The always-lovely Kristina Born, whose book One Hour of Television was published by Year of the Liquidator, was kind enough to answer a few questions over these past several months. I am very grateful to her and I hope you’ll read on with interest.
MOLLY GAUDRY: Hi Kristina. Thanks for agreeing to take part in this conversation. I imagine we’ll cover quite a few topics but for now tell me about something strange that you’ve witnessed recently.
KRISTINA BORN: Thanks for asking, Molly, and sorry to keep you waiting so long. Half-assing work and half-assing school is way harder and more time consuming than full-assing one or the other. I didn’t know!
Strange: this week, a network television show made me feel genuine sadness. Also genuine creeped-outedness, what with the ballerina Frankenstein and junk. Is everybody watching Fringe yet? Because they should. The third season of Fringe is what Lost could have been if the writers had had some balls.
And yes, I watch a lot of TV.
MG: I haven’t seen Fringe. What’s it about? Why should I watch it? Pitch me!
KB: Picture this: Lance Reddick from The Wire still wearing a sharp suit all the time but clenching his fine, fine jaw about science instead of crime.
MG: What’s your favorite bad TV show ever?
KB: Probably Skins, a British teen drama. I wouldn’t say it’s bad in the same way the Real Housewives series are, but it occupies the same sometimes laughably dramatic space that teenagers do, which makes it bad TV that still rings very true.
MG: Have you ever seen that one about the teen parents? Or is it teen pregnancies? Either way . . . thoughts?
KB: I’ve seen a couple of them a couple of times, but I can’t do it anymore, because it always ends with me wasting 20 bucks on a pregnancy test.
MG: Could you see yourself ever writing for a television show? Or for Hollywood in general? Or movies? Or theater?
KB: I would absolutely love to write for TV, but I’m not sure I’d be any good at it. I don’t always play well with others.
One Hour of Television
MG: Tell us about it.
KB: See? TV is everything in my life. TV is like the big Canada goose that I wear stuffed into a jacket.
I’m not sure I know what to say about One Hour of Television any more. It’s only been a year since it was published, but right as it was coming out and immediately afterward, there was a series of big changes in my life, and it feels sort of distant now. I’m still very proud of it, though. It still makes me smile to see my copy on the shelf.
I guess all that’s left to do is wait for James Franco to option it, right? (I would probably sell him the film rights for, like, a wink and a handjob. He’s just so pretty.)
MG: (Agreed.) Tell us about working with Blake Butler and Shane Jones. What was that like?
KB: It was lovely. I trusted them completely because, from the first comments they sent, they had zeroed in on what I already knew wasn’t working but hadn’t had the confidence to try to fix. They pushed me, but if I disagreed on something, that was always okay too. I wanted so badly to impress them and they were very kind to me.
MG: Do you know what’s in store for Year of the Liquidator?
KB: They don’t tell me anything. I’m only a three. (That was a secret plug for Brian Evenson’s Last Days, which I just finished yesterday. Were you watching? Did I do a good job?)
MG: So what’s next for you? Have any writing projects in the works now?
KB: I have a few things burbling in the rock tumbler that is my brain, as always, but I wouldn’t say I’m capital-W Working on anything. I’m awfully distractable, and this year has been one of those periods where I’m scrambling to position myself to write more, but it’s like climbing a pile of empty cardboard boxes.
But I’m working on Working. I’ve just quit my lucrative job (well, more lucrative than anything I’ve had before) as a financial copy editor to look for something more low-key, more together with people. It wasn’t particularly hard work, but it was making me fantastically stressed out to have to pretend to give a shit about who drilled how many grams per tonne gold in which poorly regulated African country. There’s just this weird moral and environmental blankness that was difficult for me to process. I also think I’m starting to believe the idea that, in order to concentrate more fully on writing, your day job should be unrelated to words in any form. Retail jobs or serving jobs or what have you can be dull and degrading, like anything, but maybe it helps to be forced to interact with human beings for eight hours a day, even if they’re shitty human beings. Maybe if you work at a computer all day and then come home and sit at another computer and try to write you just disappear a little. I think, in that situation, at least for me, there’s a real chance of becoming so sunk into myself that no one can draw me out again.
MG: Let’s talk about that some more. I’m fascinated with your ability to leave a well-paying job to return to the service industry. I don’t think I would be able to work service, anymore. I’ve done it, for many years (serving, bartending, cocktail waitressing, retail, etc.), but the bad days can be soul-killing. Definitely not to the same degree as gold-drilling in Africa, but still. I would be empty if I had to come home from a double shift on my feet fetching extra napkins for non-tipping booty-pinchers all day, and the last thing I’d want to do is write. Or read for that matter. All I’d want to do is watch TV. . . .
KB: I think, for me, it helps to have a story to tell when you get home. Even if the story is, “This asshole demanded that I clean up after his asshole kid and it made me want to strangle him with my hair.” Working at a computer in a financial office, you can’t do that. You don’t come home and say, “Guess what, dudes? Shitty Ltd. declared a 10-cent dividend payable to unitholders of record on December 15.” You can’t even say, “I fucked off on my lunch break and saw this video of a kitten licking a baby’s eyeball,” because that’s a dumb story. For those eight hours, you are invisible. No one even yells at you. You don’t exist and you are staring at a screen whose words are measuring things that also don’t exist.
