les-plesko

On the morning of September 16, 2013, my writing mentor Les Plesko committed suicide. I heard he fell backwards off the roof of his apartment building. At first, I chose to assume he’d been drunk and walked too close to the edge. I wished I’d been there to catch him. But I learned that when other attempts were unsuccessful, he went to the roof.

I bought Blue Nights in a train station. I said goodbye to a friend and got on the subway and got off and went home. Joan Didion had a signing in Boston the following week and the event sold out before I could buy my ticket. I found this ironic. I started reading.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

Mx Bond, you’re so pretty! Have you always been this pretty?

Well, thank you for noticing! I’ve probably always been this pretty, it’s just that lately I feel so damned good about myself. I, uh, think it must have something to do with my insides. They say beauty is on the inside. I don’t know what’s in there, but whatever it is, it’s really trying to get out.

 

Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, is your first book. Did you imagine that your first book would be published by the Feminist Press?

No. I didn’t. I was fairly certain it would be published by Simon and Schuster. When I was a kid I heard of Simon and Schuster, because Carly Simon’s father ran it, and she was a big pop star. I thought it would be fun to run around with a group of friends who were really into music, who read books, and who had access to great drugs. But now, I’ve discovered, most rock stars are old and tired and feminism is where it’s at. Carly Simon is still fierce, but there is no other publisher that could impress me more than the Feminist Press at this point.

 

Your book is about your childhood between the ages of 11 and 16. Considering your lifestyle, how can you remember back that far?

Oh, my, what an interesting question! It’s true that I may suffer severe memory loss incurred during certain periods of time in my life, but I recently read an article about Alzheimer’s, and in it the reporter told me that most Alzheimer’s patients can remember nearly every song they learned when they were around 13 years of age so odds are our childhoods remain with us—at least our 13th year—and it’s a good thing, because I was 13 when I was de-flowered in a tree house!  You can read more about that in my book. Anyway, because of this theory, I think there’s a pretty good chance most of the memories in this book are correct. It was a difficult time in my life; I don’t think anyone remembers puberty as their greatest moment, and because it is a very specific time period, it doesn’t give a general overview of my relationship with my parents, which has for the most part, been very positive. But, I’m glad it seems to be resonating with a lot of other trans and queer people.

 

When you wrote this book were you writing it as a way of illustrating life from a trans-child’s perspective?

No, that’s the funny thing. I’ve been surprised by how many people have picked up on the book as being written from a trans-child’s point of view. At the time I didn’t think of myself as a trans-child, I just thought of myself as being me and I was telling the story of myself and a boy who grew up in my neighborhood who, like me, was diagnosed with mental health issues later in life that I believed were there all along. In telling this story, I was looking back through the lens of someone who had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. I consciously chose to leave a lot about my experience as a transgendered person out of the book because that part seemed to me to be another story altogether. Evidently, I was wrong. I now realize the fact that I am a trans-person makes it obvious that my story would be perceived as being told by one. But at the time I was writing I wasn’t thinking in those terms.

 

You’ve said in previous interviews that your favorite fictional heroine is Mariah Wyeth from Joan Didion’s book, Play It As It Lays. What’s so great about her?

I like that Mariah Wyeth experiences a lot of what I aspired to as a child: living in Hollywood, having a handsome husband, being beautiful, a movie star. These were things I thought would make me happy when I was growing up in a small conservative town in western Maryland. But when I read Play It As It Lays, I realized that wasn’t necessarily true. Mariah in the end came to the determination that nothing mattered. This may seem like a bleak outlook, but I think that once you realize that nothing really matters, you are free to decide which things actually matter to you and invest your time and energy in them. You are able to write your own story and are free to attach importance and relevance to whatever you choose as you tell yourself the story of who you are and what your life is all about. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Joan Didion’s ideas or perspectives, but I’m grateful that by creating the character of Mariah Wyeth, she gave me that insight. Now my life is a story that I tell myself and I don’t feel that I have to be annexed or oppressed by the stories other people choose to inhabit regarding their own beliefs or how they choose to perceive me.

 

Oh My Goddess, Mx Bond! That is so intense. How do you come up with this stuff?

Well, I spend a lot of time thinking… but, I don’t get too carried away. I think it’s important to remain in the shallow end of the pool, otherwise you are likely to drown yourself. Just because you know how to swim, doesn’t mean you always have to get your hair wet. Can I say that off all the people who’ve ever interviewed me, you are my absolute favorite?

 

Why thanks, Mx Bond. I’m glad you’re not one of those tortured, conflicted writers who thinks it is important to impress everybody with how miserable you are.

Oh, no. I save the misery and depression for those who know me best. Namely my cat, Pearl, who has a very stoic nature and my most significant other, who has a tremendous capacity to tune me out when I get to be too ridiculous. And if the going gets to be too much, if I really need a break, I just get out of the house and go look at shoes. Shoes always cheer me up.

 

Wasn’t it shoes that got you into all this trouble in the first place?

Yes, in fact it was. If my grandmother hadn’t had such a fantastic shoe collection, it would have taken me a lot longer to discover that my impulses were not “gender appropriate.” Who knows? I might have ended up some tragic looter, raiding Footlockers instead of the glamorous lady authoress you are speaking with today. And let’s face it, in the end of the day, life isn’t about misery and sneakers, it’s about love and high heels.

 

Well said, Mx Bond!

Thank you.

 

As a literary form and commercial endeavor, the modern memoir is overwhelmingly popular. A quick perusal of the non-fiction stacks confirms this. From Donald Rumsfeld to Annie Dillard, the memoir is ubiquitous. Too, as a confirming note, there is the backlash, as there is always a backlash against things trending popular. I site Neil Genzlinger’s recent anti-memoir diatribe in the New York Time’s Book Review of a few weeks ago. It begins: “A moment of silence, please, for the lost art of shutting up.” In his essay Genzlinger reviewed four memoirs, giving just one the nod. He took the others to task for various reasons. One author, for instance, had not earned “the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy.” Ouch. He argued that if you did not have an extremely unique experience or were deemed to be less than “a brilliant writer,” you were “obliged to keep quiet.” The current plethora of memoirs is, he reasons, a result of “our current age of oversharing.” His essay trespassed to the edge of being mean-spirited and the dust-up caused a flurry of activity in literary circles. (A backlash to the backlash confirming the maturation of a trend, indeed.)