Monday, 27 April 2009

sabrina chapadjiev interview

In support of the blog post about her upcoming tour dates, I thought I'd post the interview I did with Sabrina Chapadjiev, Editor of ‘Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction’ for Reassess Your Weapons zine, #9 (2008). I really believe in Sabrina's work so much - so if you can, go to the dates in Manchester and Edinburgh (or Vienna and Bonn)!

Hi Sabrina, how are you?
I’m okay. How are you?

What can you tell me about your book, ‘Live Through This: On Creativity and Self Destruction’ for those who may not have come across it yet?
Wait. . .you didn’t tell me how you are yet? Oh- right, I’m filling the questions out, and you can’t respond. I’m going to assume you’re well, and continue.
‘Live Through This’ is an anthology of women artists talking about how they’ve used art to deal with self-destructive tendencies. That’s how it started out. However, it also became a study between self-destruction and creation, and the necessity and the balance of the two.

Why was it important to you to write this book *now*?
I don’t know. Well, first off, I have to say I didn’t write it. I edited it. A majority of the writing and brilliant ideas are all by the artists in the book- bell hooks, Nan Goldin, Inga Muscio, Kate Bornstein… they’re all fairly smart. However, I have, for a long time- wondered about women with these tendencies. . .seeing as I have quite a self-destructive bent in college myself. As I say in the intro, it started with Sarah Kane. I felt so in tune with her, that when she off-ed herself, it sorta rocked my mental boat. I sorta tried to steady that boat for awhile, and once I succeeded, I still wondered if what lead me to Sarah Kane would eventually lead me down the same road. I didn’t want it to, and wondered if there were other artists who’d dealt with these things but had not only survived them, but still were able to make transcendent art without having to be labelled, ‘suicide artists’ or ‘self-destructive’ artists.
I held this thought quietly in the back of my head for a while, and was then talking to publishers about my previous collection, ‘Cliterature- 18 interviews with women writers.’ One press was like, ‘We’re not going to publish an interview series, but we like how you think, kid. . .any more ideas?’ I pitched them something similar to this, ‘For Smart Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide’, which then evolved into ‘Live Through This.’

As trite as it may sound, when reading the book I saw parts of my story (past and current; self-destructive and searching for ways to be less so) in the words the women had committed to page.
With the book, and the offshoot blog projects etc. how important is it to you to not only document the important life stories, and creative routes out from despair that the featured women have shared, but also to provide support and encouragement to readers and viewers by demonstrating and depicting lives that have, or are in the process of becoming less destructive?
I ask this, as it seems that you’re providing readers with quite a lot of stimulus, food for thought, and examples of women who have found a ‘way through’ that could be a very important act of example, support and understanding to others. And also, I recall reading a ‘Live Through This’ blog entry you wrote that seemed to be so supportive and encouraging of women and their own personal battles; almost like there was *somebody* out there who gives enough of a damn to write and share, support and defend.

Was part of the book project purposely constructed as a hand-outstretched?
None of your question sounded trite, although it is a very long one and I’m hoping I’ll answer it correctly. Do I win something if I answer correctly? I am hoping for a stuffed rabbit.
I knew that I was presenting a topic that was going to be a bit loaded for people. . .it rarely receives a bland reaction when I talk about it. Either people suddenly feel the need to tell me that they’ve suffered themselves, or their sister has, or their girlfriend or. . .Since I’m not a therapist, or a psychologist, or any –ist, I didn’t quite know what to do. I very much wanted women to feel they could talk about these things openly, but I am also attempting to balance that line of guarding my own sanity. I spoke to contributors that have had intense reaction to their work who’ve dealt with the same thing, and the constant refrain was- Give them information. Give them a place to go. That seemed logical. And more helpful than me just taking it all in. I want these stories to be heard, and to be held in the highest value, but- again, as with my last project, I am desperately an advocate for women starting discussions, groups, communities themselves. The resource list at the end of the book is precisely that, and was the idea of my editor, Crystal Yakacki, who also edited Kate’s book, ‘Hello, Cruel World.’ Crystal’s brilliant.
So, hand outstretched? Yes, of course. But then, what book isn’t?

