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the gospel of tender rage: Elizabeth Ellen interviews Juliet Escoria photo

This is that “full disclosure” shit. Juliet and I are friends. We met when Scott McClanahan sent me her manuscript. I think I read it in a day. My daughter read parts of it over my shoulder. We were both impressed.  My daughter is seldom impressed. I wanted to publish it but I was too late. Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) had already taken it. Bully for them. (and I mean that sincerely) But Juliet and I became friends when I started raving about her writing and her stories in Black Cloud (even if it was then called Boys and Drugs, a gay title, as Juliet will, I think, now admit). I remember Scott saying to me before I met Juliet in person, “I hope you like Julia.” I remember thinking, “I hope Julia likes me.” It would have been awkward if either of us didn’t like the other as we were spending the day riding around Detroit in Scott’s beat-as-shit car looking for various places Eminem had lived and worked.

I guess we don’t hate each other…

When I proposed an interview with Juliet she said something like, “be hard on me. Ask me the awkward questions other people would be afraid to ask, afraid of hurting my feelings.”

So I did.

So if I come off like an asshole here, remember, it’s because Juliet ‘asked for it.’

Also, full disclosure: I'm an asshole. Also, buy Juliet's book, Black Cloud. It's out today. It's hella good. Because I'm lazy and her boyfriend Scott McClanahan is an eloquent southerner, I'll just quote him on it now: "It's a book structured around emotions like guilt and apathy and it's above all a book that feels so brave it could get someone fired. The stories are full of diamond-hard sentences and quick little story punches. There is something about the stories that feel detached and separate but at the same time there is a warmth to the voice: a narrator's mother appears in the same story as an abortion, and there is a tenderness expressed towards a boyfriend's ex-girlfriend who has passed away. Perhaps this is even an obsession. Perhaps this is even a haunting with Escoria. Maybe that's what I love about the book the most. It feels like it's a ghost book and the biggest ghost of all is Escoria herself."



speaking of insecurities, how do you deal with scott writing The Sarah Book, which is about his first wife/first marriage,  as the two of you prepare to embark upon a life/marriage together? Are there times you are jealous of her/the book? That you feel insecure about it?

Scott began the book before we were ever in a romantic relationship, so I think it would be really shitty of me to decide he couldn’t work on it. I also think it would be different if The Sarah Book was a bad book. But it’s not. It’s the best thing Scott’s ever written. I want Scott to be the kind of writer that people read in a hundred years. I want him to write masterpieces, plural. I want him to write The Sarah Book.

It’s also easier because The Sarah Book is fiction, and he’s incorporated a lot of me into the stories. So that makes me feel good. Plus, I think that in general I am not an especially jealous person and generally only get jealous when there is something to be jealous of. Scott and Sarah loved each other for a long time but it is obvious to me that their relationship ran its course. From the things I’ve read and heard about Sarah, she seems hilarious and awesome and it all makes me more confident that Scott has good taste in and a healthy respect for women.

Notice that above I said things like “especially” and “in general.” I do have insecure moments and days. There are times when I pick arguments with Scott about the book. But these have more to do with my mood than reality and the arguments are always short-lived. I do, however, refuse to read “The Sex Chapter,” even though Scott has assured me that it is mostly funny and not sexy at all. There are just some things I don’t want to know.

do you think Megan Boyle would have the following she does if she hadn’t married Tao Lin? How do you feel about that? do you worry you’ll be another Linda McCartney or do you see yourself more as Courtney love? Is it sexist to even ask these questions? Do we think Kurt wrote most of Live Through This?

I don’t know if she would be as well-known without Tao, but I do think she deserves to be read and paid attention to. I think Megan is one of the most talented people out there. Like, the way she sees the world… no one else sees it like that. No one else is as shallow and profound and casual and crafted and funny and dark at the same time. She’s got a very strange, very sharp mind and, if anything, maybe her relationship with Tao has hurt her rep because people wouldn’t be asking these questions if she’d never dated him.     

I worry about my relationship with Scott for the same reasons. I worry people will only read or pay attention to me because of him. When people are nice to me on the internet or at literary parties/readings, sometimes I’m worried that it’s only because of him. I worry that when people think of me, they will think of me in reference to him, and while part of me likes this – because I love Scott and think he is amazing – most of me wants to be taken seriously as my own separate entity. I didn't want anyone to know we were dating for a long time. We used to argue about it because Scott thought I was ashamed of him or some BS, which had nothing to do with it. There were multiple reasons, but mostly I didn't want to be seen as "the girlfriend of." I think you were the first lit person who knew we were together.

