Awful Interview: Jessie Donaghy

7 Feb

Jessie Donaghy is more than your average good samaritan. Though she is very very much a good samaritan. Atlantans may have heard of her via her good work with Wink, and also recently the Wren’s Nest. Jessie writes, and she writes beautifully. Lucky you! You get to hear her read next Monday, February 13th at the Goat Farm!

So Jessie, how is your day so far? What have you been up to?

Hi Laura! This morning has been interesting…I went to yoga, but just as I was walking up to the door to the studio, they locked me out! I admit I was seven minutes late, but really? I decided to stop by Sam Flax to return some markers on the way home, and I got lost in their Paperie for a good 30 minutes, as usual. Have I told you that paper is one of my biggest weaknesses? I don’t know what to do with myself when I encounter cute stationary or journals. I have also recently become obsessed with sealing my letters with a wax stamp. But I digress. Now I am home, chatting with you and eating cinnamon raisin toast.

Stamp as in wax stamp/seal or sticker stamp? What do you think the root of this recent obsession? I have a large collection of journals and stationery as well!

Good old-fashioned wax stamp/seal. I think that personal letter correspondence is becoming a lost art, and with it, all the fun trappings of sending and receiving letters. For example, who still writes with an inkwell and quill pen? And yet, it’s so legit. There is something very satisfying about crafting a letter to a friend. Apart from the words you write, you also get to create an aesthetic and tactile experience, which an email cannot do. Wax seals are just another way to make letters more individual. Just last week, I sealed all of my wedding invitations. I burned myself a couple of times and it took forever, but the end result was completely worth it! It was fun to use the letter “M” of my future last name 🙂

Has being a future Mrs. effected your writing in any way?

I will admit it has been harder to remain disciplined in my writing. A wisp of a poem will start to come, and then I remember I have to confirm something with the caterer. Before I realize it, the poem flits out of my mind and probably alights into someone else’s imagination. The bane of a poet’s existence. Also, with book project deadlines coming up with Wink and Wren’s Nest, I have been focusing more on getting kids to write rather than writing my own stuff. Is that hypocritical of me? Be honest.

Hmm. You put me between a rock in a hard place on that one. I’m going to say no, for the sake of self-preservation. If it makes you feel better, I’ve been working on the same few short stories for eternity.
How do we get ourselves out of our writing ruts? Let’s come up with a plan!

Let’s! I’ve noticed that when I actually take the time to go for a walk in my neighborhood (Grant Park), I come home emptied of a lot of my busy thoughts and I am more ready to hit the pages, or rather, laptop. Also, I went through a season where I made myself write 3 pages as soon as I woke up every morning. Most mornings it was just plain garbage, but I found that getting those initial words out of me cleared the way for better words to come forth later on that day. What works for you? We should combine our forces to combat writer’s block (or perhaps it’s more like writer’s procrastination).

Walking/running has always helped me conquer the day and clear my head as well. I actually just re-read a short story by Andre Dubus about a weightlifter, and he argues that he gets too wound up and can’t think straight if he doesn’t go to the gym. I think there’s a good argument for that. In any case, for a really long time I also used to write for about an hour first thing every morning, but since my husband and I got a puppy in late October it became very difficult for me to focus with her romping about the room and being 100% adorable. Needless to say, my morning discipline has fallen to the wayside.
Do you have any advice? Also, have you ever read Andre Dubus?

I must meet this puppy! I have that same issue when my cat, Josie, comes to visit me in the morning. She has a glorious fluffy, white belly that begs to be pet. But I digress. I have read Andre Dubus, and I would have to say that one of my all time favorite short stories is “A Father’s Story”. It gets me every time. While we are on the topic of shorts, I must admit that I really admire Flannery O’Conner and how she wrote almost every day for 3 hours even though she was terminally ill. I may or may not have visited Andalusia and Flannery’s grave at some point in my life. Authors like her and Dubus make me want to be a better writer.

Me too! Any other literary heroes you would like to mention? How do they influence the way you write?

In regards to non-fiction, definitely Annie Dillard and Thomas Merton. They both had a way of conveying great depth and meaning in such a beautiful and simple manner. I have learned to be more patient in observing nature from Dillard, and have become more introspective through reading Merton.

When it comes to fiction, I have a knack for the French epics. I cannot decide if I love Hugo’s Les Miserables or Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo more. I am enamored with stories that can be peeled back layer after layer. The thought of scheming up and executing a book like Les Mis is beyond me. I feel pushed to write more and write longer when I read books like these.

For poetry, Mary Oliver is my default read. A great deal of my writing is inspired by the natural world, so her imagery resonates with me. I have also recently discovered Natasha Tretheway, who teaches over at Emory. She writes a lot about her relationship with her mother, and about growing up in the South. Her approach to these topics caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Who do you think would win in an arm wrestling contest: Victor Hugo or Alexander Dumas?

I can’t help but project Hugo and Dumas’ protagonists on them: I see Hugo as a lumbering gentle giant of a man who used to be on the chain gang but now tries to make recompense by raising orphans, and Dumas as mysterious millionaire with a glorious moustache who is out to get all his ex-friends who double crossed him. From being on the chain gang, Hugo would have sheer brawn on his side, but he would feel bad about being able to win so easily so he’d hold back. Dumas, with a prison history of his own, would start out determined to win, but seeing the compassionate nature of his foe, call for a truce and order them both a round of bière de garde, because, of course, this arm wrestling match would take place in a French beer cafe.

What if you joined them at the table? What would you tell them about our reading on February 13th to encourage them to attend? What kind of beer would you order?

I’d be so starstruck I wouldn’t trust myself to say anything of substance. I’d probably grab a piece of parchment, scribble something to the effect of: “Napoleon Bonaparte still lives. Come see him read poetry at the Goat Farm on February 13th at 8pm. Also, can I have your autographs please?”. Then I would order a St. Bernardus Abt 12, take a deep breath, and mosey on over to their table.

7 Responses to “Awful Interview: Jessie Donaghy”

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    Jessie is a gem forever and always!

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  1. Becoming a writer is not a “career decision”… « armida books - February 22, 2012

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