Writer and artist Myriam Gurba visits The Stacks to discuss her new essay collection Creep: Accusations and Confessions. Myriam describes how a question about catharsis inspired the book, how she knows when she’s ready to write about a topic or an event, and how thinking about her audience informs her writing. We also learn how humor plays into Myriam’s work, and how her ancestors showed up in her writing process.
The Stacks Book Club selection for September is Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer. We will discuss the book on September 27th with Brittany Luse.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we are joined by Myriam Gurba, who is here to discuss her powerful new essay collection Creep: Accusations and Confessions. It examines insidious and toxic oppression which creeps its way through our culture via individuals, groups and systems. And it happens all with our own form of audience participation. Myriam and I talked today about audience, gendered violence and the gossipy nature of criticism. Don’t forget our September book club pick is Monsters: A fan’s dilemma by Claire Dederer, Brittany Luse and I will be back to discuss the book on Wednesday, September 27. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the shownotes. Oh, and while you’re there, be sure to leave the stacks a rating and a review. I haven’t asked for one in a long time, but it really does help the show out. Now it is time for my conversation with Myriam Gurba.
All right, everybody. I am so excited. Today I am joined by Myriam Gurba. She is the author of a brand new book called Creep. It’s an essay collection. I’m gonna let her tell you all about it. But just know it’s very, very fantastic. Myriam, welcome to The Stacks.
Myriam Gurba 2:54
Thank you. I’m so excited to talk with you.
Traci Thomas 2:58
I’m excited to and you’re an Angeleno. I live here in LA as well. Yeah, this in common. So just to get people started in about 30 seconds or so can you tell us about the book?
Myriam Gurba 3:09
Yes. So the book is an essay collection. In some ways, it is both prequel and sequel to my memoir mean. And I largely wrote it in response to a question that I got a lot when I was doing press for mean, which is was writing I mean, a cathartic or healing experience. And it wasn’t either of those things. And I wanted space to be able to, to answer that question in a very full and meaty way. And so and so that answer grew into Creep.
Traci Thomas 3:58
How did you answer that question? In the moment on book tour, like before, you had the time to sit down into all of this work to write Creep?
Myriam Gurba 4:06
Unfortunately, I couldn’t answer that question, honestly, because I was in a relationship involving domestic violence, and my abuser would listen to my press. So I needed to manipulate sort of my press so that I wouldn’t make him angry, and he wouldn’t harm me.
Traci Thomas 4:22
Got it. Got it. And you talk about that in detail in that final episode, Episode final essay. I’m like such a podcast I’m thinking about final essay creep. I’m curious when you’re putting this collection together, how much are you thinking about this through line? How much are you thinking about the essays being, like telling a bigger picture versus how much are you thinking about? Like, I like this piece of writing that I’ve done and I feel like it sort of fits.
Myriam Gurba 4:52
Um, I write and edit very intuitively. And so I go Oh with my gut. And if I have a sense that a piece, or an idea belongs to sort of the project that I’m creating, then I move toward it. And so all the pieces are there intentionally. Although sometimes as I’m choosing them, it’s not until I’m deep in them that I understand why I have to be present in the, in the project.
Traci Thomas 5:34
And as you’re putting the collection together, does it ever change the essay? Are you ever like, oh, I should talk about this thing in this essay that maybe you weren’t prepared to?
Myriam Gurba 5:43
Yes, absolutely. Like, an example would be, um, I really wanted to include an essay about my cousin’s experiences with criminalization. And I also have an essay on videon. Right? Yeah. And when I was revising the essay on Didion, I saw connections that I could make with the essay that I wrote on my cousin’s criminalization. So I would find ways to stitch essays together somatically as I was working through revisions,
Traci Thomas 6:21
interesting, I’m sort of I’m still sort of stuck on this, that where the this book came from, are you familiar with sa collection? reckonings? violaceum? Johnson? Yes. Hearing you say that your collection came out of this question you are getting on book tour reminds me so much of the reckonings. And as I was reading your book, I was thinking about the reckonings. And so it’s just so interesting, because her her first or her second book, her memoir about the abuse that she suffered, lead people to ask her, what do you want to see happen to the man that did that to you? And then she wrote this essay collection reckonings and I don’t know, I just I keep thinking about this idea of like, what it’s like to maybe be on a book tour when the thing that you’ve written is such a traumatic experience, and then to have strangers like, ask you like, what is? What does that I guess, feel like? Or what does that do to you as a creative person? Like that sparks this second book, I guess?