Eventually it got too weird for us to hide the relationship. I still get self-conscious, though. I have to coach myself to remind myself of my own merits, which, when my paranoia and insecurities aren’t getting in the way, are things I firmly believe in. Scott helps with this. He believes in me, and he treats and talks to me in a way that alleviates my doubts and fears. I respect and admire his work, and it is really nice to have him respect and admire my work back.

The other thing about Scott that makes me insecure is he is way way way more prolific than I am. He works all the fucking time. I’m not like that. I don’t write at all some days and when I do I often don’t spend that much time on things. I wonder if that makes me “less” of a writer. I don’t know the answer to that question. Most days, I’d say that it does.

On the other hand, maybe it indicates that I’m more talented than he is. Scott’s been writing seriously since he was a kid. I’ve been writing journal entries and doodle-ish poems since I was a kid, but I only began writing for reals in 2010. Scott’s definitely put in his 10,000 hours. I haven’t. I’m still very much figuring shit out. So maybe that means one day my genius will crush his. Haha, eff you, Scott.

I think somebody could look at this interview and say these questions are sexist but that person is an asshole and should probably be irate about the truly terrible things in the world and not these tiny, mostly-imagined instances of oppression. I think somebody could call you, Elizabeth Ellen, sexist, because you’re asking me questions about Scott, and nobody has asked him about me. But maybe this is because you’re friends with both of us and so therefore are more interested in our personal lives, and are also therefore less afraid to be impolite. Maybe you’d be asking Scott similar questions if you had interviewed him shortly after we got engaged.

Courtney Love is way too interesting to have not written Live Through This.

do you have fears/insecurities re you and or scott doing drugs/drinking in the future? Do you think your marriage would survive?

Yes. I am afraid of this. I am particularly afraid that I will move to West Virginia and feel lonely and trapped, and plus I will be away from my “support group.” West Virginia has a big problem with both Oxycontin and crystal meth and these drugs are two of my favorites. But life is too painful and too short and too long to miss out on love and beauty because of fear.

Sometimes I feel regretful that Scott and I weren’t together when we got fucked up. I know we would have had a lot of fun drinking together. But then I remember how he drank, which was to die, and how I drank and used, which was also to die. I don’t want us to die. I also consider each of our respective moodiness and the severity and quickness of each of our tempers, and the fact that substances do not bring out the best in people when they’re in a bad mood. I’m glad we weren’t together until we were both sober.

I am often wary of writers/artists/actors/et al who use their past drug use in their art or for some sort of (seeming) street cred. I have to be honest. I wonder how much heroin Cheryl Strayed did.  Black Cloud is a collection of stories, fictions, based somewhat on yr life. Do you ever feel like a poser? Or like you have to prove how big a druggie you were in the way ppl who write about growing up poor are always telling you just how poor they were? How they had chickens in their living rooms and shit.

LOL. I don’t worry about those questions. People are going to talk and think shit, and there’s really no point in trying to defend myself against it all.

I worry about different things related to that, though. I worry that I will be one of those writers who did drugs for a while and then only writes about drugs until the end of time. Drugs are easy subject matter because drug use is both funny and sad. I don’t want to only do the easy thing. But. I tried so many fucking times to write stories that had nothing to do with drugs. And they were shitty. In March of 2013, I decided I would stop giving a fuck about this and write what I wanted to write because I wanted to write it, and then I wrote seven of the stories that make up Black Cloud (the other five I had written either in grad school or the year after).

I feel like I had to get that book out of my system. I put all of myself into that project, like really tried to skin myself for it, and I am proud of the result. But right now I am writing about other things and I hope this trend continues. 

One more thing on that note: You can take the drugs out of the addict, but you can’t take the addict out of the addict. I like changing the way I feel, I like intensity, I value fearlessness over safety, and death as a concept is attractive to me – therefore, drugs make sense to me. They will always make sense to me. I just can’t do them anymore because they were fucking up my life in a severe enough way that I had to give up something I once deeply, deeply loved. So of course I will write about them. People tend to write about things that affected them emotionally, and drugs affected me.

same goes for talking about suicide publicly.  Over the course of years. I just don’t get it. And am super cynical. I have a tendency to think that the ppl who might actually kill themselves, don’t discuss it. They just do it. Whereas the ones who discuss it all the time, never seem to do it. I’m not willing anyone or daring anyone to do it, I just…idk. Can seem…like part of an image. Or posing. Or …idk. What do you think? Am I just an asshole? Feel now like I’m daring ppl to commit suicide. that would be horrible. Lol. Obviously.

