The term “genius” gets thrown around a lot but I definitely feel Chelsea Martin is genius as fuck. She is one of the best (and funniest) raconteurs of sadness, embarrassment, longing and family trauma you are likely to read (or “the preeminent chronicler of Internet-age malaise,” as Lena Dunham once called her), all of which is cranked to maximum levels in her latest essay collection, Caca Dolce (Soft Skull Press), a book I was surprised to relate to (even as a cemented Martin fan) on very deep levels. Unfortunately, the following interview did not go as planned, or maybe it turned out perfectly, I don’t know.
Brian Alan Ellis: Your new essay collection, Caca Dolce, opens with the line: I had my first sexual experience while watching Child’s Play when I was six.Apparently there is a new Chucky movie out [Cult of Chucky]. Have you kept up with the series at all, or were horror movies like Child’s Play only a childhood fascination?
Chelsea Martin: I stopped watching horror movies when I was, like, nine. I refuse to watch them now. I have a lot of anxiety, so movies like that—any movie with a lot of tension—I don’t care for the experience.
BAE: I ask because I too grew up watching them. My mom would let me rent slasher movies from grocery stores on Long Island. I saw a lot of messed up shit (Friday the 13th; Silent Night, Deadly Night; A Clockwork Orange) at a very young age and I’ve always wondered how it’s affected me, sexually or otherwise, as I’ve grown into whatever adulthood I’m currently experiencing.
CM: As a little kid I was very into horror movies because my best cousin was and I idolized her, but I was also watching stuff like The Land Before Time and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, and also learning that there was secret adult-world stuff and trying to figure out exactly what that was from like Pretty Woman and Sister Act. So I think I was just trying to piece together the world with my baby brain and things were overlapping in weird ways that made Chucky seem sexual. But yes, as an adult I am extremely sexually attracted to evil sentient dolls, if that’s what you’re asking.
BAE: So you’re a Conjuring/Annabelle fan?
CM: No, I don’t know. Never heard of those.
BAE: Those are like serious evil sentient doll flicks. Not missing much, really. What are some of the best movies you’ve seen recently, preferably ones that have stood toe-to-toe, in quality, with Sister Act?
CM: I saw Okja recently, which I really liked. Have you seen that one? It feels like a live action cartoon. I thought it was really cool. Get Out and Moonlight were both really good, obviously, even by Sister Act standards. I’m kinda behind on movies, feels like.
BAE: I am too, actually. Okay, moving on… In one Caca Dolce essay, “Punks Not Dead,” you write about your stepdad, which I related to because my mom remarried when I was ten—to a welder from Georgia who drank too much. (I never knew my biological father; he’s apparently dead.) My stepdad and I never got along, much like you and your own stepdad. There was this weird resentment thing, like we both were competing for my mother’s attention or something. Did your stepdad put a lifelong wedge between the relationship you and your mom once had, or are the two of you now closer because of it?
CM: My mom fucked up. Everyone fucks up. Are we closer because she fucked up? Probably not. But I don’t hold it against her either. Life is lonely and people make fucked up choices to deal with that fact.
BAE: Do you think you’d ever want to get married and have kids? The thought of having a wedding gives me lots of anxiety. I also don’t think I’d be a good dad. I might make a decent uncle but I don’t have any siblings, so…
CM: I’m not that interested in marriage. I do like kids. I feel like marriage and kid anxiety is pretty common now, or part of a cultural shift.
BAE: Did your upbringing affect you ever wanting a family of your own?
CM: I think people are asking more questions about these things. What is the need to have an expensive party about yourself? What is the need to legally tie yourself to another person? Why bring children into a world where so many people are suffering, where the future is so grim? Why give yourself a lifelong obligation to shape a human life that you don’t know if you’ll like or be good at? I think there are some good answers to those questions, and sometimes I can convince myself that kids are a good idea, or that I deserve to experience that, or that nothing matters anyway so why not. Other times I’m more practical.
BAE: Had a nightmare last night where I was watching TV with my step dad. What do you think that means? Do you ever try unraveling the narrative of your life through dreams and horoscopes? I usually only look at my horoscope when I’m feeling depressed and/or unhinged, so I look at my horoscope often. I had Elle Nash read my tarot through Facebook instant messenger once.
