Don’t Go Crazy Without Me is partly about being raised by a father who taught you and your brothers to be hypochondriacs. What’s it like living during a pandemic?

At first, I felt like an expert at handling the anxiety because I’d been worried about diseases taking me out all my life. But this is  a hypochondriac’s nightmare: a disease that behaves capriciously, that causes no symptoms in some and total organ breakdown in others, a virus that is so tiny it can float in the air for hours or linger on an innocuous looking surface. Just the words CYTOKINE STORM — when your own immune system goes into overdrive and kills you — puts my nervous system into overdrive. 

37 year old me checked in with my past selves, and these are the questions they asked me. 

This is 28. Do we ever stop sleeping with people who treat us badly?

Oh babe, you are in the wasteland right now! It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I hate to tell you this, but we don’t really learn how to say no to bad sex until we’re in our early 30s. It’s one of the terrible by-products of having lacked any comprehensive education about desire and intimacy. We were taught all the mechanics of reproduction and birth control (not that it always worked – hi 25 and 26!) but not a lot about how to have actual conversations about what we wanted from sex. Couple that with the general self loathing that women are socialised into from girlhood and it’s just really fucking hard to figure out how to tell a dude he sucks (and not in the right way).

I hear that. Why do so many of them have such filthy bedrooms?

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.

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.

So, you’re trans. Don’t you think the obvious first question is: When did you know you were a boy? Did you always feel “born in the wrong body”? And, while we’re at it, was your family cool with your transition? And how wild is it to know what it’s like to be BOTH genders?

I don’t think that any of these are obvious first questions, no. 

Wait–but you write about being trans. Don’t you?

Sort of! Did you read Amateur?

I did. 

What would you say it’s about?

American Snake Pit is a powerful title for your memoir-but the subtitle is even more intriguing: Hope, Grit, And Resilience In The Wake Of Willowbrook. Can you tell us where it came from?

The title came from Bobby Kennedy in 1965, after he toured an unannounced visit to Willowbrook, a large institution in Staten Island, New York. He stood shaken in front of the cameras and said: “We have a situation that borders on a snake pit.” That film clip really grabbed my interest and American Snake Pit was born. But in spite of this ominous image of a “snake pit,” this is a book about hope. The tremendous courage, bravery, and hidden skills of the people I helped move into the community by way of this experimental group home is astounding. It’s what’s possible when people are given the right opportunities.

What’s up with this book?

I had no capacity to take new clients and I turned down everyone who reached. There was no one to even refer them to. I am the only person (that I am aware of) who does this specific set of services for artists with my precise training. I thought if I wrote it all down in a book, I could be of service to more artists.

Then the 2016 presidential election vomited all over America. I quickly wrote up a pamphlet called Making Art During Fascism as a toolkit to help artists think about how to maintain their lives, their practices, and their (probable) increased activism. My friend, the writer Michelle Tea, asked if I wanted to expand this pamphlet into a short volume for Feminist Press where she’d recently launched the imprint Amythest Editions. I both expanded that pamphlet and incorporated a written account of what it is I do with artists. That’s how this all went down!

Where were you on the evening of December 3, 1979?

I was in a living room with a brown shaggy rug, tangled curls flying, rag doll clutched under my armpit, enormous headphones clamped around my toddler ears. I was dancing, my mouth plugged by my right thumb. A stretchy black coil connected the headphones to a cord, which ran to the wooden wall unit, which held my father’s record player. A 45 spun round, the needle’s gentle connection to the grooves sending the sound—maybe the Eagles; the Bee Gees; Earth, Wind and Fire—back through the wire to my ears. My parents sat on our nubby couch smiling, looking on. This is where everything begins, and where everything ends.

 

Where will you be on the morning of March 1, 2018?

Probably hiding. My book, California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, comes out that day.

So, I hear you’ve written another book.

That’s right. It’s called The Infernal Library and it’s a study of dictator literature, that is to say books written by dictators, that is to say the worst books in the history of the world. I trace the development of the dictatorial tradition over the course of a century, starting with Lenin, then exploring the prose of Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al before arriving in the modern era where I analyze the texts of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and assorted post-Soviet dictators (among others). It’s a bit like Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, only the books are terrible and many were written by mass murderers. It can also be read as an alternative cultural history of the 20th century, with implications for our own troubled times.

Your book Getting Off is about your struggle with sex and porn addiction, but it’s also about your journey towards shame-free womanhood, so I’m just going to ask you what everyone’s wondering—did you ever get into bestiality porn?

That’s what everyone’s wondering?

Well you write that some porn is bad, right? What about sloshing? Is that bad too? If I like bestiality and sloshing does that mean I have a problem?

I think you may have misunderstood something. Did you read the book?

How about hentai?

 How do you feel now that the book is out?

Like a cow jumped over the moon. Like I have landed on pesticide-free virgin grass, which for a cow like me, is bovine heaven. After all, there aren’t too many books written about cows. The Milk Lady of Bangalore may have my mistress in the title but it is really about me: Ananda Lakshmi a.k.a. Blissful Lakshmi a.k.a. Blissful Goddess of Wealth a.k.a AL. You can call me Al.

So what fucking possessed you? A Trump book, I mean really.

My publisher, Unnamed Press, called me last January and we both wanted to do something against Trump and his minions. We threw around a few ideas, some of them legal, and came up with the idea—who would’ve thunk it—of a book. But not just any book, but one where I’d dig deep, not only into Trump, but into the intellectual, cultural and social roots of what brought us to this point. You know, context. Also, I was depressed, what else was I gonna do but spend my days obsessing over this man we had somehow elected. The old saying, write a book or get over it—someone said that, right?

 

But why’d anyone want to spend a few more hours inside that sociopath’s head than they already have to?

How?

I got my heart broken and tried to fix it by sitting down in front of an empty Word Document.  It didn’t work.

How do you feel?

Tired.

How do you feel now that Inside/Out is out?

“Violence and the vote“ are huge issues for modern America. But how does The Last Sheriff In Texasthis story of a sheriff’s election in Beeville, Texas, in 1952, provide a metaphor — an explanation — for Trump’s America?

In both instances, voters baffled expectations by putting a highly controversial figure into office, splitting their communities into angry factions, neither able to understand the other. Trump made no secret of his divisive intentions, but he was elected. Sheriff Vail Ennis, despite the fact that he killed seven men, was voted into office time after time.

I imagined this as the book interviewing itself and so the questions and answers here are taken directly from the ten essays in The Book of Resting Places. Questions and answers are inverted so that the questions are taken from essays that correspond to their numbered section and move in ascending order, while the answers begin with the tenth and final essay and move in descending order. I thought this would be a fun way for the essays to poke their heads out and see what their neighbors were up to.

1.

Do you visit dad’s tree?

Often, we leave our bodies in trees. This is not just tree transformation, but tree storage.