Personally, I write and talk about suicide for a multiple reasons. One is that I am shocked/disgusted by the fact that I once treated my life so haphazardly – I can’t believe how stupid and selfish and shortsighted I was. Another is that I am shocked that I am still alive. I was super fucking intent on dying. I didn’t die because I got lucky, and also because I always attempted suicide with pills and pills are an extremely unreliable method of suicide and I didn’t know that at the time.

Another reason: suicide is fascinating to me. Obviously it defies the human instinct to survive, yet suicidal thoughts are fairly common. Based on my own experiences and conversations with others, suicide seems like a deeply embedded trait that some people are born with, while for others it is a brief phase and for still others it is nonexistent.

I don’t know why other people write/talk about suicide. I think a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a difference between suicidal thoughts and suicidal intent. I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was eleven years old and I still have them from time to time, but I only attempted suicide from age fifteen through eighteen. The instances in my life when I have been barraged by suicidal thoughts were fucking exhausting. You have to constantly push them out of your mind and it’s tiring in a way that I don’t think “normal” people understand. It is like having a chronic illness, in a way. Maybe people who write/tweet/blog/etc. are just trying to deal with this barrage of suicidal thoughts? Maybe they’re trying to connect with other people who have thoughts similar to their own. Maybe all that’s happening is it’s on their mind a lot and they don’t have much of a filter. I don’t know.

you read a piece I wrote called something like “every writer I have ever had a problem with or who has had a problem with me” (which so far two lit places have rejected due to its 'aggression') and suggested I might not want to publish it out of …I don’t remember exact quote. Burning bridges? Offending ppl/friends? But are you and I not both fans of  the ‘punk’ movement? And is the punk movement not about destruction? Has HTMLGIANT actually become conservative/bourgeois in cowing (this is not word I mean, will look up later) to its commenters’ demands re what should be allowed to be said on the site?

I think it is okay to burn bridges and hurt people’s feelings if it is justified. I think it is important to alienate people sometimes, because sometimes people are fucked up in such a way that they need to be challenged in hopes that something will change. Or, on a smaller level, sometimes you just need to cut those people out of your life. Some of the people in that piece you wrote – fuck them. Fuck their feelings. They deserve to have their feelings hurt because their actions point to them being shallow, and I fucking hate shallow people.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to hurt people’s feelings when they did something that points to them being human. I have gotten so mad at people in both my personal life and the literary community for the dumbest shit. Things like the fact that someone never responded to an email. Did they do this because they think I’m not cool or important enough? Maybe. But maybe they just forgot. I don’t think it’s worth the risk to bank on my insecurity. I’d rather bank on the fact that they’re human, and humans forget things.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend my petty angers don’t exist. I think that’s worse than hurting people’s feelings. I just think it is better to rage out on most nasty, irrational thoughts in private.

A lot of the people who comment on HTML Giant are the same people who would say the questions about Scott are sexist, and those people deserve to be pissed off because they are stupid. Here is a specific example: I really liked it when Gene Morgan told that Kat Dixon girl that she was trolling, because that was exactly what she was doing. If Kat Dixon reads this, she’ll probably be pissed off and that is fine by me. Maybe she should stop accusing perfectly good (albeit imperfect) men of being oppressors, because a) that’s a really shitty thing to do, and b) it diminishes the experiences of people who are ACTUALLY suffering from ACTUAL oppression. However, Kat Dixon’s trolling doesn’t eliminate the possibility that she is a smart, talented, rational person with normally sound motives and intentions. I don’t know Kat Dixon. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

We need to leave room for bad days. But we also need to be brave enough to call people out. More understanding. Less fear. If I had a gospel, this is what I would preach—the gospel of tender rage. It’s not the same as punk rock, but it’s close.

So yeah. I liked your piece because it was challenging and vulnerable and it called people on their shit and it’s relevant because I’m sure everyone in the lit world has similar grudges. Plus it was really funny and well written. I just thought that if I wrote it, I might be concerned that I was hurting the feelings of someone whose feelings might be better left unhurt.

