an interview with Fury
by Jackson Nieuwland
How do you identify yourself?
In the mirror, in the mornings. Sometimes in shop windows. Mostly my self identifies me. It is very rare that I identify myself.
Actually, I should probably elaborate so as to avoid sounding glib.
‘I identify’ is such an active verb. It implies a conscious act to articulate a sort of true or underlying self. I don’t like this. I don’t like ideas of ‘truth’ by and large. When I say my self identifies me — I mean that who I am just is, and always has been. I have been a long time before I have been trans — because trans is just a word to explain to other people what goes on inside. So I never identify myself any which way because it feels all backwards to me. My self identifies me as trans, non-binary. Not a woman, not a man, something you will never understand, etc.
That is to say — if someone did identify as trans in precisely the way I have rejected above, then that would be valid, too.
Am I making sense? I have been reading this week which always feels like a dangerous thing to do.
You’re making sense to me! What are the dangerous texts you’ve been reading recently?
Reading in general is dangerous! You run the risk of overheating the brain and causing hysteria of the womb. That being said, I have been listening to the sound track of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog and I am reading Derrida’s Dissemination. The latter is the more mortifying to admit. Nothing feels more masturbatory than saying you’re reading Derrida. Even masturbation pales in comparison.
What part has reading played in the formation, discovery and exploration of your identity?
It hasn’t played a big part, to be honest. I tell people Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) is like having short, short-term memory loss; you forget what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Some days finishing a sentence is a marathon, let alone a paragraph. Writing this answer has taken me ten minutes to get to this point. It’s a really misunderstood disability. It doesn’t help that the vision of a kid with ADD is most usually a boy who bounces off the wall in class. I bounced off the walls as a kid — but internally. Thought after thought after thought. It’s like hyperdrive in space movies — all those stars turning into streaks of light as they fly at you. ADD sometimes looks like a girl who is off with the fairies, furiously tapping her foot, insisting her room is tidy, despite the wet towel in the corner, shoes strewn about the place and a sock draw full of cutlery. Medication has been a godsend, but I don’t like taking it every day. I haven’t taken it today, for instance, and that means this answer feels very different to the ones above. A bit more scattered.
This means I don’t read much. I have a shelf full of books filed under ‘I definitely will read this soon’. Dissemination was given to me twelve years ago. I am getting around to it now. That’s quite an outlier, but it’s not not representative.
I would imagine ADD would also have an impact on your writing practice. What does your process look like and how do you think it affects your finished work?
When I was getting diagnosed, my psych asked me what I did to unwind. I told her that I played computer games and watched television in the background. She asked if I ever just sat down at the end of the day and did nothing. I laughed until I realised she wasn’t joking. I’d spent my whole life thinking that taking a break on a project meant working on a separate project until you were ready to come back to the first one. I didn’t realise that people could just stop — or just stop and then just start again where they picked up. Unbelievable.
So I guess you could say my process is everything, all at once, very slowly. It’s a marathon — only the strongest ideas survive to the finish line. It doesn’t affect my finished work so much as my energy and output. I abandon a lot of projects. To complete something often drains me like a reservoir. I do get hyperfocus snaps where everything becomes vibrant, urgent and crystal clear and I can produce things in one take. It’s almost a bit manic. My answer to the first question is an example of how it feels to be in that. I wrote that after I had just produced around 60 draft pages for my book in less than a week.
These are the times where I can sit down and get stuff done, but I can’t predict when they will happen and I can’t do anything else when they hit. I become essentially useless at life until this one thing is finished or the wind goes out of my sail.
During those drained periods, after completing something, what do you do with the time you would usually spend working on creative projects?
Usually washing. When you go into hyperfocus the everyday things build up. You lose sight of your floor, your desk, everything gets covered with paper, books, trousers, notes, mugs half full of tea, pens, receipts, cutlery, underwear (I may be listing the things currently on my desk). The kitchen becomes swampy with foodstuffs. The garden transforms into a jungle. The bathroom yellows in the corners. Everything else but the one thing goes out of focus. Then you wake up and you have to beat back the chaos while you can. It’s a boom and bust economy.
Speaking of economy, how do you support yourself as a writer and have any aspects of your identity made that more difficult?
I was in New York recently, for a project, and while I was there I had this feeling like ‘oh, actually, I could live here’. It was kind of a big deal because I haven’t had that feeling about any other place in the world, aside from Naarm (Melbourne). The person I was crashing with asked me if I could see myself living there and I explained, yeah, I could but also, like, lol. I work two days a week as a receptionist to cover my bills in Naarm. I live in a beautiful house, 30 minutes by public transport from the city, with a yard big enough for a dog and two cats. When I told him all that his eyes popped out a bit. Working two days wouldn’t cover a carpark for me to pitch a tent on in New York.
Then I came back to Naarm and I’ve recently been made redundant from my reception work. This is stressful because when you’ve got a beard and breasts out to your elbows, finding a job can be a minefield. Before medical transition there was a lot more freedom of movement. Now I have to be really cautious about my workplaces. I’m interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing me. And even when the manager interviews well, they can’t exactly come out and say ‘actually there are a few members of the team who are going to hate you’. I had one really bad workplace. At one point my supervisor kinda had me in a dark corner, on a rooftop, and started casually telling me that he was concerned about my proximity to my brother’s kid — that I was going to confuse her.
