I don’t like to talk about myself or what I’m doing because I find it embarrassing (or I’m afraid it will be embarrassing), and then I get annoyed when the person I’m talking to is going on and on about themselves, like I wish they were as embarrassed as I am, or like it’s impolite to not be embarrassed. But then I keep asking them questions about themselves, so what are they supposed to do?
So, you’re trying to get them to annoy you, sort of?
Yeah, sort of. I don’t really do this anymore, and I don’t do it with my friends. And it also says a lot more about me than anything. When I get too drunk, I reveal a lot of personal information, and I do it in really dramatic ways, so I think that indicates my weird, stifled desire to be known immediately by everyone I come across. I’m really envious of people who can talk about themselves in an unembarrassed way, but I also feel judgmental of that impulse in myself, so when I’m in a certain mood, I try to encourage people to act as I have instructed myself not to act, so I can mock myself indirectly.
Yikes. OK, what is your best conversational habit?
I’m a great listener.
Is that a joke?
Do you like talking to people?
Oh, yes, I actually really love talking to people, and it feels good to be friendly. When I’m in a good mood, I love talking to people, no matter who they are or what they’re going on about.
I get the impression you like talking about things you don’t like. Is it more fun?
Everyone likes talking about things they don’t like. Even the people who talk about the importance of positivity, they’re really talking about how they don’t like negativity. I think it’s fun because people can be very perceptive when they’re annoyed. Maybe the brain goes into problem-solving mode or something. Tearing something specific apart can help you come to more broad conclusions about your worldview. That’s the best outcome of a long rant.
Well, Swiffer products whip me into a blind rage. I feel great disdain for people who use them. The Swiffer ad campaign is all about how these clean people always thought they were clean, but when they started using the Swiffer they realized they were really living in a disgusting amount of filth that only the Swiffer can save them from. But, what’s most ridiculous to me is that these people’s floors were actually pretty fucking clean, anyway, and by using a disposable broom/mop thing, they’re creating a great deal of waste and filth in the world. Just because they want to feel like they’re clean? It all comes down to people telling themselves they’re doing one thing, and actually doing the opposite. Ranting about Swiffers helps me clarify my ideas about selfishness and denial “in the American landscape” [eye roll].
You could say that it gives cleaning a whole new meaning.
Yeah, sure, that’s kind of cute, but also the Swiffer thing is incredibly hypocritical of me. I don’t like Swiffers (or paper towels or paper plates or air conditioning) but they’re almost randomly chosen things to be mad about. I have a MacBook and I drink coffee out of paper cups and I have a pair of Nikes. I don’t eat meat for ethical reasons, but I eat pizza. It feels random. But the Swiffer “thing” helps me recognize those contradictions, too. So I can kind of relate to Swiffer users, but I had to rage against them first.
Megan, the main character of Jillian, is hyper-critical, but she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it in the way that you say people do. What’s up with that?
I feel like there was a time when she had fun being negative, but during the space of the book she’s really miserable, so some of the humor of complaining is gone for her. But I also think there’s a sick part of her that’s enjoying it. I mean, I think you can tell she likes complaining, and I think she has a special talent for it, but it’s definitely going too far. Her complaints are really defensive to the point where she can’t imagine anyone else being as upset as she is, which is pretty dangerous.
We learn very little about Megan’s background or what her ambitions for herself are. She complains about her dead-end job, but what does she want? What’s the alternative?
I think not giving her, like, a dream for herself is very important. My experience with depression is that you lose all of that. Goals become a non-issue, and you go into a void. Even if Megan, at one point, did want to be the foremost contemporary glassblower or whatever, having that goal would be a problem she could try to tackle. But, instead, she’s just trying to let everyone else know that their goals are idiotic, and their success is meaningless.
Speaking of success, are you excited to have your first novel published? How does that feel?
Yes, I’m very excited. It feels very exciting.
Well, great, I’m glad we finally had this talk.
Yes, me too.
HALLE BUTLER is a writer living in Chicago. Jillian is her first novel.