Well, the goal of that piece was to shit-talk myself as much/more than anyone else. But what i found in writing it is that it's much harder to remember people you have shitted on or just been accidentally shitty to than to remember the opposite. I think often we are just unaware. i'm sure there are a lot of people i never emailed back who are like, "what the fuck? who the fuck does she think she is?" Also can we talk a second about this new 'feminism' that demands you stand up for all women at all times even if you have no idea what happened? like, to not automatically believe a woman ...to say, whoa, i don't know what happened between person A (a man) and person B ( a woman) and i can't believe person B simply because we share the same gender...like the whole Woody Allen thing. i don't know. seems as plausible Mia convinced Dylan of the story. Or in the case of Gregory Sherl, someone i greatly disliked for personal reasons...i don't know. i found myself wanting to defend him from the public stone throwing because from what i know, he's not guilty of the charges. he's gulity of other things, like being (questionably) a douchebag, but ...i can't get into details. but...we have to admit that what is public "knowledge" is public "gossip." to cancel someone's book based on gossip? idk, man. that just seems really really wrong to me. and i refuse to align myself with this sort of...public shaming based on hearsay. and i think that makes me a 'bad feminist (shout-out to roxane).' lol. or something. but who wants to be a member of a club that will have her anyway (shout-out to groucho). what are your thoughts?

Women are 51% of the population. Way more than 51% of the population are pieces of shit. Shittiness is not something specific to one gender. There is no way in hell I am blindly going to "stand up" with someone just because their reproductive organs match mine. 

I don't subscribe to what a lot of people call feminism because their conception of it has nothing to do with equality. I don't care if someone thinks that makes me a "bad feminist." From the way that I see it, feminism has nothing to with numbers, statistics, or picking sides in public arguments about private matters, and the fact that people seem to think it does pisses me off to no end. Hating men is not feminism. Neither is making assumptions about people abusing their wives or girlfriends or children. Demanding that a literary magazine publish one woman for every man is condescending as shit. We still have a lot of unfairness, prejudice, oppression, and misconceptions about gender in society, but I see so many people going about it all wrong.

Still, I am much more inclined to go out of my way to help or support a person if they are a woman. Part of this is identification: it's easier for me to see myself in another woman. The other part probably has something to do with the fact that a powerful woman is just so more... for lack of a better word, magical... than a powerful man. The 'Girls in White Dresses,' project, for instance. I didn't think of it as a forum to "empower" women or some bullshit like that. I just thought of a bunch of writers I liked, and most of them were women, so then I decided to make it an all-women project. The way that that site feels to me... it's a bunch of bad bitch sorceresses, and that's very appealing to me. 

The stuff about the abuse allegations-- it's so slippery and sticky that I almost don't want to even touch it. Like you, I questioned what really happened in all of those instances. I think men sometimes get shafted in matters dealing with domestic violence and paternity/divorce. This is a backlash against all the hundreds of years that women got treated like total shit, and it seems a small price to pay for it being OK for me or you to get stoned or beaten or tortured because we did or said something that a man didn't like. But that doesn't mean that every accused man is a rapist or abuser, and I would appreciate it if society wasn't so quick to jump on the accused. Here is where it gets sticky, though... because how much evidence do we need to decide that a man is indeed guilty? It's often both logistically and emotionally difficult to provide proof in these cases, and especially so if you've been subjected to a history of abuse.

I don't know the answers to these questions. I do know, though, that women need to accept some responsibility. I don't mean the kind of responsibility that admits you did something wrong, I mean the kind that acknowledges power and a duty. We, as women, are responsible for going out there and creating amazing work and sending it out and doing things that command respect rather than ask for it. We, as women, also have a responsibility to love the men in our lives and not get into some weird liberal/intellectual version of the Salem witch hunt, and to not treat men as though they are stupid or automatically don't "get it" or are in any way less than. To me, a true feminist loves and hates and respects and scorns men and women equally, and their actions and words reflect this.

If all people who were accused, or even guilty, of domestic violence had their books pulled, there'd be a lot less books out there. Including mine.

you went to some college in nyc? Which is where you met some of the Electric Literature ppl? I can’t decide what the culture of Electric Literature is. It seems to me to be riding the line between n + 1 and a more 'alt lit' type journal…is that possible? Or do you just end up becoming n+1 when you try to be both serious/respected and punk at the same time?

I think what Electric Literature is trying to do is take work from the literary establishment/academic lit and the indie/alt lit world and place them on the same playing field. This is a good goal to me. I think it is one worth pursuing.

If you end up becoming n+1… well, at least you tried. I feel like Halimah Marcus would stab a bitch if it came right down to it, though, and I’m pretty sure Chad Harbach would just sit there and piss his pants.

