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.

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Author and performer JILLIAN LAUREN grew up in suburban New Jersey and fled across the water to New York City. She attended New York University for three minutes but promptly dropped out to work with Richard Foreman’s Ontological Hysteric Theater and with The Wooster Group, among others.

Her memoir, SOME GIRLS, will be published by Plume/Penguin on April 27, 2010.

Her novel, PRETTY, is scheduled to be released in January 2011.

Jillian has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Flaunt Magazine, Pindeldyboz Magazine, Opium Magazine, Society, Pale House: A Collective and in the anthology My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories, among others.

She has read at spoken word events in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and has recently worked with directors as diverse as Steve Balderson, Lynne Breedlove and Margaret Cho.

She is married to musician Scott Shriner. They live in Los Angeles with their son.

11 responses to “Jillian Lauren: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Forgive me, but I am left profoundly dissatisfied. Is considering yourself a beautiful woman the pinnacle of self-acceptance? Do you think circumstances have made that the case for you, or do you think it would be the norm for everyone? Is it a norm imposed by society, and if so, is there escape from that norm? Is it all bound up in the definition you use for “beauty”? Is self-acceptance in itself the essence of being beautiful? Does it have anything to do with candidacy for magazine covers?

    Note: I’m no crusader against social imposition of body consciousness because I’m not silly enough to think there is a political escape from hundreds of millions of years of natural selection, but I do think what each contributor can do is give people another microscopic bit of nuance, another sliver of insight.

    Considering your profession is writing, how do your writing accomplishments factor into your self-acceptance? I could go on, but considering I get the impression you stayed right on the surface in this piece, I’d be satisfied with just an ankle-deep dip. A reverse Achilleus, if you like, because even a bit of tendon would do. And I’m not trying to be insensitive to your comment about the difficulties interviewing myself. Maybe I can serve as a gadfly buzzing outside your head, rather than within it.

  2. Hi Jillian–and Uche–well, I just want to throw out that I don’t think what Jillian meant by considering herself a “beautiful woman today” is that that she has come to accept that she is physically good looking (which she is, but that was also true when she was younger and did not feel that self-love) but rather that I think she meant she feels she is a beautiful person in a broader sense. Like in the sense of being a mom, and being a writer, and being all the things she is now, whereas when she was younger she looked good but had little sense of who she was outside of that (not to speak for Jillian, but so the book and incidents in her life might imply.) I think that yes, the accomplishments of writing a book, living in a marriage, adopting and parenting a child, those things are what can make a person believe in herself in a much more substantial way . . . and sure, yet we all live in a world where being on the cover of a magazine and still looking hot is a rush, and it’s hard not to succumb to that rush, too. It’s interesting because writing a memoir like SOME GIRLS makes it seem like you should be able to divulge everything and anything about your personal life and psyche, but of course the things in SOME GIRLS happened many years ago, and it’s much harder to decipher and divulge the details of one’s present life and mindset, as we’re living it. So I can understand why, even if someone seems to have spilled a lot of really personal details about her life in a memoir, a self-interview about the here and now can be very hard, and might not feel as complete. I know I’m set to be Featured here in Fiction in June and am terrified of the self-interview (and I already know all you TNBers, so who even knows why?) Anyway, I do think there are some very pertinent issues implicit in Jillian’s memoir about who is entitled to what with regards to the “natural selection” of physical beauty, so I do think you raise some intersting questions here . . .

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Actually, Gina, when I wrote my own self-interview, I was surprised at how difficult it proved to be. I did one draft, which I decided wasn’t good enough, and made a few more stabs before I finally was forced to come up with a new draft quickly, when my Featured slot was moved forward from April to February. It seemed as though it would be an easy assignment, but it kept coming out as too jokey. I finally decided to stop treating the interviewer as myself (which, of course, he is), and that did the trick. Anyway, good luck.

