Untangling This Question of “How Do I Go On?”: An Interview with Selena Anderson

photo credit: Jai-Lee Egna

Bridget Dooley (BD): Your story in the Winter 2016 issue, “Wig Violence,” caught my attention because of the potency of your protagonist, Eudoxie, and her role as a catalyst within the narrative’s metaphysical framework. Rather than existing at the mercy of her environment or acting primarily in relation to supernatural happenstance, Eudoxie sets her own story into motion through her flare for style and her very specific sense of pride. Even though the story operates a bit like a morality play, I can’t fault her for her crimes because I identify with her motivations, especially her need to be taken seriously by a community (and a boss) who have never respected her particular set of gifts. Can you tell me more about Eudoxie and her sense of morality? Was the character the impetus for the plot, or the other way around?

Selena Anderson (SA): Eudoxie definitely came first. I was interested in casting her as the type of gal that others might call “different”: She’s a loner. She dresses weird, she’s a thickums, and she keeps her hair cut way too short for most people’s tastes. But that’s what she likes! And in a sweetly defiant way, she kind of enjoys the fact that folks disapprove. She suffers for her sense of style, which makes it all the more important to her, and she works an odd, low-wage job that she actually takes pride in, although by her boss’s estimation she’s not very good at it. Folks pity her in the most basic sense—they find her pitiful—but nobody really likes her. Nor do they appreciate her work which is the worst part.

Eudoxie and her problem go together like a big, flat foot in a teensy glass slipper. Basically, she realizes that she doesn’t want to be a non-success. Something’s got to give, but what? Her morals! When Collester comes to her with a business proposition, she quickly abandons her sense of right and wrong. That’s when things start to turn around.

BD: Something that Eudoxie and her demon, Collester, have in common is their loud aesthetic, which is maybe what draws Collester to her in the first place. When Eudoxie first sees Wanda Griffin’s ring, she’s “charmed [by] its blatant disregard for public appearance.” Here, gaudiness is positioned as a kind of social rebellion, a way of bucking polite society. Were you thinking consciously of the power of poor taste, or did that grow out of Eudoxie’s character?

SA: Tackiness is always kind of fun when everyone else is putting on airs—either intentionally or automatically. And wearing an uncouth-looking object in just the right way can help you assume a power that people don’t think you should have. Maybe that means you only have the power to twist someone’s face with your tackiness, but that’s a start. On the other hand, tackiness can signal to others that you’re trying too hard and that you’re desperate to make an impression.

Collester and Eudoxie are the worst type of soulmates; they’re actually drawn to each other’s desperation. They share an air of differentness shown primarily through their style of dress, which generally repels other people. But on the wrong night that pairing can lead to a magically disastrous turn of events.

At the same time, though, Eudoxie is threatened by Wanda Griffin, whose gaudy ring also says, “I’m different!” Somehow Wanda Griffin has always gotten away with loud accessories. Even with her cane and her dead-addict sister, she still fits in with the town, and on top of that, she commands all this fear and respect. That intimidates Eudoxie a little because she can’t really do that.

BD: Eudoxie is broke, and no one’s “unnecessary spending” is policed more than broke folks’s is, yet as soon as she has money she spends it on luxury items, like an overpriced milkshake. The milkshake has her “feeling a hope more fierce than any pain she had ever known,” but at the end of this spree she wonders if “somehow she had stopped belonging to herself.” How do you see ambition, hope, and fulfillment interacting here? Is the pursuit of luxury more intoxicating for Eudoxie than the comfort of actually partaking in that luxury? 

SA: This is home girl’s problem: she’s always wanted luxury items. Or, at least she’s learned that she should want luxury items. Now she has the means—temporarily!—to get herself a luxury item. Getting what she wants is nice, but now that she has purchased this luxury item, she has to deal with the fact that she’s the kind of person who purchases luxury items. In addition to this, she has to wonder whether or not she’s the kind of person who purchases luxury items as a distraction. If she is, then what has she done to the version of herself from the moment just before?

The comfort of getting what she wants is just temporary, and even in the moment it still feels so small. That’s what’s unsettling to Eudoxie. The real issue all along has been untangling this question of “How do I go on?” This question doesn’t ever go away, even when her demon lover offers to knock off her biggest hater.

BD: Wanda and Eudoxie’s conflict comes to a head when Wanda throws Eudoxie’s wigs at her, and Eudoxie bends down to get them, saying, “I made that.” Even if the wigs are grotesque and vulgar, Eudoxie’s proud of them—even proud of the scorn that they stir up in others—and the wigs can’t be taken from her the way, for example, that a chocolate bar can be, because the wigs are the product of her own inventiveness. How does this story conceive of ownership? Is there a difference between “made” and “bought,” or between a creation that comes from a store and one that comes, literally, from the body of its community?

SA: So when those bratty kids snap off a piece of Eudoxie’s chocolate bar and eat it in front of her (ha!), somewhere in her mind she has already half expected this to happen. She believes that there’s something in the way she carries herself that tells even children that she’s the type of person anyone can be bold with. And so she sort of thinks that she deserves this kind of treatment.

But the chocolate bar and expensive milkshake she buys out of her curiosity about luxuries. Her newfound economic status has allowed her access to trivial things middle class folk distract themselves with every day, like the products peddled on Facebook and Groupon, you know? In Cape Jasmine, Eudoxie’s equivalent is Drucilla’s Closet, with its thrifted fox stoles, second-chance rings, and family interactions.

The wigs are different because they’re something she made and is super proud of. She has taken flight from her sense of right and wrong for these silly wigs. They represent her “differentness” and success and the real compromise she’s made with herself. And you’re exactly right—the wigs are quite literally made, with her two hands, from those around her. So to have it all thrown back at her is big-time rejection. I think she’s right to feel indignant, even if it makes her look absurd.

BD: Another story of yours I love, “A Hit Dog Will Holler,” pays close attention to fashion, too, but in a very different way. In that story, the characters feel uncomfortable and unnatural in their stylish new clothes. How are fashion and identity linked for you?

SA: Yeah, I have a character in that story who buys a pair of gold palazzo pants thinking it will change the way other people perceive her. But when she tries them on, her husband immediately comments, “You don’t usually wear pants.” She’s going through this time of uncertainty and transformation which she can’t control. She can’t do much to change her circumstance, but what she can do is afford an expensive, uncharacteristic pair of pants. And if they distract people from that look in her eyes, cool.

BD: Your stories often use dialects that don’t follow the conventions of “standard American English,” but you don’t depend on those dialects as a shtick, and you don’t let language limit the intelligence of your characters. Are there particular writers that have influenced your use of voice? As an academic, is this something you’ve had to defend?

SA: Nah. I don’t worry about that. But I can say that I do love voicey, opinionated narrators—especially the ones who pretend to be these omniscient, unknowable, third person, looming ghosts. I love that voice! Even a sometimes-visible ghost has a voice.

BD: More generally, can you tell me what you’re working on now? Can we expect more commentary on fashion, status, and violence from you in the future?

SA: Most definitely. I’m working on a novel that’s concerned with all these things and more! 

 

 

 

Bridget Dooley is a PhD student in creative writing and literature at the University of Georgia and a graduate of Western Michigan University's MFA in fiction. Her writing has appeared in Word Riot, Apt, The Electronic Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature, Goddessmode: a collection of video game writing by women and nonbinary artists, and is forthcoming from Cream City Review and The Atlas Review. You can find her work at bgd.neocities.org