Brie Dishes on Her Creative Process, Misconceptions, and Love for Podcasts

15 Jul

Brie Bouslaugh is an M.F.A candidate in fiction at Columbia University. She attended Emerson College and received her B.F.A in writing, literature, and publishing. She also studied deaf culture in America. I met Bouslaugh for the first time on June 28, 2010. She was my workshop instructor at Columbia University’s Creative Writing course where she closely mentored me and worked as my advisor. In class she inflicted her humor and wit into the atmosphere, which forced all of the students to admire her. I had the chance to interview her via email:

1. When did you determine you wanted to be a writer and what under-Grad classes fostered that determination?

I think of myself as much of a writer as a “walker” or a “sleeper” or an “eater.” It’s something necessary, but hard to claim as a profession. My mother is largely at fault for my love of books and stories. I read a lot as a kid, I became a little obsessive about it. Most worms like me were quiet as kids and found that the mysteries of the world were often parsed the most beautifully for us in books. There was a kind of human science in stories; I wanted to be this kind of scientist. I think I responded to classes [at Emerson] that were taught by the real crazies or fanatics. “Violence in Literature,” taught by Murray Schwartz was definitely the one I never skipped. It was brilliant.

2. If you were not a writer what would you be?

Richer, more productive, and more sad.

3. What advice and criticism do you consistently tell your students?

Two things I seem to always say, not only to those who’ve chosen to sit and listen to me ramble week after week, but to my self, are these: 1) Say it simply, and 2) Your audience is as smart as you. The former tries to work against the common misconception that writing in ornate, prolix language will fool your reader into “just going with it” when you yourself don’t even know what exactly you’re saying, or that big words are the same thing as “smart” words, when really, your average Joe’s vernacular, when used correctly, will get the job done even better. The latter is my mantra for curtailing the need to over do it, or over explain myself. It’s akin to the idea that not every one is going to like you, so stop trying to be wholly pleasing.

4. Over the years is there advice you have been consistently told?

Sit up straight (my mother). Eat better (my doctor). Embrace your sh*t (Victor Lavalle).

5. You choose to receive your MFA in fiction.

There wasn’t ever any question, in fiction you lie and you use as many words as you want.

So do you prefer to teach the creative process or the more structured essay?

They’re two different kinds of distraction and frustration, and I can’t say either ever truly wins out over the other. Teaching creative writing is always a mostly enjoyable experience for me, but sometimes acts in the same way listening to an orchestra practice might inhibit your concentration on your own piece of music. With essay writing I feel a little more authority. But when I teach creative writing there is occasionally that end-of-day guilt that creeps in and says, “what right do you have?” Who gave me the authority to babble my face off about this stuff?

6. What writers inspired you as a kid and who inspires you now?

I loved Roald Dalh, Edward Goery. I remember reading Jim Carroll as a sophomore in high school and running to my mother to read her the subtly tender chapter of “The Down Town Diaries” where the narrator and his girlfriend pluck lice from their privates and race them across the table. I thought it was wild. I want Joy Williams and Barry Hannah to be my fairy godparents.

7. If you could tell your seventeen-year-old self one piece of advice what would it be?

I think about this sometimes, than forget it. My seventeen-year-old self never would’ve listened anyway.

8. What is the hardest part about assessing a student’s work?

I think it’s assessing the students themselves and it’s figuring out how far you can push a student with advice or interpretation before they shut off. That’s just the worst, when you know you’ve lost them. When that happens I’ve failed.

9. What is a writer’s ultimate obstacle?

Time.

10. Always interested in a writer’s schedule, do you have a specific time or place you write everyday?

No. I think that setting oneself up for a specific time and specific place imbues that time and place with a false sort of magic. If I ever find a pattern I suppose I might call that my schedule, but until then it’s whenever I can force myself to.

11. I have found my instructors to be powerful and determined women. Do you consider yourself a mentor or role model?

I love working with anyone who is excited about what they’re doing. If I can ever help foster this enthusiasm via mentorship, I will always do my best to do so. As far as being a role model, however, definitely not. I’m broke and I can’t spell.

12. How do you receive criticism?

I’d love to say, “well.” I’m not sure if this is true or not. I’d also like to say I am thick in the skin and can separate the constructive from the personal, but then I think of all the times I’ve felt that body-damming clench when someone is talking about my work wrong, and the fantasy turns violent.

13. In an interview last June Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love discussed the creative process

“Norman Mailer, just before he died, [in his] last interview, he said, “Every one of my books has killed me a little more.” An extraordinary statement to make about your life’s work, you know. But we don’t even blink when we hear somebody say this…”

I don’t agree with Gilbert’s interpretation of Mailer’s quote. I think it’s a misconception to assume that the thing that kills you is an ultimately “bad thing.” You see, I’m not a spiritual person, nor one to dip into one of any number of psychics in this city, but I like the explanation of the fortuneteller’s “death” card as not a literal death. If every book that Mailer ever shucked off him left him that much more bare, that much closer to death, than he probably died with the least amount of personal ambiguity any thinking, feeling, human being might… If artistry doesn’t lead to anguish, then you’re probably not pushing yourself enough.

14. Do you think as writers that this [ultimate failure, depression, even death] is an expectation?

I think these are qualities that are expected for anyone who is truly fanatical about what they do (who isn’t under expectation of death?). I think that anyone who expects the unobtainable “most” from themselves, the kinds of folks who’s moments of happiness are in the act of doing and not the accolades that follow, will ultimately be met with a feeling of failure. [But] without which there is no reason to keep “doing.”

Gilbert says she is often asked about her fear of success and rejection.

I’m not scared of rejection – this is inevitable. I have a lot of other things to spend my fear on. If I were in it for the fame, the money, the alcohol and b*tches, I’d start rapping.

15. I am often told to write, write, write, write, and then write some more when I ask for advice on how to become a better writer. Do you have similar advice?

Read. Get acquainted with your competition.

Nickname:

“Brie” is technically a nickname. I was born a “BrieAnna,” but thank you public school rosters for trimming it down for me.

People perceive me as:

(a)           Humorous

(b)           Quiet

(c)            Risk-taker

(d)           Other: I have no idea. I sort of assume people just don’t.

One Misconception about me is:

(a)           You’re hair is black

(b)           You’re a coffee addict

(c)            You’re a workaholic

(d)           Other: The pronunciation of my last name.

In my spare time I:

(a)           Work

(b)           Read

(c)            Write

(d)           Rest

(e)           Other: I am unfamiliar with this term, “spare time.”

I am most scared of:

(a)           Heights

(b)           Insects

(c)            Confined spaces

(d)           Empty notebooks

(e)           Other: Being behind the wheel of a car.

Pet peeves of mine are:

(a)           People who think writing is easy

(b)           People who insist your hair is black

(c)            People who don’t use the metro system

(d)           Other:

People who make, while eating or speaking, unnecessarily loud, grotesque mouth-noises. And inefficiency.

My celebrity heartthrob is:

(a)           Robert Pattinson

(b)           George Clooney

(c)            Joseph Gordon Levitt

(d)           Brad Pitt

(e)           Other:

Celebrity heartthrob is a tired idiom. I prefer, “What famous person, unaware of your existence, would you bed if given a repercussion-less chance?” Gael Garcia Bernal or T.I.

Favorite activities of mine are:

(a)           Hanging out with friends

(b)           Reading a good novel

(c)            Going to see a concert

(d)           Exploring the great outdoors

(e)           Other: I am a total nerd. Video games and science pod casts.

By Haley Sherif

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