Myriam Gurba 7:19
Um, it really annoyed me, too. Asked whether or not writing about sexual violence was healing or cathartic? And, and I think that, I think that that we should refrain from making assumptions about artists, and refrain from assuming that the creation of a work of art isn’t inherently cathartic experience. There’s this myth, right? It’s the two, which is so strange to me. I’m not sure like what the origins of that myth are. But that myth reverses i the role of artists and audience catharsis is intended for the audience audience. And yet, there’s this heavy emphasis placed on the artist pursuing it. And so it was an annoyance with that question that prompted that. And when I worked on on on mean, the memoir, I found myself becoming re traumatized, because there were details of a sexual assault, a serialized sexual assault that happened that I detailed in mean, that I didn’t know. So when I researched that, I, I opened some old wounds. And so it absolutely was not a healing experience to work on either of the books.
Traci Thomas 8:50
Do you think that the reason people assume that about artists, is because there’s some like, maybe sense of enjoyment as an audience member in that catharsis that the audience has? And so they want that to be true for the author? Because otherwise, they feel bad?
Myriam Gurba 9:10
That’s an interesting question. And I think that, that this desire that perhaps the artist is sharing in the pleasure of the audience, motivates that assumption. I also think that this Miss has grown out of, like the popularization of self help, that somehow art is a form of self help therapy. And it can be used that way. But it has to be used that way with a lot of intention, and with a lot of other supports, um, to throw yourself into sort of the writing of a work and the excavation of trauma is also a great way to really hurt yourself.
Traci Thomas 9:54
Right, right. Right, right. Yeah. Well, that’s I mean, that literally brings me to the next question I have written down which is How do you know when you Miriam are ready to write about a thing? How much time therapy drafts, I know that in one of the essays you talked about how you were preparing to write mean, and you were doing all these writing exercises for yourself around writing about this, this, you know, traumatic event that occurred. I’m wondering now, you know, years later you I’m assuming you’ve matured? That’s an assumption maybe I shouldn’t make, but you know, it’s years later, how do you know, when you have the distance? What did you learn maybe from writing mean, and re Trump being re traumatized that you took with you this time? You know, I guess all of those sorts of questions.
Myriam Gurba 10:41
So I, I’m compelled to write about ideas, subjects, when I obsess over them, okay, when I’m, when they won’t let me go so to speak. That’s when I really, really, really understand that this is something that I should be focusing on. This is something that, that that I should be exploring through an essay. And writing essays is one way for me to think through problems. So for me, I’m essays are like math equations, and I’m trying to solve for X and I’m trying to solve for y. But I do that through prose, as opposed to algebra.
Traci Thomas 11:22
Yeah. And is there a point at which you, you know, that you’re ready to release it into the world to allow people like me or people at book events to then ask you asinine questions about like your life?
Myriam Gurba 11:38
Um, I mean, I never feel like my work is ready to be released into the world. I feel like I have to let go of it. Because if I could, I would revise work until like, I died. You know what I mean? Like, I’m that devoted to it? Yeah. And so I have to be pried away by other people from the work. I have to be told to leave it alone. Because I just want to fiddle with it. I’m a compulsive tinkerer.
Traci Thomas 12:00
Okay, I got that. I got that. And is that person, your editor? Or do you have a writing group? Like, who do you trust editor stuff? Your editors, the editors? Yeah. You mentioned that Didion essay. And I’m so curious to you, what you think makes her worthy of being dissected and talked about so much.
Myriam Gurba 12:24
Um, I think that any person who is dubbed sort of like the queen of a region, yeah. dissection, right. Anyone who’s deemed a royal in any, in any sense, I think shouldn’t be dissected. And part of the project of of crepe was I’m examining individuals who I’ve held at various times in my life in high esteem, and then removing them from their pedestals. And so and so Gideon is one of those figures. And I also wanted to communicate to the audience that creep is a gender neutral concept. Yeah. And so we have these female figures that inhabit that realm as well. And you know, and one of those female figures is Didion
Traci Thomas 13:10
Do you think that we have a current Didion? Is there a current king or queen of California West Coast literature?
Myriam Gurba 13:20
I think it’s still Didion still her? Yeah. Like she’s, she’s so incredibly Beloved. There’s a um, a retrospective on her right now in LA at the hammer. So she continues to occupy that, that she continues to reign.
Traci Thomas 13:35
It’s so interesting, because I’m a Californian. And I, my first time ever reading Joan Didion was the Year of Magical Thinking. And when I read it, it was had just come out. I think we like got it at Costco. I remember when Costco used to have like, books. And we I read it and my mom read it. And I didn’t know it. I didn’t know who she was. I’d never heard of her. And had never, and it wasn’t until I started doing this show. Obviously, after I read the book, I read some other things I heard I’d heard of her. But it wasn’t until I started doing the show that I realized how important she was to so many people. Yeah, like I just thought of her as like, Oh, she wrote this book about grief. Turns out apparently she’d been writing before that who knew? You say that, like what she doesn’t say is something that’s really interesting to you. What are you not saying in your book that we should be interested in?
Myriam Gurba 14:30
Hmm, um, you know, I wanted to give more details regarding certain figures that I write about and creep, um, I wish that I could name them and I can’t do that. And and that’s really painful. It’s really painful that those of us who have suffered gender based violence or are counseled against need naming who harmed us and are counseled to to protect people who’ve hurt us for legal reasons. And so I wish that I didn’t have to withhold that information. I wish I didn’t have the old identity.