The Chelsea Martin interview ends here. Chelsea told me through Facebook messenger that she was busy and that she’d get back to the interview ASAP. Well, six months went by. In that time Caca Dolce was released to critical acclaim whereas as I involved myself in a toxic relationship that had me spiraling deeper into an ongoing depression. I’d stopped doing my interviews column altogether. After publishing Noah Cicero’s book, Nature Documentary, in January, I got my shit together a bit (a bit!) and decided to try finishing the Chelsea Martin interview by reaching out to a few of her closest friends and colleagues. I thought that maybe authors like Darcie Wilder and Mira Gonzalez could solve the Chelsea Martin mystery, but it was my pal Elizabeth Ellen who offered the most help, which made sense because, like me, Ellen is prone to obsessive self-aggrandizing, especially at the expense of others. Basically, she is one of the greats.
BAE: You’ve published Chelsea Martin, have done book tours and stayed in hotel rooms together. Is she flakey, or what?
Elizabeth Ellen: Yeah. Super flake. She hasn’t talked to me since I published “Chelsea Martin Poems.”
[Link to “Chelsea Martin Poems”: http://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/chelsea-martin-poems]
BAE: What did you think of Caca Dolce?
EE: I think Caca Dolce is brilliant. Definitely one of the most original and fascinating books I have ever read. It’s great to be friends with Chelsea because you never fully “get” her and are continuously surprised by small revelations, like in her writing.
BAE: I was surprised by how much I related to it: shitty stepfather; poor; neurotic OCD behaviors (I also had a weird neck twitch/eye-blinking thing that I obsessively did as a child and sometimes still do)… a lot of it hit home.
EE: I think Caca Dolce should be as popular as Me Talk Pretty One Day [by David Sedaris]. I think with a little better/smarter publicity it definitely could be. I should have been reading about it in every major magazine last year. I don’t know how the New York Times didn’t review it. Chelsea’s mind is nonstop fascinating. It’s like an alien was dropped into a slightly absurd human family and we can read about it in Caca Dolce, which everyone should. I’m talking myself into reading it again right now.
BAE: When did you first read Chelsea’s stuff, and what was it like meeting irl for the first time?
EE: Geez, I don’t know if I can remember when I first read Chelsea’s “stuff.” But I definitely remember meeting for the first time. I had just started a monthly reading series in my town and was flying in “cool people” I wanted to meet or had met and wanted to hang out with (Blake Butler, Brian Evenson, Deb Olin Unferth). I asked Chelsea and she (surprisingly!) said yes. She came the same weekend as Kevin Sampsell and Blake Nelson. It took the whole weekend for her to warm up to me (or me to her or whatever). It was the last night, after midnight, when we finally started to have some fun and wrote our first “Lil’ Bitch” script and filmed it. Chelsea was an HTML GIANT contributor at the time and logged in and uploaded the video and we went to bed. When I got up in the morning the video was taken down and I thought, Wow, Blake must have gotten really pissed when he saw it! But then Chelsea woke up and said she’d woken up in the middle of the night and freaked out about it and taken it down herself.
EE: Just looked at that video again and look at Chelsea! What a little baby angel she was here. That was 2009 so she was only like, what, 24? Just a baby. But a little brilliant sarcastic baby. I’m just so glad I invited her and she came for the weekend or I’m sure we never would have been friends. You need a full weekend to win her over (if it’s even possible) but once you do she’s the sweetest and most loyal friend.
BAE: But super flakey, too.
EE: Wait, did you say you wanted me to shit-talk Chelsea? Oops. I remember she read from her Future Tense book [Everything Was Fine Until Whatever] that weekend and my friend came and brought her tween daughter and middle school son and Chelsea said “queef” and we all had a good laugh about that.
Chelsea Martin is the author of Everything Was Fine Until Whatever; The Really Funny Thing About Apathy; Even Though I Don’t Miss You, which was named one of the Best Indie Books of 2013 by Dazed magazine; and Mickey. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Hobart, Lenny Letter, Vice, and Catapult, and chosen as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. She is a comic artist and illustrator and the creative director of Universal Error and currently lives in Washington State. www.jerkethics.com
Elizabeth Ellen is the author of the novel Person/a, the story collections Saul Stories and Fast Machine, and the poetry collections Elizabeth Ellen and Bridget Fonda. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, is a deputy editor at Hobart, and lives in Ann Arbor.