I Can Barely Interrupt a Telemarketer: An Interview with Chelsea Martin

Chelsea Martin “studied” art and writing at California College of the Arts (though she holds no degree because she owes $300 in tuition). Both her first book, Everything Was Fine Until Whatever, and her second, The Really Funny Thing about Apathy, continue to be huge sources of stress, particularly when someone asks her what her books are about or if they’re poetry or what, or when someone quotes something from one of them to her and she doesn’t recognize it as her own writing. She is currently living in Oakland, California, and working on something angry. Also, she is the creative director at Universal Error.

KS: With your most recent book, The Really Funny Thing About Apathy, each story is prefaced by a theoretical type blurb. I wouldn’t exactly call it mathematical, let’s say, “employs the language of probability.” What sparked this idea for framing the stories or your interest in these hypotheticals?

CM: Those blurbs are based on Zeno’s paradoxes of motion, which I was obsessed with while writing the pieces in that book. I was finishing college and feeling a loss of control and stability, and I was attracted to this idea of a simplifying life to these cause-and-effect scenarios.

KS: The Really Funny Thing About Apathy seems like an intentional project more so than your previous book, Everything Was Fine Until Whatever, which feels more eclectic, like a collection of notes. When working on a book do you usually have a goal in mind, or do you just write whatever comes to you and trust it’ll all go together?

CM: The word “usually” is tripping me up, because those two books were written four years ago mostly without publication in mind at all, and with completely different goals. Since those two books came out, I can’t write without constantly thinking of its potential published form. It’s debilitating. The thing I’ve been working on recently has drafts in the form of a novel, screenplay, and graphic novel and I have no idea how to move forward. I guess what I’m saying is, “Fuck.”

KS: Your books are now animals. What should I feed them?

CM: Ketchup.

KS: Your writing is so starkly honest and simultaneously hilarious, with lines like, “I dated a boy who was so easy to manipulate that he became an appendage to me and when we broke up I experienced phantom limb syndrome instead of sadness.” Do you ever get self-conscious about your writing or worry that no one will think you’re funny/clever? That last part may be me projecting my own fears onto you, sorry.

CM: That’s a really interesting example because I didn’t mean it to be funny. But I guess I see how it could be funny. But yeah I worry about that. It’s awkward to try to write funny stuff. But it’s less a worry that people won’t find me funny and more a worry that I’m being annoying. I don’t want to come off like Adam Sandler or something.

KS: If the rumors are true, that really is your phone number in Everything Was Fine Until Whatever. Do you ever regret listing it? What’s the weirdest text a stranger’s sent you?

CM: I don’t regret it. Nothing bad has happened. Mostly I assume every creepy anonymous text I get is from an ex-boyfriend and every loving anonymous text I get is from someone who found my number in my book.

KS: Your work is pretty undefinable when it comes to genre. I’m sure people ask you all the time, “Is this fiction? Is this nonfiction? What is a poem?” Does genre matter? Do you see any usefulness in those classifications?

CM: Yeah, I guess some people were just born boring. No, I don’t see its usefulness.

KS: You seem to be just as successful an artist as you are a writer. The cover art and interior illustrations for Everything Was Fine Until Whatever are your doing, and I notice you also have some T-shirt designs over at Universal Error where you’re the creative director. Are art and writing equally important to you? Do you prefer one creative medium to the other?

CM: I feel equally interested in writing and art, but each lends itself to an entirely different way of working, and is motivated by different parts of my brain. The main difference is that you can actually find people to pay you for art.

KS: I’m not sure if this is an insulting thing to say, but sometimes when I read your writing, I think, “I could see this being something someone tweets.” Especially those one-liners in Everything Was Fine Until Whatever. For example, “I’ve been sitting in this goddamned bathroom for over an hour trying to think of a way to steal a roll of toilet paper.” Do you have a Twitter account, or any thoughts regarding Twitter in general?

CM: I am totally intimidated by Twitter. It feels like trying to talk over everyone else, and I’m not good at that. I can barely interrupt a telemarketer.

KS: If you had your own reality TV show, what would it be called?

CM: I Thought This Show Got Cancelled.

KS: Any new projects or books in the works?

CM: Yes.

***

Kim Stoll grew up along the muddy banks of the Perkiomen Creek in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. In the fall she will be making the long journey out to the University of Arizona to earn her MFA in poetry, or more likely, die of dehydration and scorpion stings in the desert.

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