Traci Thomas 15:13
Yeah. Another figure you write about in the book? Who? I don’t know if it’s just what I’ve been reading and listening to recently, but has I feel like it’s having a cultural renaissance in a way is Lorena Bobbitt? Yeah, I feel like I have you have. I know you said that you write about things when they obsess you. So I’m wondering if you’ve noticed that she’s like, been around more?
Myriam Gurba 15:38
Yeah, I mean, I did notice that she’s been around more through the Netflix Docu series, there was an about her that was created by Jordan Peele, that, which, I mean, seems ideal considering that’s a true like horror story, you know, and that’s the, the genre that he tends to work in. But yeah, I’m, I’m enthusiastic about, about this on this attention that she’s getting. But she’s been a figure who I’ve been sort of entranced with across my lifespan, for the reasons that I write about in the book, because she was the first person who indicated to me that sexual violence could happen in the context of a marriage. And she, she fought back and used violence in order to defend herself. And then she was also incredibly compelling to me when I was a kid, because she looked like my mother. And so I would see this woman on TV. And I would think that this, this woman looks so much like my mother, I shouldn’t be paying attention. I need to be paying attention to what people say about her and how people respond to her.
Traci Thomas 16:55
Yeah, it’s so I mean, one of the things that you talked about in the essay and that I have learned about her as an adult through other things, so I haven’t seen the Jordan Peele, but I now will watch is that I didn’t realize that she was an immigrant to America, I think, because her last name in the news was Bobbitt her married name. And, you know, I was young when that happened. I just assumed she was like, some white lady, you know, and I had no idea about her story. And I think what’s been really powerful about your essay that talks about her sort of as like this Patriot patron saint of like, battered women, or whatever, is that she had a whole story. And she had a reason for what she did, because how it was portrayed in the news at the time, and like, on late night, was that she was a wackadoodle, who chopped off her husband’s penis for funsies. And like, it’s super wasn’t that and I just, I think, for me, like becoming, you know, becoming I’m an adult now. But like, as I continue to become smarter and more mature and more critical in my thinking, I think like, these kinds of figures are so deserving of reconsideration, and redemption and also, like, a cultural apology or something. I don’t know that that’s, I don’t know that that means anything. But I think that it’s important, you know, it’s not a question, just a comment. But I guess like, what are you hoping that your audience is going to be considering or revising for themselves when it comes to these incidences of violence against women? Because that is definitely like a through lines throughout the book?
Myriam Gurba 18:38
Yes, I mean, every piece in the collection, in some way addresses either directly or indirectly, gender based violence. And what I hope that readers can see is that I’m, I’m attempting to fuse the macro with the micro. And I’ll give an example of what I mean by that. So in the title essay creep, I detail my experience of entrapment within like what’s popularly called like a domestic violence relationship, although I prefer the terms intimate authoritarianism or coercive control. And I do not reflect on what might have caused me in terms of like a psychological profile to become entrapped, I focus specifically on the steps taken my abuser steps taken by my abuser to entrap me. And so I describe what that process feels and looks like, and how intentional it is on the part of the abuser, that this isn’t something that happens accidentally. It’s something that happens according to strategy. But then I also attempt to demonstrate how there are these larger social structures that push people who belong to minoritized genders into Are these intimately authoritative relationships, for example, I get pink slipped and I lose my employment. So that leaves me without income. And that leaves me potentially with the ability, the inability to pay rent. So when an abuser says, well stay with me until you can get on your feet, we’ve got both interpersonal violence interacting with the violence of capitalism, when trapped somebody, and so what I’m doing is I’m offering the reader all of these pieces, almost as if I’m giving them an assemblage, and the reader has to connect the pieces in order to understand how I arrived at the state of entrapment.
Traci Thomas 20:36
Yeah, that essay, it’s, it’s very, very incredible. I feel like it’s just like, talk about Jordan Peele, real life horror movie. I mean, it’s definitely feels like a horror essay. I think a lot of the essays read sort of like horror or thriller, as a horror essay.
Myriam Gurba 20:53
And I have, I have long thought that the conventions that the conventions that are offered to us and given to us by the horror genre, are ideal for writing about gender based violence. Yeah, so I thought, okay, I can take these devices, and I can take these tropes, and I can adapt them to nonfiction. And so that’s what I did is I attempted to write horror and thriller essays. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but that was what I was attempting to do. And craft,
Traci Thomas 21:24
I don’t know that I would have used the word horror if you hadn’t had just mentioned Jordan Peele, because I’m not a horror person. But as soon as you said that, and I started talking about the essay, I’m like, oh, short, that’s exactly what I was reading. And I like to say that I can’t read horror, because it’s too it gives me nightmares. But I also am like a passionate nonfiction reader of the deepest, darkest things. And I’m wondering, like, if it’s just the style of horror that makes things difficult for me as a reader versus the actual content, like horror. I feel like I can I feel like I can take like, the horror of your of the happens in your story. And in a lot of the stories in your book, or the essays in your book did not give me nightmares. Yeah. But then I think about like, how I felt as I was reading, especially the last essay and being like, I hate it here. Like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to read this. You know, that feeling where you’re like watching or reading, if you were like, I don’t want to be here, but I’ve also like, definitely not putting this down anytime soon. I don’t know. It’s really interesting. I’m just like, pondering horror in nonfiction.