      As to the question of beauty, it’s at the heart of my the novel I recently started, and it came up quite a bit in my last. In the latter, the narrator’s paramour is a former model and aspiring actress, and she’s been alternately prized and condemned on the basis of her looks for most of her short life. That constant fluctuation has done a number on her head, and as the book progresses, she undergoes a flown-blown crisis (exacerbated by her affair with the narrator and her crumbling marriage). Interestingly, to me at least, some readers can’t stand her, mirroring the treatment she receives in her (imagined) life, though I personally find her sympathetic. Beauty opens a lot of doors, but it also brings out a lot of knives.

      • This is so interesting, Duke–the theme of beauty is dealt with quite a bit in Slut Lullabies too, usually in a way that is more dark than “positive.” I feel like both beauty and its lack are liabilities and blessings, in such different ways and yet in similar ways, in those ways that being a woman is a liability and yet also a fabulous pleasure. I would say that one could actually put it this way: “Being female opens a lot of doors, but it also brings out a lot of knives.”
        Thanks for the self-interview tips. Man, yeah, I think I will avoid jokes. I’m not funny that way, so that’s just not the tact for me . . .

  3. zoe zolbrod says:

    I have no idea what Jillian meant by her comment about being a beautiful woman, but I was most interested in it as a comment about physical beauty. And to me that does not seem superficial at all.

    I first read the quote on her blog around the same time I read the review and passionate comments about Kathleen Rooney’s “For You I am Trilling These Songs.” It seemed to me that the essays most criticized were the ones in which Kathleen acknowledged herself as attractive, and my interpretation–admittedly based on little beyond my own fancy–was that the reviewer was enforcing the strictures against pretty girls calling themselves pretty. It’s OK–expected, even, demanded–to work very hard to appear pretty and to collect and flaunt signs that others think one is pretty, but the power of identifying lies with the beholder. (Hmmm. I guess there’s a cliche about that.) Making the claim oneself probably requires some deeper source of self-esteem, but more interestingly it upends the balance of power, sort of demystifies the spell of beauty and makes it just another trait to be explored, and possibly shines light in the face of the green-eyed monster. I’d definitely want to read a book that touches on any of that.

    I’m not even sure that Jillian’s does! Uche’s comments just touched off these thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind.

  4. Judy Prince says:

    Excellent point, Zoe: “Making the claim oneself probably requires some deeper source of self-esteem, but more interestingly it upends the balance of power, sort of demystifies the spell of beauty and makes it just another trait to be explored . . . “

  5. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I will just say that all of you guys seem to have expended a lot of effort not immediately catalyzed, whether reading her actual memoir, or blog, or whatever. That is *precisely* the point I was making. My comments are entirely contained in the only thing I’ve read from her, which is the above, and I think that is entirely fair.

  6. Anon says:

    This may be an omen – I typed a lengthy reply and my building lost power as I was mousing over to “Add comment”. I’ll give it another go, regardless – and maybe be less verbose. (;

    You have now written and published your book. This is good – you’ve accomplished something huge. Perhaps now is the time, then, to allow yourself a little paralysis and let yourself answer those questions you’ve clarified (assuming, of course, you’re ready to hear the answers – God knows there were times I wasn’t). Screw what the reader decides. It’s time to hear what you believe to be true.

    “Self-acceptance remains an ongoing struggle in my life… the tendency is to expect some big lesson will be learned.

    Sometimes more is achieved in surrender – or at least negotiation – than in struggle. And sometimes the greatest lessons are revealed in small whispers amid deafening silence. But now I’m babbling.

  7. I don’t make it a practice to weigh in on comments, but this conversation is so interesting that I couldn’t restrain myself! Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses.

    One thing that’s been going through my mind this morning…If every woman could stand up and say they believed they were beautiful (physical or not, it’s all connected anyway), it would be a fucking revolution. A revolution with far-reaching economic and sociocultural ramifications.

  8. […] out her self interview at The Nervous Breakdown.  And her website and blog […]

  9. […] with the author Los Angeles Times profile of the author Marie Claire interview with the author The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author New York Post interview with the author NYU Livewire profile of the author Penguin Blog posts by […]

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