It sounds kind of loud where you are. What’s that music in the background?
I’m conducting this interview while waiting for an egregiously early flight from Kennedy to LAX. I believe that the song in the background is a smooth jazz version of Neil Young’s “Helpless, “ which may be one of the signals that the apocalypse is nigh, so this could be a short interview.
You’re right on the verge of the release of your first book. How does that feel?
It’s certainly exciting, but I’m a writer so I feel obliged to temper that excitement with equal parts anxiety and depressive defeatism. Mostly, it’s an extraordinary relief. I feel like I’m coming to the end of a particular cycle and I look forward to seeing what the next installment is going to be like.
Wow, that was a long awkward silence.
Sorry. Interviewing myself makes me feel put on the spot. I fell pressed to come up with deep and insightful questions. Instead my brain is making a noise that resembles the buzz of the lighting fixture in the crappy hotel I stayed at in NY.
How about just asking the question that you think interviewers are skirting around half the time? The one that goes like this: With your memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, aren’t you just a narcissistic opportunist who is exploiting not only your experiences as an international teenage prostitute but also your relationship with everyone you’ve ever known?
Not everyone I’ve ever known. But seriously, I think that’s a question I asked myself many times throughout the process of writing this memoir. What are my intentions? Am I telling this story in an effort to get to the heart of something more universal, or am I just splattering salacious details across the page? It was a question I asked and then eventually it was a question I had to discard, because too much introspection about purpose can be paralyzing. In the end, I just had to sit down and tell the story in the most honest way I knew how. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide if the product of my efforts is meaningful or exploitative.
You talked with an impressively bright group of journalism students last night. What was the most difficult question they asked you?
It’s interesting that the stickiest part of the evening for me wasn’t their questions about sexually transmitted diseases or even about my strained relationship with my family as a result of this book’s imminent release. Rather, the most uncomfortable moment for me came when I was talking about the real narrative drive of the book being my struggle to love myself. I told them that I felt confident saying that I’m a beautiful woman today. As I was saying it, I realized that, in fact, I didn’t feel at all confident. Self-acceptance remains an ongoing struggle in my life. I think that when reading a contemporary confessional memoir, the tendency is to expect some big lesson will be learned. A sense of resolution is important, but it can also be a reductive demand to make on a narrative. In Some Girls, I tried to clarify some questions rather than offer answers.
What is the significance of Patti Smith in Some Girls?
In Some Girls, I call Patti Smith “the barometer of all things cool and right.” Throughout the book, when confronted with difficult decisions, I ask the question, “What would Patti Smith do? But Patti Smith plays a larger role than a just being a moral compass; she’s also the vehicle for forgiveness when I ignore that moral compass and go way off the rails. I refer to her as my fairy godmother, but she’s more of a shaman figure- an interlocutor between the known and the unknown, the possible and the impossible.
What was the coolest thing that happened to you yesterday?
I picked up a copy of Bust magazine and saw that Some Girls is written up in back to back articles with Patti Smith’s new memoir Just Kids. What are the chances? It was freaky. It actually brought tears to my eyes.
Did someone actually ask you yesterday in an interview if you thought you were as cool as Patti Smith?
It might be the most hilarious question I’ve been asked yet (and that includes the “sex tips to please a prince” kind of questions I got from German Cosmo). But I suppose if I had really learned the self-love lesson, I would have answered, yes. Yes, I am. But I’m not there yet. It’s a work in progress.