Myriam Gurba 22:35
Yeah, I mean, that, like I had begun when, when I had begun to think about about creep, the title essay, and what length it would be whether or not it would be standalone, whether or not it would be like, full length manuscript or just a shorter essay. As I began to think about that, I started to think in terms of genre, I knew that I wanted to write nonfiction but I wasn’t necessarily sure like what kind of like structural or stylistic strategies that I would use. And my mind immediately went to gothic fiction and gothic tropes, because gothic fiction tends to situate the horror in the domestic space. If we think of Wuthering Heights, right, that’s sort of gothic fiction. You’ve got these brooding dangerous male characters, and you tend to have a woman trapped alone in a ruinous place. What does that sound like?
Traci Thomas 23:32
Sounds like? That’s exactly right. Oh, my gosh, I feel like I’m having a moment right now of like, all of your students that you talked about in the book, I’m like, I get it, I get why they liked you as a teacher, like you’re totally connecting all these dots for me. I want to keep talking about the title essay creep, mostly because I guess I really want to talk about the title itself. How did you decide that that essay would be the title essay? And how did you decide where it would go in the collection? Because so often, I feel like with essay collections, it’s the first essay, that’s often the title essay, so I’m wondering what you were thinking with that.
Myriam Gurba 24:14
So I’ll talk a little bit about um, the, the genesis of the essay, and then the attraction to the word creep, and then its placement. So, um, the night that I escaped from my abuser, a dear friend who defended me, finally use language that identified him for what he was. And when my friend did that, there was this is gonna sound silly, but there was almost a sense of his spell being broken. Because nobody had had used language to describe him accurately. He’d always been a good guy, a great guy, and now suddenly there was somebody turn telling him that he was a creep. And that work was so succinct. It’s so encapsulated the way that he entered into my life with strategy, and the way that he slowly began to drain me and slowly began to kill me. Um, and so it was the shouting of that word that I think helped to sort of begin to liberate me linguistically. And I wanted to hold on to that word and keep that word, and use that word as kind of like a North Star, to guide me in, in the drafting of, of that piece, but also in the creation or revision of the other pieces that make up the collection. And, and then the reason that that essay was placed last, um, the reason is that, when I finished writing it, and started to show it to people, read, my readers had a very difficult time with it. I had readers who had to read it incrementally, they had to read it in pieces. And they had a very difficult time discussing the content of it with me, because the violence was difficult for them to stomach. So once I had that experience with with some readers and editors, I came to understand that if I were to place creep at the beginning of this collection, it would cast a shadow that I, that I that I figured it would cast a shadow that would make it nearly impossible for some readers to be able to interact with the subsequent pieces. Because they might have mental images of what happened to me, that would be sort of intrusive. And so what I wanted for the reader to do was to get to know me first, and in some ways become intellectually intimate with me, psychologically intimate with me, and then offer them that, that essay, and I think it’s much more challenging for the reader to enter into that essay, once they know me, at least my writing persona. And, and, and it’s almost as if I’m playing a compassion game with people. Right, like, first, you’re going to get to know me, now you’re going to know me at my worst, but I’m saving the worst for last.
Traci Thomas 27:37
Yeah, I mean, I think that that was such a smart and like spot on decision by you to put that essay last. I also think, just as the way that I read, you know, I love to like, I’m always looking for the title. And I’m always looking for it. And you know, I looked at the essay list of like, the table of contents, or whatever. And I saw that it was the last essay and I was like, Huh, interesting, I have to finish this book. Like, I literally was like, I have to finish this book, just so that I can find out. But the other thing about the title that I thought was really interesting, and this is again, I think just how I entered into it as it had never occurred to me that the word creep was being used as a noun. I had always thought of it as a verb, from when I picked up the book as I was reading through it. When your friend uses that phrase, and says like, he’s a creep or you’re a creep or whatever, I took my breath away because I was like, I had not for one single solitary second, because I never read the back of the book or the blurbs. I try not to do that. And, and so and never occurred to me that a creep was a person even though I have used the word as a noun many times, but like, there was just something about the way that the title landed for me that I was like, Holy shit, it’s a person of course it’s a person. Yeah, like, just, it was really like very powerful. And I’m assuming from what you’ve just said that that’s similar to how you felt when your friend use the word. I don’t know that every reader will be as like naive as me or like as kind of spacey as me. I’m sure some people will be like, Oh, creepy as a person, but I don’t know it. Just it totally, totally, totally, totally worked. And then I guess enjoy those kinds of multifaceted words.
