Sabrina Chap on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 2 (of 3)

by on Sep.29, 2010

The following is the second part of a three-part excerpt of my interview with musician/writer/performer Sabrina Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce. You can read the first part here.

These questions are about Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), an anthology edited by Chapadjiev that collects stories, essays, and art by mostly feminist and queer artists and writers who have lived through periods of self-destructive acts.

Sabrina Chapadjiev / photo by Jolene Siana

MILDRED PIERCE: Can you talk about your conceptualization process?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: I was in touch with a few publishers about possibly publishing my book length zine, “Cliterature – 18 interviews with women* writers” (*anyone who’s had the experience of being a woman) when one press said they really enjoyed the way I thought, and wondered if I had any other ideas for books.

I was pissed off when I read that. I was pissed off because I’m an idea person – more than anyone I know, and I knew I could come up with fifty ideas for books, but I was already exhausted and aching to do my music. I didn’t want to do another book project. But I had a publisher asking me for a book idea, how do you pass that up? So I spit out a couple of ideas; one of them was ‘For Smart Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide,’ and purportedly would be a collection of women writers who’ve thought about killing themselves but then didn’t. It possibly was that poorly worded. Nonetheless, they bought it, and asked me to start working on it. Again, I was pissed off, but I started rallying the troops.

As proposed submissions came in, I became a bit uncomfortable. I really wanted to talk about anorexia and cutting and such, and I wanted to fit those stories in the book. I also didn’t want twenty stories that were essentially, “I was going to kill myself, but then I didn’t!”

Also, something interesting was happening. Every time I talked to someone about the book, and how it would be based on people who’ve considered suicide, they would get very still. This was because 1. They’ve considered suicide themselves and were on guard or  2. They knew someone who had killed themselves and were on guard. Either way, the resulting conversation would often be very combative. People were highly sensitive about the topic of suicide, such that even talking about the book was exhausting. Once I was able to change it to self-destruction, which covered more of what I was interested in, and also turn it towards surviving, it became a much more bearable topic to work on.

MP: What prompted you to put this together?

SC: Well…the fact that a publisher was interested and had asked. Nothing inspires me like an assignment. But there are several reasons this popped into my head. As I talk about in the intro, I’ve forever had a magnetic resonance with people that burn too brightly. The first artist I felt I was in some way absolutely linked to was Sarah Kane, the playwright. I was really entrenched in playwriting at the time and knew that I had found an ally in what I hoped to do with theatre. Her suicide left me vacant. I had been battling my own demons, all of which had lead me to writing, and her exit made me terrified that suicide would eventually be my only recourse.

Sarah Kane

I didn’t know any strong women artists at that time who I admired who hadn’t killed themselves. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf. It also shocks me, the more that I dug into the topic, that most of the female heroines of literary novels I’d been drawn to found their final redemption in death: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, even in the seminal feminist work – The Awakening. Over and over, a woman couldn’t bear it anymore; her great feminist movement, since there was no other place in society for it, was the great act of taking her own life. And that became romanticized. The only character I knew of where a strong woman didn’t kill herself was in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. At the end, Norma leaves. She just leaves. But where does she go?

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know of the wealth of feminist and women artists beforehand – because they weren’t as famous as Hemingway or Salinger. Or if they were, I didn’t realize they were women. I didn’t know that The Good Earth was written by a woman, that Pearl S. Buck was a woman. I didn’t know that Harper Lee was a woman. I’d never heard of Radclyffe Hall or Djuna Barnes. I’m recently convinced that Shakespeare’s work was written by a woman, something that has been contested through the years. I didn’t have other examples of women who had the great strength and vibrancy and lust for exploration and life that I wanted to live.

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2 comments for this entry:
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