Writer in Residence ยท 06/27/2010

Jen Michalski Reflects

Q. How did this story come about?

When I was writing this piece, it was actually going to be much longer and set in Mexico, with the piano figuring prominently. I was also listening to a lot of Duran Duran—the first album and Rio. But then I was reading ex-pat blogs on Barcelona and listening to the Beach Boys, and it occurred to me that the woman in this story was Caroline from “Caroline No.” “Caroline No” is from Pet Sounds, an album that was a huge departure from the Southern California sound cultivated by Brian Wilson in the early 60s. Just as Caroline in “Caroline No” cuts her hair and becomes someone else, Caroline in the story becomes a stranger to her visiting sister. There is a language barrier, the different interpretations of the piano key, and a mother who doesn’t realize her daughter’s homesickness. I also loved playing with the “milk” phrases—for some reason, so many turns of phrase in Spanish have to do with milk—and it seemed fitting, since Caroline has sort of lost her way maternally and in her own personal nourishment, perhaps.

Q. Why is fiction necessary for you?

Necessary to me means something that is essential, like air or sustenance or shelter. In that way, I guess I consider all fiction as sort of necessary. It’s ingrained in me and part of everything I do, even if I don’t always notice it. I’m constantly reading and writing fiction as a way of processing and responding to the world, just as visual artists or musicians or actors might. I can’t imagine people who don’t engage actively in the world this way. And my ability to function in the world would change if I were deprived of fiction, both others’ and my own. At the risk of hyperbole, I’d say necessary fiction is necessary to my survival.

For Paula Bomer:

*Q. Why did you choose Jen to participate?”

I chose Jen Michalski because she is, quite simply, a truly great writer. Her stories are beautiful illuminations of the human condition, important examinations of the strangeness of our ordinary lives, full of detailed, emotional moments. I feel so honored to know her and so grateful for her work.


posted by Roxane Gay