Myriam Gurba 29:20
Yeah, saints really enjoy them especially for titles. Yeah, I did something similar with the memoir mean, a lot of people assumed that mean was mean as in like sort of petty cruelty. But also titled that book mean because I was trying to find meaning and having experienced a sexual assault. crepe is functioning similarly and that yes, we have a creep and we have multiple creeps, but we also have pre functioning as this invisible action verb.
Traci Thomas 29:53
Yes. This like creeping, which again, kind of ties into the horror right that like creepy. I feel I’m having like epiphanies as we’re talking, I’m so glad we’re doing this. This is like very cathartic for me. I know not for you. But for me, I’m having a great time. This is really fun. Speaking of fun, you write you write reviews. Famously, you had a scathing, I think is the word that people use review of American dirt, you have an essay about American dirt in the book, I’m wondering if you always knew you wanted to include American dirt in this book? Or if you thought that maybe you wouldn’t? Just because that was like a thing that a lot of people knew you for, like came to your work through?
Myriam Gurba 30:38
Um, I went back and forth about it, I wasn’t sure I thought that I might exclude it. And then at the last moment, I decided to include it. And I wanted to include it, because I did think that it did play into the theme of creeps and creep culture, right. And we have this figure who I describe as, as this well intentioned, white savior. And I categorize her with these creeps as a result of including the essay that I wrote about her in the collection. And I kind of think of that piece also as like a companion to the Didion piece in some way. Yes. Well, we have French writers who are white or white adjacent, writing in these harmful ways about racially minoritized people. And so I think of those two as sort of companions to one another.
Traci Thomas 31:38
Yeah, they’re definitely in conversation. And I think one of the things you say is that literary criticism as a form of gossip or chi smae. And then another part of the book, you say that analytic essays are autopsies. Yes. And I thought that was really interesting, because I feel like in the book, in creep, I got to see the difference of how you think of those two things, because you had included that essay about American dirt. And I got, I felt the like, sort of gossipy vibe of that essay as compared to perhaps like the essay on your cousin, or the essay, like the creep essay, or the essay on Lorena Bobbitt, or, or even like the earlier essays, those ones had much more of like, like you said, tinkering feel, or like a much more of you sort of like going in and picking things apart. And I just, I loved that feeling of like, the gossip like I love I just, I listen, I love gossip, what can I say? But do you actually think? Like, is there a lens that you switch for yourself? When you’re writing something where, you know, it’s criticism versus like analytic? Or is that just not truly how you sort of approach those things that are slightly different? I think
Myriam Gurba 32:57
it’s a matter of approach, because the aim is different. For example, I, you were mentioning the, um, the the essay on humor, and how it right that that the analytic essays are autopsies. And that particular essay is one in which I’m trying to understand certain popular tropes about humor and sexual violence. And so the tone of that essay isn’t as as biting as the tone of the American dirt essay. But the American dirt essay was written with a very specific audience in mind, it wasn’t necessarily written for a non Latina, or an Anglo or English audience, it was written for other Latinas sort of along the lines of so let me talk about this book that I just read. Right. And, and there were plenty of like non Latinas who also seem to enjoy the review and, and and who shared it, but they were not my intended audience. And the way that I sort of think about that is, you know, I’m having this party, you can come to the party, if you wander into the party, that’s fine, right? Behave yourself, or I’ll kick you out of the party. That would be the American dirt essay. It was it was it was a very specific invite list.
Traci Thomas 34:35
Well, then how do you think about audience for this book?
Myriam Gurba 34:38
So the audience for this book, um, so I think of the audience for this book, as as being former students, I always think of my former students as potential audience members, or potential readers, I should say. And I’m also writing for women who are in the midst of surviving domestic violence or who have survived it. So I often have survivors in mind as my audience.
Traci Thomas 35:08
I have a new theory about audience. And writers. I’ve never talked about this on the show before. So people who are listening are gonna get an insight to how I think about this stuff. But I have come to the decision based on talking to hundreds of authors, that authors who don’t think seriously about audience, the books don’t work.
Myriam Gurba 35:29
I get so frustrated with authors who tell me that they do not have audiences in mind when they write, I can tell you don’t have an audience in mind. And you’re a diarist. Yeah,
Traci Thomas 35:42
I can tell because Think for yourself, right?
Either they want an author says, I’m writing for myself, or I’m writing for everyone. I’m like, Yeah, bitch, I can fucking tell that’s what you’re doing.
Myriam Gurba 35:55
Because it affects what’s on the page.