In the book, Cristy Road writes of self-destruction that, ‘here finally came creativity to thoroughly get in its way.’
I can totally appreciate where she’s coming from (hell, I‘ve relied for years on constructive, creative
outlets to get me through difficulties, and to quieten the stuff painfully banging about in my skull), but to what degree do you think creativity can act, not just as distraction from self-destruction, - but more that that; as a way to find one’s own voice?

To the 90th degree. Of course, this is bearing in mind altitude.

No, I don’t know. What is creativity? It is self-expression. True creativity is some stemming from yourself thing that came outta you and you don’t know what it is and now you gotta look at it. That’s the thing, too- you gotta look at it. You express, you think, you consider, and then you express some more. Each time you do that, consider your self, you are developing your own voice/style/self. Putting on clothes and looking in the mirror is like that . . . you put on a hat, you consider it, you take it off.
Voila. You are a hatless person. Take that world!
And so on.

Something that I know to be true is that often the path from self-destruction is the ‘difficult’ option, when a reliance on tried and tested forms of self-destruction seem like the easiest thing to continue.
In fact, this is something Inga Muscio also refers to in the book where she says:
‘I only knew one thing: write or die. “Die” meant leaving who I was and never coming back again. I saw the option of that, and it was easy and attractive on many levels. It could involve heroin, insanity or full court press emotional retreat.
Probably heroin.
But I knew writing better and had already established a pretty serious trust there. Writing has a proven track record saving my ass, so I consciously chose writing over any of the easy, attractive deaths that waltzed around my imagination’.

It’s a really tough question, but what do you think we can do to further highlight the importance of those ’difficult’ choices and moves, and encourage them in our communities?

One of the most important things I’ve learned in doing this book has been that our internal and personal struggles, once we survive them, shape the way we move and think through the world. Once we survive our personal injustices, we are able to bring that to our worldview and help others. I constantly turn to bell hooks’ essay on this point, as she details how as a child, she couldn’t stop crying, “I mourned for myself and for my family- for all of us caught in cycles of pain… My tears were a constant reminder that somewhere, something was very wrong.”
And what is hooks known for now? Constantly crying out in the face of racism, sexism and classism. Once that warbled cry is controlled, and refined, and considered, it is a very precious weapon that has the power to change the thing that began the tears.

Many of the people in the book have used forms of ‘skilled’ creativity, such as drawing, music making, creating art, rapping, writing poetry, teaching dance, playing the cello, performing, etc. as ways to re-focus their destructive energies and ‘control‘.
As a firm believer in ‘everyday creativity’ myself, what would your response be to people who may say it’s ‘easy’ for the people featured in the book as they had ‘obvious skills’ to draw from and ways to create, but that that they themselves are not ‘creative’ at all - they can’t draw, sing, play an instrument, write, perform, etc. like those in the book.

Good question. 5 stars. Goes well with Shiraz.
Ummm, I have to say that I didn’t go with [publisher] on press because they only wanted ‘written essays’ in this book. I was like, ‘What- you’re going to only save the essayists.’ Seven Stories (the hot press that
signed me) was totally on-board with the art, which was partially why I signed with them. Still, it was hard for me to even get dancers and musicians involved.
I was a bit chagrined that I couldn’t include scientists, teachers, politicians and their stories.
I very much believe that creativity is in each person, and should NEVER be relegated to artists. Still, I’m not answering your question… How can people that feel they’re not artists benefit from the book? Well.. .

1. Reading the stories, they can understand that they’re not alone – hopefully giving them this community can be enough for them to find their personal way to move forward.
2. You don’t have to be a ‘writer’ to write. Or to journal. You don’t even have to show it to anybody. Everyone writes. We write checks, e-mails that we forget, notes, lists, but we often write to other people . .I would take one of the regular everyday forms of writing you already do, and modify it so it is just for yourself. Instead of ‘Ten Things I need to get at the grocery store.’ It’s ten reasons I
wished I stopped cutting. Or ten anything. Lists are great. Letters too. It’s not about the writing or the art of it all- it’s about getting something out there that you can look at so you can self-reflect. As an artist, right now I can only think of arty things. But part of the reason I have my blog is so people can share this information... I’m having a posting soon called, ‘How I Get through’ so we can
learn from each other.