Alt lit often accuses the lit establishment of being boring and outdated, and they are often correct. But there’s plenty of good stuff in that world, too. I thought The Art of Fielding was predictable and obvious, but I also really enjoyed it. I think it might have even made me cry.

The lit establishment often accuses alt lit of being lazy and it claims that it’ll look dated in a few years and is therefore unimportant. I agree on the first claim, because there is a lot of lazy, sloppy alt lit out there. But there’s also a lot of stuff that knows exactly what it’s doing and it’s doing it with skill and grace and precision.

Where they’re wrong, though, is the dated part. The lit establishment is behaving like the Paris Salon during the beginning of impressionism. The impressionists broke convention because they got sick of copying the same old shit, and this is exactly why history remembers them. I find it extremely confusing as to why people want to write like John Cheever, when John Cheever wrote like John Cheever. Stop fucking writing, for christsake. Go take up woodcraft instead. At least then you’ll get a table out of it.

what drew you to writing, and to the style/culture of what is being called ‘alt lit’ in particular?

I write because I’ve always written. I started taking it seriously because I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to be one of those people who thought of themselves as a writer yet never did anything concrete with it, so I set up my life in a way where I’d feel like an asshole if I failed.

I’m pretty sure people consider me alt lit because I have a book on CCM, use visual stuff in my work, and am in a relationship with Scott. This is funny to me because I didn’t fully understand what alt lit was until like a year or two ago. This is how I’m a poser, EE. I’m an alt lit poser. Doesn’t get much more pathetic than that.

I like being aligned with alt lit because they are the new impressionists. Like the impressionists, I too get ornery when someone tells me what to do or how to do it.

But shit, guys. Maybe it’s time to move into surrealism.

in the movie Nymphomaniac, a character played by stellan skarsgard, says something about how ridiculous it is that we have mostly gotten away from religion, yet clung to the most absurd part of religion: sin. I often find myself thinking this, re “morality, “ethics," etc. what are we afraid of? Why can’t we admit morality doesn’t exist? That we each rationalize what’s moral or ethical based on our own needs/lives/art? Do you believe in either religion or morality? Re art or re how you live yr life?

I believe in both, in a way. I was miserable for a long time but eventually I came across a group of people who told me that I might stop being miserable if I created a god of my own understanding. I took that idea and ran with it. I don’t know if I believe in a singular, all-knowing entity or many different gods and goddesses, but I believe in something divine, and I believe it is good, and I believe it is accessible in everything and everyone. I believe in evil, but I don’t understand its relationship toward God, like if they’re opposing forces or two heads on the same beast or just different shades of grey. I believe in an afterlife, and I think all the religions are a little bit right and mostly wrong on how that works. I believe that this world is some sort of plane for us to suffer and learn. I believe that we are supposed to try to find beauty and goodness in all the suffering and painful lessons.

I believe we each have a purpose, and that each of us were given gifts and inclinations, and that we are supposed to follow these gifts and inclinations so we can fulfill our purpose. I can’t explain the purpose of Hitler or Gacy or the rapper Drake, but I can tell you mine.

I am supposed to shape my emotions into things that cause people to feel the things that I felt. I am supposed to love people, and I am supposed to do this by being open and vulnerable with them. I am supposed to walk toward the thing I call God while keeping one eye on the muck.

I don’t know why I am supposed to do these things – I just know that I’m supposed to do them. I do my best to not question it or try to figure out what it all means (which is difficult a lot of the time) because when I do that I fuck everything up.

I think I am meaner and angrier and more selfish than average but I also try harder to not be a shitty person than most people do, so I think it about evens out and therefore I’m OK at channeling these three purposes into my life. If someone else can find evidence of these purposes in Black Cloud, that book is a success. If not, then maybe it’ll happen with the next one.

Dang. All I can say is, re ‘god’ and an ‘afterlife,’ you really are a masochist. Lol. j/k. I hope yr right. Kinda. Idk. Maybe not. “to each her own”? thanks, Juliet. You handled my assholeness like a champ. Or like a fucking goddess. This time when you come to Michigan, let’s not be too afraid to get out of the car and take a pic in front of Eminem’s old house. We can DO THIS.  (for the record: we weren’t ‘scared’ like of being shot or kidnapped or whatevs, but of looking like stupid-ass white girls standing in front of Slim Shady’s OG house, which we obviously are/will be) We will own that shit. Wait for the Twitter pic, ppl. 

image: Katelan Foisy