Thank you for having me participate in The Marriage Project a year ago. It was a good reflection for me. It’s a very safe place to talk about what marriage means to us women as opposed to what is dictated upon us. It’s interesting to read other women’s responses, as they’re all so versatile and thought-provoking. What made you decide to create The Marriage Project in the first place?
I was surrounded by people who were getting married, not just in the community I was living in, but on social media. It was overwhelming, honestly, especially when people I didn't even think were in relationships were suddenly swathed in taffeta and whatnot. I posted something on Facebook about how all my friends were getting married, and my uncle responded with, "Don't worry, someday it will happen to you!" And I thought, what if I don't want it to happen to me? It wasn't a plea, it was an expression of frustration. Also, the idea that it would just "happen" was really upsetting to me, I wanted to be more in charge of a decision like that. Why was everyone getting married anyway? Where were the people who wanted to live a different life, who had a different perspective on monogamy? I needed to know what was going on with people, women in particular, who were getting married, so I asked them.
Whilst people can’t comment on The Marriage Project on your site, you’ve created a Facebook community page to complement it. How has the feedback on your project been so far? What do you hope to accomplish with it? Do you plan on creating other projects similar to this one?
One of the questions I ask in the project is "Why did you get married?" I've gotten so many responses in the realm of "No one's ever asked me that before," and "I've never thought about it," and it hit me, in a different way than before, the degree to which certain relationships and paths are assigned to us, especially as women, and how those accepting those paths is integral to our identity. So much so that we don't even think about it, and we're threatened when people ask us basic questions. I wanted to create a space for women to talk about marriage freely, without fear of backlash or criticism or their loved ones finding out, since we really aren't encouraged to do so. I think offering anonymity/giving people the option to decide how they wanted to identify themselves really helped people feel more comfortable about talking, which is what I'd hoped.
I have considered doing a similar project on having kids, and not having them. Childfree women (I am one) are a source of mystery for some reason, but for me, the real mystery is in having kids, making the decision, and then parenting, but mostly, wanting to do it in the first place.
Your essay True Story: Someone I Love Told Me He Thinks Women Lie About Rape rings true for me. I’m constantly in a similar situation whether it’s close ones I’m dealing with or trolls who want to push my buttons when it comes to issues of rape culture, sexism, racism, ableism. It’s emotionally draining to have to explain things all the time. And sometimes I feel put on the spot, I have a hard time getting all my words together, so I quiet myself or just cry. How can we better deal with these situations without feeling like it’s taking so much of our energy and nerves?
I'm not sure you can, honestly. We have to allow ourselves space in those situations, and that includes deep breaths and deciding when someone is actually interested in learning and when they just want to argue. As a white person, I don't think it's an option for me to walk away from racist stuff that comes from other white people--it's my job to hustle those folks and deal with them, but it's not only my job. Delegating is one way of making sure you conserve your own energy, which is vital. It's also, in the case of racism, about gathering other white folks who have an understanding of white supremacy, intersectionality, etc., and distributing them. In the case of my essay about rape, I would say men need to come together to talk about it and process, engage with how they're socialized to think women are liars. Read Soraya Chemaly's essay immediately, by the way.
Another thing that's important is becoming comfortable with failure and confusion. Purity in any form is really dangerous, and it should never be a goal--in bodies, in politics, etc. I had a teacher in grad school who really fleshed out for me the relationship between perfection and capitalism--in short that perfection is a completely unnatural state, and the search for it keeps us paralyzed. That paralysis keeps us focused on our perpetual "failure" and makes it harder for us to identify how we're being exploited by systems like capitalism. In short, I think we have to figure out how to make mistakes, how to take responsibility for them, and how to move on. There isn't another option. The trick, though, is to figure out how not to make those mistakes at the expense of other people, and that's where the ingathering of white people (if you're a white person) comes in.
When I was reading your essay Why I Love Being Alone, I was stunned--because that’s how I am most of the time--and elated--because I’m not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling and being this way. While I like to socialize with others, I spend most of my time alone. I feel exhausted if I have to spend many hours with people, unless I’m in a health crisis, then I’d prefer to have some company to keep me safe and sane. What do you like to do in the comfort of your aloneness? What do you when you’re with others?
I'm writing this interview after cat/house sitting for almost two solid weeks, and having talked to very few humans (I have had extensive conversations with the cats), with the exception of people I order/buy things from. There is a point where it gets to be too much silence, too much time alone with the often landmine nature of my brain (shout out to anxiety and depression!), and I need at least the din of other humans. I like being alongside people, which is why I like living in cities, but I don't desire companionship in the form of being spoken to very often. When I'm with people, I'm much better one on one than in a group. Parties and bars are basically my nightmares.
When I'm alone, I'm always thinking about the same thing, which is the interior (and other) lives of the characters in the novel I'm writing. It's been this way for my whole life, not with these particular people, who have changed over time, but with imaginary people. It's one of the reasons I like being alone so much, because it's really hard to get a good grip on them when I'm with other people, and I'd almost always rather be with my characters than actual humans. If we're not together for a while, I miss them. I need a tremendous amount of emotional space to write fiction, and if I don't have it, I get very tense and sad and anxious and start acting like a complete garbage bag.
A few of your pieces at Luna Luna Magazine, such as Ghost(ed) and These People Aren’t Actually Here, focus on ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? Any interesting stories you can tell us about your experience with the paranormal activity?
Ask me what I'm watching right now! This bananas show on cable about two people who go into haunted houses and sleep there for 72 hours and scare the crap out of each other. (I have numerous questions about this show, including how/if they shower? I'm thinking yes, because they don't look like I look after 72 hours without a shower.) I love this shit so much, and I don't really know why. It's soothing, for some reason I'm sure is deeply pathological, but whatever. I think I do believe in ghosts; I've always wanted someone to pay me to go on a ghost hunt and write about it, but I also know that there's a certain point for me where being scared is not fun anymore. That point might be lower than I think it is.
I grew up in a house that was built in the early 1900's and when I was eleven or so, my friend would come over and "pretend" to communicate with the ghost of a woman who died in the house. We were lonely kids, with wicked imaginations, weird, but never trying to hide it. (We also had a tv show that we'd spend hours performing over the phone and in person, but that's another story.) I don't know if anyone actually did die in the house, but I never had any experiences there, or otherwise. I do think I have a touch of the psychic (stop laughing, readers), or at least a sense that my intuition is important. I feel like I learn over and over to pay attention to my gut, in terms of making art, but also in the sense that I know some things aren't right for me, and I have to go towards what is right, instead of contorting myself to fit into the narrow spaces.
Chanel Dubofsky is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. You can read her non fiction at Previously.TV, The Berry, The Frisky, The Billfold, Cosmopolitan, and more. Her fiction has appeared in Atlas and Alice, StoryChord, Monkey Bicycle, Matchbook, and Quick Fiction. She is the creator of The Marriage Project, a collection of interviews with women about marriage in the media, imagination, and reality. She has an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find her on Twitter at @chaneldubofsky, and her photography at Diverge.