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. I talk about how this suspicion could explain the way I was drawn to a form of intimacy that equated closeness with sameness and how I felt driven to become more and more like the person I was trying to get close to until that closeness became so unbearable the relationship could no longer sustain it. The arc of the narrative is the evolution of my ideas about intimacy and identity, self and other, and the flexibility of the bonds between people. I might also say it’s about an open relationship, because that piques certain people’s interest, but I think it’s about so much more than that. It’s pretty concerned with ambition, and how two people can work together to support the achievement of both individual and mutual goals.
Wow. That’s a kind of an Empire State Building length elevator ride, but I like it. The book takes up the topic of ballet and performance quite a bit, and in fact you muse early on that while you quit ballet at age 18, that I might have continued (To answer your question, I did in one possible universe, and I didn’t in another) –which brings me to a question that perhaps you’re tired of answering but readers might like to hear you speak on: “Do you ever dance anymore? How do you get your movement and performance kicks nowadays?
I have tried over the years to take ballet classes here and there but I’m always disappointed in the way my body (and my mind for that matter) doesn’t respond the way it did when I was dancing daily. That comparison of then and now makes it hard for me to enjoy myself. I’ve tried other types of dance classes too, hip hop mainly, which over the years I’ve enjoyed from time to time, but I often find I end up hurting myself by going too hard when I’m not used to the kinds of movements it requires. These days I move my body more methodically through yoga, and walking (which I like because I can think while I do it) and I’ve started bouldering at a gym which I like because I CAN’T think too much while I’m doing it, at least not about anything other than climbing. As far as performance kicks, I adore singing karaoke, I love the nervous tingle I get when I’m onstage, even in a private room among friends. I love to sing almost as much as I love to dance. It is truly cathartic. Writing autobiographically gives me a form of the little adrenaline rush that performing on stage used to give me—the feeling of being a bit exposed or on display.
Speaking of autobiography, why didn’t you use your name in the book?
When I began writing Vanishing Twins, I didn’t know whether it would be a novel or a memoir, but I knew I’d be changing the names of the people I was writing about regardless. Any memory is a fiction of sorts, so my memories of the events and people in the book are essentially fictions themselves in a certain way. When I began naming the characters that were my possible vanished twins, I gave two of them names that began with E just without thinking of it, because I felt it suited them. When I realized that E was one of the letters that formed the ligature œ in French, I saw this as an opportunity to give the third twin an E name, so that each of them was one half of this pair. Since this œ ligature was one of the foundations of the book, I was kind of disappointed that my first name didn’t begin with O, until I realized that the twin characters in Swan Lake (Odette and Odile) both began with O and that I could use Odile to stand in for me, as the narrator, since it happened to be the name I’d given myself in my high school French class.
I approve of the E names. They are very open. E, the Everyman/Everywoman/Everyone.
Exactly! That’s an excellent point.
How did you eventually decide that Vanishing Twins would be a memoir and not a novel?
Most of my favorite writers seem to write very close to their biographies, even if they aren’t explicitly memoir. I love Justin Torres’ We the Animals and Ben Lerner’s 10:04. I love Jenny Offill’s The Department of Speculation, too. But the books I go back to again and again, the ones that I buy both digital and physical copies of, and have survived multiple moving-induced book purges, are those by Sarah Manguso and Maggie Nelson. I love the way they bring their background as poets to the essayistic form. Their books are somehow simultaneously mysterious and deeply personal and short but weighty books. This is what I aspired to as I began to get serious about telling my story.
What’s next? Another memoir?
Nope! Though I am exploring a topic (birth) that is near and dear to my heart, having just become a mother, I don’t think it will take the same autobiographical form as Vanishing Twins did.
Having never experienced birth myself, I look forward to that.
*Photo credit: John Houck
LEAH DIETERICH‘s essays and short fiction have been published by Buzzfeed, BOMB, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Offing. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.