What is your view on the potential power of creativity?
This book isn’t necessarily focused on what the exact ‘the power of creativity’ is, it is more geared to helping individuals understand, assess, and manage the magnitude of their own power. If you ask me about creativity’s power specifically, well, I tend to resort to a Nicole Blackman line, from her poem, Daughter- a litany of things she would teach her daughter, one of them being, ‘You have an army inside of you that will save your life.’ Creativity, for me, is a way of rallying the troops. A way of calling them to order, by their personal names. “Soldiers Rage, Fear, Terror, Happiness, Joy, Sensitivity and Tenderness, are you here?” “Yes, Sabrina- all present.” We tend to only present the best parts of ourselves to others, and sometimes – often to ourselves as well. This book hopefully will give a manageable way of dealing with the more prickly emotions and parts of ourselves, so we can have them become a part of us as well, instead of us being consumed by their seduction.

How important do you think it can be to reconsider the constructs of ‘normal lifestyles’ in order to make (creative) breakthroughs to generate alternatives to the ways we (self-destructively) live; thus transforming the same energy we use to self destruct and convert it towards creation?
I’m sort of confused by this question. I think you’re asking if people need to structure their lives in an unorthodox way to encourage creative habits?. . .is that it? I don’t know. I’m going to pretend that’s the question.
Listen, everyone has their own way of working… their own rhythm. Some like the 9-5ness of their days, and that stability allows them to be creative, some people feel the need to throw it all to the wind and start from scratch. Whatever floats your boat.

I’m aware that you’ve been touring the US with this book, often with some of the featured writers doing readings, to create empowering spaces to discuss self-destructive experiences.
How have the tour events been going?


Why was it important to you to take this book on tour?
I’ve learned that you need to promote a book. So there’s that. But then also, it was really important for me to meet some of the author’s after having worked with them so extensively, and for them to meet each other as well. The fact that we were able to put on incredible, I mean- INCREDIBLE, and awe-inspiring evenings that touched a lot of people was something wonderful as well.
Personally, I had been sitting alone – working on this book really fucking hard for around two years... really, only a few of my friends knew about it and how hard I worked, and so when it came out. . .it sort of freaked me out. Like- it was ‘out there’ and people could ‘buy it’. But once I started giving lectures and doing workshops around this topic, it was such a relief for me. I had built up so much thought/knowledge in those two years and hadn’t really shared it with anyone. Now I could. The floodgates opened. It felt great- and even more so. . .people were responding.
By the way. . .I’m looking to do some lectures/workshops at Universities and such in the UK and Europe. . .so please spread the word.

This issue of ‘Reassess Your Weapons’ zine is devoting space for submissions on the theme of ‘Recovery’. The response so far has been flabbergasting, in terms of the breadth and extent of life experiences that women have, or hope to ‘recover from’ - from heartbreak, to loss, abortion, failure, upbringing, etc., alongside the more self-destructive addictions, eating disorders, forms of self-harms etc.
I was just wondering what your thoughts, or experiences, or reflections on the book are, in terms of recovery? And perhaps where creativity may fit into this.

In terms of recovery... People talk about recovery like it’s something you get over. I see it as something you take with you. You were hurt- you have a scar- it doesn’t go away. It molds you, and thank God it does. Each experience burns us a little. Changes us. I think people are afraid to accept their self-destructive pasts. There’s such shame around it.
But guess what? You survived it. You’re surviving it right now. Look at you!! But don’t forget what happened. Carry it with you. It’s part of who you are now, but that’s okay, because it’s a part of who we all are. So shape the world with ‘who’ that it’s made you.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I also write plays and play music so check out my website.

Do you want to suggest ways in which people can become more aware of ‘Live Through This’, or suggest other resources?
Go to the book’s website- ... there’s a bunch of video interviews I’m doing with contributors that I’ll put up soon talking a bit more in-depth. And there’s a link to a buncha radio interviews with me and other people. If you friend us on myspace page or facebook, I’ll let you know about any events coming up, or you can contact me if you want to set one up.
There is a resource list in the back of the book, but people are always free to post their own survival techniques on the blog-

Many thanks for taking the time and energy to respond to this interview Sabrina; I have so much support and gratitude for the work you’re doing with this project; it’s deadly important.
Oh, thank you!

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