Traci Thomas 35:56
It does, because, right, and like, you were saying, it’s that invitation. Like, I might not have been a former student of yours. And I might not be in the midst of domestic violence. But knowing that you are writing something, clearly, I can see where I fit in or don’t fit in. Right. And like, I think, as a reader, or, you know, I feel this way about television shows, I feel this way about podcasts, I feel this way about live events, if you’re not clear that there is an audience and who those people are or who you would like them to be. It’s, it’s not specific. It’s murky. It’s muddy. And I just like hearing you say that. So specifically, I’m like, right. And that’s probably why I fucking love this book. Because I felt like, because you feel taken care of as the consumer of the thing. You feel like, okay, this person knows what they’re doing. They have a plan, they have a vision, they are conveying a message to someone and whether I get it all or not, is a mean thing. Yeah. But it makes me feel like I know, you know what you’re doing?
Myriam Gurba 36:57
Yeah. And I think that that in my case, I don’t know, you know, I can’t speak for, for on other writers who have a clear vision of audience. But in my case, I think that that clear vision of audience comes from having been a high school teacher for so long, if you walk into a classroom full of 16 year olds, without a vision of where you’re intellectually taking them, they will take you somewhere. And you can’t let them take you anywhere.
Traci Thomas 37:27
Do not go with a 16 year old.
Myriam Gurba 37:30
And so you need to have a plan. And if you go in there without a plan, they will smell the blood. You know what a man, you’re like sharks, and I love them. And so after go in there prepared. And so I think that like that, I think that the preparedness that that that working with with teens instilled in me, also impacted the way that I approach a page that said, a page is a structured place a page is not wild, you know?
Traci Thomas 38:00
Totally. I, I think my feelings about audience come because I was a theater major. And so the theater is life, there is an audience without an audience, there is no theater. Right? And so I think that I always think about audience because I know as a performer, what it felt like, yeah, what it feels like. And I think it’s that same sort of thing of what you’re saying is like, you need structure, you need all of these pieces in place. You can’t just like, go out there and be naked on a stage like it’s, it’s a no, it’s that’s terrifying for everyone. Nobody likes that. And just like teenagers, you know, I have little kids, kids, teenagers, adults, we like structure we like being taken care of like, the reason that teenagers go crazy on teachers who don’t have a plan is because they’re stressed out, it feels horrible for me to freefall.
Myriam Gurba 38:46
Freefall is not enjoyable, like any other reason, one of the other reasons that, like I have a sense of audience is that I intend for a lot of my written work to also be read aloud. And so every single piece that I write, I have to read aloud until it clicks until I’m satisfied with the rhythm and with the music of it. So I’m preoccupied with the musicality of my prose. And I’m also preoccupied with keeping the audience with me. Yeah. And so there are all these tricks that you can develop as a writer, especially a writer who like enjoys taking the stage, the heaps your audience with you, it’s kind of like your this shepherd. And you always have to make sure that they’re there. And so there are these various strategies, you know, and one of the strategies that I rely on a lot is humor. Humor wakes people up. Yeah. You you want your audience to be aware.
Traci Thomas 39:47
Yeah, totally. Well, what do you say about the joke, you say? Should I wrote it down? Because I thought it was so great. You say that. Jokes reorganize social space, that they’re not meant for law. is necessarily it’s that reorganization. Can you talk a little about that? Because that, like struck with struck me?
Myriam Gurba 40:06
Sure. So. So I have an essay that’s on humor and sexual violence. It’s called slimed. And I wrote that essay because I was very bothered by certain statements that were very critical of the fusion of of humor and horror. And so I wanted to to understand where my annoyance was coming from. And one of those statements is this one. So a person a man, a sis man makes a misogynist joke. And somebody counters. That’s, that’s not a joke. Because it’s not funny. That retort That’s not a joke, because it’s not funny is really bothersome to me. Sure, because bigots can have a sense of humor, too, right? And to a bigot, a misogynist joke is going to be funny. And to somebody who’s who’s not a bigot, it’s going to be unfunny. But that does not change whether or not it’s a joke. And I think that often what’s going on in that scenario, where the retort is, this isn’t a joke. Is that a person who’s attempting to, like, quote that statement with a certain kind of seriousness, that’s already present? Because the misogyny is what indicates that the joke should be taken seriously. We don’t need to and joke the joke. Right, right. Seriously, and that’s why right that a joke can also be a death threat. And so that essay is a call to take humor in the context of gender based violence extremely seriously, because it gives us clues about what might happen to a woman. And so and so that statement, those types of statements bothered me. And what also bothers me to our lot of the storytelling habits around sexual violence, those of us who chronicle our experiences of sexual violence, there’s a lot of discomfort around fusing that storytelling with humor. And there’s almost a template that’s been developed, that we’re expected to follow where we describe sexual violence in these nearly like reverential terms. And all humor is purged from the narrative. Or there might be like, small flashes of humor, but survivors are not encouraged to use humor to sustain an entire narrative on sexual violence. And, and I think that, that, that, that inhibits that, that inhibits some people’s ability to heal, because for some of us, we’re entirely reliant on that. Um, the humor is what protects us the humor is what allows us to approach the memories. And so I wanted to complicate people’s understanding of humor.