I guess to answer your question, I find it difficult to tease out my identity into components. My whiteness is my transness, is my queerness, is my neuro divergence. Does my identity make things more difficult? Not as much as it makes things easy, I reckon. I couldn’t be ‘out’ at work with as much ease as I am if it weren’t for the fact that I’m white. And in terms of the relationship with creative work — actually I wrote about that here.
Am I going okay? I feel like I’m being a little wily and I hope that’s not too rude. Eileen Myles was here recently and she noted (although from memory she was quoting someone else) that you answer the questions you want to answer, not necessarily the questions that you’re asked. I feel like that’s what I’m doing. I like to get a little Alanis Morissette on questions that presuppose things.
I’m 100% here for you being wily. I think the interview should be a space for the interviewee to talk about what’s important to them, rather than be strictly confined by the interviewer’s questions. I love playing with the interview form. I mean, I interviewed myself for the last issue of 4th Floor.
You seem to enjoy messing with different forms as well. The bio on your website mentions poetry, plays and experimental journalism, and I know you’ve also written graphic poems and suites of narrative poetry. What draws you to working in these interdisciplinary and hybrid forms?
Mmmmmmm. Yes! An interview is just a genre of conversation, right? I suppose that’s why Between Two Ferns is kind of compelling, even though Zach Galifianakis falls into that category of comic I associate with spite and misogyny.
Hybrid is a good word for what I do. It makes me sound like a mad scientist, which I guess I am. I am interested in finding a voice that feels right and, being non-binary, it feels natural that such a voice wouldn’t sit easily into any one category.
Coming from poetry means that form must speak to content. It can’t just be a venue for the message, it needs to be the message, too, in some way. There needs to be a dialogue between what you are saying and how you are saying it. Same with anything, really. You can’t trust an environmental activist who is making snow angels in Big Oil money.
Also, I LOVE that you interviewed yourself. Did you find it revealing? I imagine externalising yourself in that way could produce some really vulnerable conversation.
It was definitely revealing. It got me to put into words some feelings which I’d held for a long time, but that I hadn’t previously put into words. But it also ended up being quite performative. I felt pressure to make myself sound interesting. I actually read the interview out at the launch and it worked really well as a performance piece. I haven’t made time for it yet but I’d like to make a regular practice of interviewing myself. I think I’d benefit from it both creatively and in terms of self-awareness.
What do you get out of writing? Do you often find your work revealing unexpected things about yourself? Or is it more about knowing what you want to communicate and finding the right way to get it across?
Yeah that’s interesting. You’re inviting formal, ritualised framework into essentially a self-reflection piece.
I think writing for me is a form of therapy. Forcing these feelings I have up into my consciousness and making myself put them into words is an incredibly revealing process. It takes a lot of self-reflection and mindful engagement to translate feelings into thought, into words. Especially when it’s a thought or opinion that goes against the grain of whatever community you’re a part of. It’s a purification process. It makes your opinions stronger. It also grounds me and helps me understand myself. Like, Oh! That’s why I feel how I feel.
A part of this is tied up with leaning away from jargon like ‘transphobia’ or ‘ableism’ or whatever. Academic words distance me from what I feel. I also think that it’s really easy to let ten cent words do the work that your writing should do. Leaning into academic jargon presupposes what the audience should know, which is kind of rude and can be alienating. I don’t want to alienate my readers — I write to connect with them. I respect them. I don’t want to write pieces that feel like it’s just me donking people on the head with my bachelor degree. They might not know a word, that doesn’t mean they can’t understand (or should be locked out of) what I’m saying.
But also, if you can’t explain your thoughts without the use of jargon, then I question if you understand what you’re saying. I see it a lot from younger queers throwing their weight around on the internet. My general feeling is that it’s fine to try and carve out space for yourself, but if you’re disempowering people when you do it — is it radical? Is it revolutionary? This is not a punt at younger queers. I think that sort of bolshy take-no-prisoners energy is probably important and definitely something we all go through. I just move away from it. I look to create space in gentler ways. I think there’s more power to that.
Is there a tension between writing being a form of therapy and a way to connect with people? Are you trying to do both in every piece you write or are they different kinds of writing?
Oh gosh no! I think that the points of connection happen within the struggle. People want to see you working through things. There is a real joy in going on that journey with someone.
I don’t reckon I try to do therapy with any of the pieces. I just think therapy is a form of working things out and that’s the same form my writing takes. My motivation mostly is to dive headfirst into the really grisly concepts that most people are kinda nervous about. I’ve spoken about how callout-culture (as we know it) lends itself to incredible ageism and how we should be mindfully engaging about the limitations of those violences. I’ve written about how difficult it is to work with cis editors purely because of the power imbalance inherent there. That one was hard because I was essentially calling out my friends, who are also responsible for paying my bills, who are also genuinely trying to do their best. Turns out it’s complex to call out from a place of love.
But yeah, nuance. I try to process the hard things and show my working so people can process with me.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have anything that’s coming out soon for people to check out?
I am writing a book called I Don’t Understand How Emotions Work and it is a black hole. It has consumed everything in my life.
People tell me Oh, you’re writing a book? I have been thinking about writing a book! and I just lean in close to them and whisper don’t do it so quietly that they wonder if the words came from inside their head. I’ve been working on it (like one works on an ingrown hair) only six months, but I already feel a 100 years old. It’s a graphic novel about emotions and the corruption of memory. It’s very weird.
It should be out February or March 2019! I would say buy one from your local book peddler, but I don’t know what is going to happen with distribution between now and then. There are publishers nibbling but none have taken it up, so if people live outside of Melbourne and want a copy … I guess … email me? I’ll see what I can do.