So, obvious question, but what’s up with the dragonflies? Why dragonflies?

Well, I’m not traditionally religious, so after my mom’s death, it was very hard to see any way to connect with her. There was just this incredible feeling of goneness. But dragonflies, maybe because of their surprisingly short life span once they transform into gorgeous, iridescent flying creatures, were what appeared to me. It got pretty intense right after she died—so many dragonflies. Because I’m such a hardcore realist, it was hard for me to accept these “visits” from my mom at first, but grief cracks you open in a whole new way. I now understand there’s something out there much bigger than us, and that you simply have to be receptive, porous, and open, and you will receive.

Mother’s Day

One of my favorite things to do in Vietnam was shop at the fabric market. Even though I could barely thread a needle, I felt a great connection to my mother when I was surrounded by fabric. I could spend hours fingering through bolts of brightly printed cotton and rich, jeweled-toned silk, trying to imagine how it would look as a dress or a skirt. I loved to hunt for just the right buttons and zippers and “notions” like my mother and I used to do at Hartmann’s in Arlington.

Hartmann’s was primarily a clothing store, but there was a room in back with big metal cabinets full of Simplicity patterns. My mother and I would often settle in, searching first for the right pattern, then selecting the perfect fabric from the ninety- nine-cent table. To this day, there’s nothing more comforting or more hopeful to me than the sound of cloth cut fresh off the bolt: the soft thud as it’s laid upon the table, the crisp metallic opening of the scissors, the definitive chop into the fabric, and finally the last soft pats of cloth as it’s folded into quarters.

Long Beach, California.

Out on the ocean on a small boat that can only hold twelve of us, we put my grandmother’s ashes in the ocean.

Speakers on the boat play music.

Cat Stevens, “Don’t Be Shy”.

It’s strange to see my grandmother in this new form.

She’s scattered.

And there are flower petals that float around her.

And the waves created by the boat spread the petals farther and farther away but there are some petals that cling to the ash.

And then Tom Jones sings “She’s a Lady”.

And my grandfather almost falls out of the boat and when he regains his balance he says, “We almost had a double feature.”

And then a few hours later, my parents and my sister and Ashleigh drive me from Long Beach to Los Angeles so that I can be interviewed by a man named Brad who interviews writers in a nice garage.

I’m going to talk about a book of poems I wrote a year ago when I was suicidal and heartbroken.

I’m fine now, but no one is fine forever, so I’ll be sad again.

I’ll be suicidal again.

And then I’ll be happy again.

And one day I’ll die.

And maybe I’ll be happy when I die.

Or maybe I’ll be sad.

But either way, I’ll die.

I won’t live forever.

And then I’ll be dead.

And that’s okay.

I saw my mother for her birthday. I was with my aunt, her sister, and we worriedly drove to her care facility because the on-site nurse had called saying that my mother has been complaining about her mouth and doesn’t look good and Mom refuses to get medical attention.

I was driving, talking to my aunt about what we might say, how best to handle my mother’s fears about dentists, their scrapers, their metal hooks, their drills. My mother doesn’t want to go to the dentist because she doesn’t want false teeth. But she never brushes.

If she is suffering from an infection in her mouth, my aunt says, the infection can get into her bloodstream and kill her. I do not say, “Good, this is what she wants; to die,” but I think my aunt and I are both choosing not to say it out loud. I think about how if my mother was a dog, I could have said goodbye to her years ago, the vets agreeing she was in pain, ready to go, and that this was for the best.

Maybe if I talk about how pain meds numb you completely, how you don’t even feel the tooth being pulled, maybe she’ll believe me and go.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Genevieve Hudson. She has published two books this year. A Little in Love with Everyone (Fiction Advocate) is a work of queer commentary and Pretend We Live Here (Future Tense) is a story collection.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Lisa Locascio. Her debut novel Open Me is available from Grove Atlantic.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Joseph Grantham. His debut poetry collection, Tom Sawyer, is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with T. Greenwood. Her new novel, Rust & Stardust, is available from St. Martin’s Press. It is the official September pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club

This is Tammy’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 267 on April 9, 2014.

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Instead of interviewing myself, I thought it might be fitting for my vanished twin to conduct this interview. Take it away, vanished twin.