Traci Thomas 43:11
Right? Yeah, I gotta say, I’ve really, really, really loved I think, also, you know, for me, as a black woman, I think, like, you know, this book is about sexual violence and gendered violence, but I think like racism, as well, like I think, you know, people of color, I can speak for my community, black people, like we use jokes constantly, to not only like, survive racism, but also to explain it to make sense of it, to navigate it and hearing you say, you know, that people who have experienced sexual violence or gendered violence or whatever, are encouraged not to use jokes and not to, like, employ those tactics. It’s like, makes me feel very sad. Yeah, you know, it’s like, very disappointing, but like, depressing, like, it’s very deflating is maybe a better word, because I know how powerful Schumer has been for me. In those spaces. I want to shift a little bit to your process about like, how you actually write where are you? How many hours a day? How often do you listen to music, or their snacks and beverages, rituals, like set the scene for us?
Myriam Gurba 44:22
So my writing practice has shifted in these like absurdly dramatic ways. Over time, what I’ll do is I’ll kind of restrict my description to the writing practice that I used for creep, okay, because each project and each book has its own practice that I developed through trial and error as I’m working on the project. So when I was working on Crete, what was extremely challenging for me was that I was still very raw from what I had experienced. So I still had a lot of healing to do from my experiences of domestic Violence and that’s going to be, that’s going to be a lifelong quest. But, but I would say that I was like intensely raw, when when I sat down to write that title essay. And so I, you know, I was I was engaging in, in in therapy, I see a therapist once a week. But then there are these other sort of like therapeutic modalities that I that I incorporated into my domestic life, like I had to, I had to reclaim the domestic sphere as my own. And so I did a lot of altar work, I various altars in my home. And so I did a lot of ancestral altar work, which also wound up being connected to the writing of Crete. And I, there, there’s like a really strong ancestral presence, yeah, running through it. And I didn’t anticipate that my ancestors would assert themselves this strongly. What they did, and so they were walking with me as I was journeying through the project, and so I would appeal to them regularly through ritual wall. And I’ll give an example of how I would appeal to them through ritual. I have an essay about my relationship with my grandfather, who was he claims to have been the first publicist in the city of Guadalajara. Um, but, you know, it’s difficult to ascertain like how much truth there is to that statement, because publicist,
Traci Thomas 46:27
Right, right, right. Right. Right.
Myriam Gurba 46:31
So, so he was this, um, dynamically strange figure who was who, who inspired me as a writer, but she was also profoundly misogynistic. And so I tried to grapple with that legacy. And as I was doing that, I would, I would pray, I would light a candle for my grandfather. And then what I would do is I would take essays of his that had been published in Mexican newspapers, and I would cut them into strips. And then I would use different techniques to rearrange the strip’s, so I would ask him questions, and then have him answer using his own words. Wow. So almost like a homemade Ouija board, in a sense, using my grandfather’s essays. So that’s partly how that essay was generated was by inviting him to participate through the rearrangement of of his own writing.
Traci Thomas 47:29
Wow. Listen, I’ve done this for years. No one’s ever given me an answer. even close to that. Normally, I’m pushing people about snacks and beverages, but I feel like you’ve given me so much today, I’ll let you off the hook on my one. That’s wild. I mean, like, so creative. How do you even like, how do you even like, know, to do that, like that?
Myriam Gurba 47:51
So that inspiration came to me because, um, because I have my grandfather’s writing. So I have some of his writings and I wanted to, I wanted to communicate with him directly, but I can’t do that. Because, you know, he’s, he’s in the spiritual world now. So when I was working on the essay, tell, which features the figure William Burroughs.
Traci Thomas 48:17
Oh, I love that one, too. I love to every so every time you bring one up, I’m like, oh my god, I like that.
Myriam Gurba 48:22
I remembered that Burroughs had developed these caught up techniques for divination. So he was a practitioner of magic. Got it. So he used these kind of techniques, where he would take newspapers, for example, slice them, um, cut and paste them. And then, um, use what he had created this new assemblage as like a divinatory tool. And as an artistic tool, and it’s a tool of inspiration. So what I did was I took that magic tool, and then I applied it to my grandfather.
Traci Thomas 49:01
Wow. Okay. This is like, sort of a spacey question, I guess. But how much? What I’m hearing all the things I’m hearing you say? I’m thinking, you know, if I if I were in your position, I would never be able to move forward because I would have so much doubt around what was coming to me. So how do you embrace trust? Because it sounds like that’s a huge part. You trust yourself you trust you know, your your ancestors, you’re trusting Burroughs’s techniques like how do you know to trust things when you’re taking so much in as you’re creating?
