. After that, every year on Rorschach’s birthday I would take a road trip. Another time we drove from San Diego to Caslbad Caverns. Poor Rorschach. Her birthday was May 28th. So I kept dragging her to the desert in hot seasons. The dog I have now isn’t the same kind of car traveler so we haven’t done anything as epic. But I hope to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pyramid is a place in Felicity, California, on the way to Carlsbad Caverns. It is the Official Center of the World.

HOW DO YOU ___Relax_____? HOW DO YOU ___work_____?

I have a very hard time relaxing. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it can be attributed to being a person who has often had more than one job in addition to having the mostly unpaid job as writer. In addition to teaching, I have had jobs in restaurants and grocery stores and the kinds of jobs where you have to pick up shifts and never have a regular schedule. So sometimes I’ve worked some ridiculous amount of days in a row and then when it finally comes time for a day off I don’t know how to relax. I’ll be enjoying myself, napping in the sunbeam, and then I’ll get filled with panic and feel the urge to work again. It’s horrible. It’s really a goal of mine to have at least one day off in the week where I do nothing. I used to have a practice about ten years ago that at night I would listen to a baseball game on the radio and draw. I loved this time. Drawing used to be very relaxing for me. To be honest, I wouldn’t let myself “just relax” and listen to a baseball game. Because a baseball game is three hours long. So I felt guilty just listening to baseball for three hours. So I told myself I could draw while listening to baseball. One day it is a dream of mine to hold season tickets and go to every baseball game that I have tickets for. Did I mention I had a job selling cotton candy at a baseball stadium in my early 30s. It was another way I combined work with pleasure. I thought I’d be able to watch the games and make some money. Umm, instead I trudged up and down the insane stairs of the upper deck and would crawl to the bus stop after work because my legs hurt so bad.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SWEAR WORD AND WHEN DO YOU USE IT THE MOST?

Maybe fuck. I think I use so many swear words they don’t even register as swear words. I notice this when I’m in the classroom teaching. Or when I’m around children. I’m rarely around children so I forget you’re not supposed to say fuck.

DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THE POLITICS OF CLASSIFICATION? HOW DO YOU CLASSIFY YOURSELF?

I always used to think American lesbian writers were at the bottom of the barrel until I met this woman who was like, oh no—I used to be a lesbian modern dancer. You think you have no opportunities. I laughed. I guess it is all about perspective. A book that was really important to me was Sarah Schulman’s Gentrification of the Mind—especially the chapter “The Gentrification of Our Literature.” It really spells out exactly what happens to writers when they write authentically about queer content, especially lesbians. It sucks. You follow their erasure. I classify myself as a queer writer. And I insist on writing queer content if it’s organic to the story I’m telling because sadly we’re still in that place where a tiny percentage of authentic queer content is allowed to be in the public eye. What really gets me is when agents or publishers who are in the closet or filled with shame try and get their writers to remove queer content to make their books “more marketable.” It’s so crazy. Or when straight writers act like you’re crazy for suggesting there are inequities and say, “It’s just hard for all writers right now.” Uh. Maybe. But I promise writers from marginalized communities are not being given the same opportunities. And then if you mention any kind of inequity—you’re being crazy or hysterical or angry. We do live in a racist, sexist, homophobic culture, and it makes me insane when people think that we’re post everything. That all of that is in America’s past. The great thing about having no expectations is you can just write whatever you want. It’s kind of like how I feel about the fact that I’ve had jobs since I was legally able. I know I’ll always be able to support myself and scrap.

WHAT UNTRUE THING DID YOU HAVE TO UNLEARN?

I quit drinking alcohol and taking drugs twelve and a half years ago. Nothing has changed my life more profoundly. I thought life would be very dull and boring if I wasn’t under the influence. I also thought I was a better writer and performer when in an altered state. I think a lot of that outlook was informed by the people and community I wrote with when I first moved to San Francisco. Almost everyone WAS under the influence and we all had this crazy fuck shit up attitude. It was a lot of fun. Until it wasn’t. But I remember after being sober for a few years and going to readings where the reader was totally fucked up and unintelligible or drunk—and I had this kind of awakening where I saw myself in them and that bubble burst. Instead of thinking, oh, that person’s such an amazing performer, instead I just felt like I was being held hostage in the corner of a kitchen by a drunk person. Time moves different for people when they’re fucked up. They think it’s fine to read to you for forty minutes at an open mic!!! I know I did. All this said, I was a very sloppy drunk. So there was quite a distinction in my reading style when I sobered up.

WHEN DO YOU KNOCK A WALL DOWN? WHEN DO YOU LEAVE A WALL INTACT?

In general, I’m a conflict-avoider. While there are some advantages to this it’s not always productive. I think I probably knock a wall down ten years after it needs to be knocked down. When it’s folding in on itself and all the rebar is sticking out. Then I walk up to the wall with a feather and wave it and say in a very calm voice, “I’ve had enough.”

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