Leah Dieterich’s Vanished Twin: Let’s pretend this is an audio interview and I need to check the levels. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Leah Dieterich: You just wanna talk obsessively about food, don’t you? I guess old habits die hard. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I am trying to have big breakfasts so I don’t starve myself all day and then gorge on a shit-load of food right before bed like I used to do in college. I’m old now. I try to finish dinner by 7pm at the latest. I have the most fucked-up dreams if I eat or drink alcohol too late at night. This is what it is to have a body which ages, which is something you don’t have to deal with, I guess! This morning I had steel-cut oatmeal with ghee, Maldon sea salt, raw walnuts and half a banana sliced on. top. I gave the other half to my daughter who (at this point—though her tastes and practices shift rapidly) only like to eat bananas if she can peel and hold it. She loves oatmeal too, only the steel-cut variety, and she eats it with her hands. It’s incredible.

 

How do you describe the book Vanishing Twins to people? What’s your elevator pitch?

Depending on the person, I might say that it is about my hypothesis that I was supposed to have been born a twin but that my twin vanished in utero and I’ve been trying to find this twin in various relationships throughout my life.

The facts are as they are. They are in black and white; they can’t be changed. As a baby, I lived with my mother and father in Sunrise, a suburban city just east of Fort Lauderdale. The romance of the city’s name is not lost on me.

When it happened, blue and white Hanukkah lights were strung in windows all around our neighborhood and plastic Santas on sleighs sat on the roofs. It was December, 1978. While I was toddling around the family home in diapers, my father, Paul, died in circumstances that can best be described as tragic: he took his own life.

Tragedy begets change, sometimes reinvention. My mother and I left Florida for England when I was 9 and she remarried when I was 11. A few years later, I was legally adopted by her new husband, Steve, who raised me as his own. While I love my stepfather deeply, the biology of paternity is a halachic matter when you are planning a Jewish wedding, as I was, a couple of years ago. In the process of preparing to marry in the faith, I had to dig into some family history.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Maggie Nelson . She is the author of nine books of poetry and prose, including The Argonauts, for which she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as The Art of Cruelty: A ReckoningBluets, The Red Parts, and Jane: A Murder. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction and in 2016 was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. Most recently, her poetry collection Something Bright, Then Holes, has been re-issued by Soft Skull Press.

This is Maggie’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 185 on June 23, 2013.

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Men are so hot right now. Just look at the options; wherever you go, there they are, and the books about them abound. Adding to the essential essay collections that deconstruct what men are and what to do with them— Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, The War on Men by Suzanne Venker, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin, and Are Men Necessary by good old Maureen Dowd – comes a single essay called I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, which examines her own varied experiences with gender identity. Men as bullies, lovers, friends, strangers and selves (but pointedly, not fathers). I’m Afraid of Men reads as part memoir, part polemic, part double dare to the reader to take a look in the mirror. It should be required reading on college campuses.

Vivek is always at work on multiple creative projects, which include running her own press to promote the work of fellow queer writers of color who happen to live in Canada, and her own aptly named poetry collection, even this page is white. As a recording artist she has shared the stage with Tegan and Sara and been remixed by Peaches. Her series of self-portraits (made with collaborator Karen Castillo), recreates vintage photographs of her beautiful mother, and were made as Vivek was in the process of transitioning. “Trisha” has been on view at the Ace Hotel this summer in NYC, and is moving to the Portland Art Museum this fall. You can order the book on Amazon or here.

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“Meghan O’Gieblyn’s deep and searching essays are written with a precise sort of skepticism and a slight ache in the heart. A first-rate and riveting collection.” –Lorrie Moore

A fresh, acute, and even profound collection that centers around two core (and related) issues of American identity: faith, in general and the specific forms Christianity takes in particular; and the challenges of living in the Midwest when culture is felt to be elsewhere.

What does it mean to be a believing Christian and a Midwesterner in an increasingly secular America where the cultural capital is retreating to both coasts? The critic and essayist Meghan O’Gieblyn was born into an evangelical family, attended the famed Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for a time before she had a crisis of belief, and still lives in the Midwest, aka “Flyover Country.” She writes of her “existential dizziness, a sense that the rest of the world is moving while you remain still,” and that rich sense of ambivalence and internal division inform the fifteen superbly thoughtful and ironic essays in this collection. The subjects of these essays range from the rebranding (as it were) of Hell in contemporary Christian culture (“Hell”), a theme park devoted to the concept of intelligent design (“Species of Origin”), the paradoxes of Christian Rock (“Sniffing Glue”), Henry Ford’s reconstructed pioneer town of Greenfield Village and its mixed messages (“Midwest World”), and the strange convergences of Christian eschatology and the digital so-called Singularity (“Ghosts in the Cloud”). Meghan O’Gieblyn stands in relation to her native Midwest as Joan Didion stands in relation to California – which is to say a whole-hearted lover, albeit one riven with ambivalence at the same time.