Myriam Gurba 49:38
So I have learned to feel a sense of correctness, correctness or rightness or goodness, I’m in my body. And so and it’s very centered sort of in my stomach, right? So I have to pay close attention to my body. And I’ll get, I guess what you could call like a just right feeling. And once I have that sensation, and it doesn’t need to last, but once I’ve, it’s, it’s sort of, it’s sort of clicked. I’m at peace, and I can move on and I might still have some apprehension and some fear. But once I’ve achieved that, even if it’s a flash, I know that I can move forward. So I wait for that.
Traci Thomas 50:25
Got it. Yeah. Okay. And then speaking of incorrect in correctness, what’s a world? What’s a word? You can never spell correctly on the first try tomorrow? Oh, you’re in the tomorrow. Tomorrow is a popular word. Restaurant, because there’s the Ns and the W’s.
Myriam Gurba 50:38
And the RS and the M’s are ours. Yeah, tomorrow’s a hard one.
Traci Thomas 50:45
Tomorrow is super hard. Okay, for people who love creep, what are some other books you might recommend to them that are in conversation with your work?
Myriam Gurba 50:54
Oh, um, I think that if people are interested in understanding some of like, the more esoteric elements of rape, I really strongly recommend that they read one cool first federal panorama, which is a Mexican novel that some literary historians say, established magic realism. And the novel has a really, really, really difficult structure. It was it received really mixed reviews for its difficult structure when it was first published, but it is entirely narrated by the dead. And it is structured like an assemblage. And in some ways, creep borrows from that structure where I’m trying to build a world. But instead of building that world through, like speculative fiction, I’m building that world through essays. And so I would, I would invite people to read that work.
Traci Thomas 52:04
Okay. And then I don’t normally ask people this, but you were a high school teacher, I asked people this on a different kind of episode that we do. But I’m gonna ask you today, if what’s the book? Slightly different? What’s the book that you teach high school students that you enjoy teaching the most? And what’s the book that you teach high school students that they enjoy? The most if there’s a difference?
Myriam Gurba 52:26
So that’s, that’s a difficult question for me to answer because when I taught high school, I didn’t teach English I taught history, civics and economics. So I didn’t teach literature. Oh, I didn’t. It’s not-
Traci Thomas 52:42
Yeah, I just assumed you were a English teacher. Wow. Well, people with them, but what parts of like history did you find to be like the most engaging for you to teach young people-
Myriam Gurba 52:55
and young people wanted to, like young people always responded really enthusiastically to lessons about young people. And so I, I would always attempt to incorporate the history of teens and like, teen current events into my curriculum. And I’ll give, I’ll give like a really quick example. So when I taught civics, I had to do like this, this in depth unit on the Supreme Court. And, um, what I did was to increase student interest, I assembled cases that that had to do with children and teens got it, and the kids couldn’t get enough, the kids were riveted. So I found that if I could include sort of like these teen agents, these teen actors make teens the focal point of as many lessons as possible, then there was minimal snoring.
Traci Thomas 53:52
I love that. That’s so smart. Okay, just last two questions, if you what’s the thing that you hope folks will keep in mind as they’re reading creep?
Myriam Gurba 54:01
Oh, I hope that people will keep in mind that the problems that I’m writing about are crucial. They’re ongoing, and the violence that I’m writing about is unfolding in the present moment. And so I want for people to keep that at the forefront of their minds, because so often, this type of writing is consumed for entertainment. And I would hope that while people might be entertained by some of the work, that it also prompts people to political action.
Traci Thomas 54:42
Okay, and then here’s my last question. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book, who would you want it to be?
Myriam Gurba 54:51
My grandfather, my grandfather, I would I still want him to because like his, his dream was to become I’m like, the most famous poet in Mexico, the most famous poet in the world. So he wanted fame he wanted renowned so badly. And so and so I want him to read this essay that is inspired by him. But it’s written by a woman. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 55:21
So new, I love that so much. I want to say this to folks. I read the book and I listened to parts of it on audio Merriam reads it beautifully. Just I was having a hard time. Sometimes I was like, I want to read this essay with my eyes, but also like, I sort of want to hear how she reads it. So I would like go do sections and stuff. So I can recommend both ways to read the book. You can get the book, wherever you get your books, it is in the world. Myriam, thank you so much for being here.
Myriam Gurba 55:49
Thank you. This was fun.
Traci Thomas 55:51
I loved- I loved having you and everyone else. We will see you in the Stacks.
Alright, y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to Myriam Gurba for joining the show. Remember the stats book club pick for September is Monsters which we will discuss on Wednesday, September 27, with Brittany Luse. If you love this show, and you want insight access to it, go to patreon.com/the tacks and join the stacks pack. And make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks wherever you’re listening to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, be sure to leave us a rating and a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. For more from the stacks follow us on social media at the Stacks pod on Instagram, tiktok and threads and at the stats pod underscore on Twitter. And you can check out our website the stackspodcast.com This episode of the stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. The stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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