MG: What’s it like?
KB: I think Canada is one of those weird things known to itself only through negative identity. It’s a country that’s very focused on the ways in which it is not the United States and not the United Kingdom, and it exists in this muddy space in between, and no one really knows what to call that space or what its definite characteristics are. I think Canadians are sometimes a little too comfortable hanging out in that space, content with the idea that their country is “not as bad” as the U.S.
But legal gay marriage and legal abortion and universal health care are pretty slammin’, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
MG: In Canada, are gay marriage, legal abortion, and universal health care considered liberal politicians’ agendas? (What are your thoughts about why the US struggles with these issues?)
KB: They may be considered Liberal agendas in some circles (no one I know thinks of them that way, but I don’t get into politics with very many card-carrying Conservatives), but there is definitely no push to abolish them like you see in the States. And I feel like political affiliation is a little more fluid here. It’s not that weird for someone to vote Conservative then Green then Liberal then NDP, especially in a provincial election, where people tend to be more concerned with individual platforms than an over-arching vision of the direction of the country.
It’s not polite to talk about, but one of the most obvious reasons why the US can’t get a grip on these issues is the prevalence of religious fundamentalism. According to the most recent census information (the Canadian census only asks about religion every other census, so this is from 2001), in Vancouver, where I’m living now, 42.2 per cent of people identify as agnostic or atheist. A more recent poll I read suggested that almost one quarter of Canadians don’t believe in any god, whereas I believe non-believers in the States represent only about eight per cent of the population.
Like Zizek quoted from some dude in some lecture I listened to somewhere: “Without religion, everything is prohibited.” Religion gives people permission to treat others in ways that I doubt they could justify to themselves otherwise.
MG: What cities should people avoid in Canada? And which ones should they make it a point to visit?
KB: Anyone who thinks Vancouver is the holy land should come here to be divested of that illusion. Toronto is really wonderful and alive. No one older than 25 seems to exist in Montreal, and they all dress like 10-year-olds, which I think is fun. Quebec City is absolutely stunning in the winter. It looks like the part in Cinderella that takes place at the ball, but more stately and only for French people (but not the French French, God forbid). I’ve heard great things about the Yukon and the Maritimes. Probably no one should ever go anywhere in Alberta.
MG: How cold is it right now?
KB: It’s about five degrees Celsius in Vancouver right now, which, because of the damp, feels about as cold as -10C in a drier place like Toronto. I’m from Greater Vancouver originally, but I still can’t tolerate the weather, even though I do Ontario- and Quebec-style winters like a champ.
MG: Do you feel like “woman” and “writer” should be together when it comes to what you do?
KB: I feel like maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to call yourself a writer unless you are capital-W Writing in the present progressive sense of the word. I haven’t written in weeks, which makes me a miserable slob, not a writer.
So I guess it would follow that you can’t call yourself a woman unless you are giving birth or something? On the rag, maybe? I don’t know. I think “person who does some stuff sometimes” is sufficient.
MG: What other “stuff” do you do “sometimes” besides write?
KB: I play music, ride the bus for fun, drink at a legion where they have meat raffles on Wednesdays and I am determined to win me a turkey, watch way more hockey than is necessary (but the Canucks are going all the way this year), and sometimes I paint my nails a dark purple color because my boyfriend says black is too gothy but it might as well be black.
MG: When you are writing, what’s your process like? If you don’t write every day, when do you write?
KB: I tend to get a line and hold it for a very long time in my head. I usually don’t write anything down to start with, figuring that if it’s good enough, I’ll remember it. I add on other words and try to say the words to myself in the right tone. It might take weeks or months for me to sit down and write the thing out, but when I do, it’s more or less finished. If I edit, it’s usually to cut things. I don’t do a lot of rewrites.
MG: How do you decide what to cut? What’s your advice for writers when it comes to knowing what to cut and what to leave?
KB: Before you cut or change something, save a copy of how it was before. That way you won’t be scared, you big baby.
MG: Coffee or tea?
MG: Boy shorts or thongs?
KB: Tap panties.
MG: Email or Facebook?
MG: Dinner party or cocktail party?
KB: Cocktail party, as long as there are snacks. A party without food is a bullshit party.
MG: Purse or backpack?
MG: Boots or booties?
KB: Booties. I can’t help myself.
MG: Leggings? Yes or no.
KB: Leggings under a dress/skirt: yes. Leggings as a replacement for pants: LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.
MG: Agreed. Peanut M&Ms or plain?
KB: Peanut butter M&Ms. Have you tried these? They are insane.
MG: Totally. Yes. Amazing. Hi-Liter or Sharpie?
MG: Hardback or paperback?
MG: Chapbooks: staple-bound or stitched?
MG: Poetry or fiction?
MG: DVDs or On-Demand?
KB: I just got Netflix. It’s gonna save/ruin my life.