IN­TER­VIEW

Too bad the mod­ern­day Nora Ephron is just too busy.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Saman­tha Ed­wards

Sloane Crosley isn’t afraid to share her emo­tional or vul­ner­a­ble life ex­pe­ri­ences in the name of a good story.

Like the best co­me­di­ans and ther­a­pists, Man­hat­tan-based writer Sloane Crosley pos­sesses the un­canny abil­ity to per­fectly ar­tic­u­late your deep­est thoughts and ideas bet­ter than you ever could. It’s like she coils her­self into your brain, ex­tracts some ran­dom, in­de­scrib­able feel­ing and then spits it out fully formed on pa­per.

To wit: In her lat­est col­lec­tion of non­fic­tion es­says, Look Alive Out There, she de­scribes the time-hon­oured tra­di­tion of go­ing down the rab­bit hole of We­bMD (“a Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture Book in which all roads lead to death”) or the phe­nom­e­non of ask­ing for travel tips for an up­com­ing va­ca­tion via a Face­book sta­tus “where com­ment af­ter com­ment would com­pete in an e-thumb war for supreme re­gional wis­dom.” She writes about that im­pos­si­bly beau­ti­ful, kind­hearted friend every­one has—the one who wears jeans “meant for peo­ple with stilts for legs”—who would be in­fu­ri­at­ing ex­cept she truly be­lieves that all of her girl­friends are as mag­net­i­cally stun­ning as she is. It’s one of those books »

that by the time you’re fin­ished read­ing it, pages upon pages are dog-eared and sen­tences un­der­lined. You will feel seen. Crosley’s break­through col­lec­tion of per­sonal es­says, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, came out in 2008. Since then, she has writ­ten an­other New York Times-best­selling book of per­sonal es­says, How Did You Get This Num­ber?, pub­lished her first novel, The Clasp, and guest-starred as her­self on an episode of Gos­sip Girl. (OK, sure, she was the backup choice af­ter an­other more fa­mous author de­clined the part, but she hap­pily took the gig any­way.)

In Look Alive Out There, Crosley bares all once again in es­says that are at once funny, cringe-in­duc­ing and heartfelt, whether she’s deal­ing with noisy neigh­bours, in­ter­view­ing her sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian for­mer-porn-star un­cle or de­scrib­ing in in­ti­mate de­tail the tra­vails of freez­ing her eggs. In­spired by great es­say­ists be­fore her, like David Sedaris, Joan Did­ion and Nora Ephron, Crosley isn’t afraid to re­veal her own neu­rotic, emo­tional or vul­ner­a­ble life ex­pe­ri­ences in the name of a good story.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake came out ex­actly 10 years ago. How have you no­ticed the per­sonal es­say as an art form evolve since then? “The land­scape for per­sonal es­says, specif­i­cally com­edy writ­ten by women, has changed a lot. With­out sound­ing too grandiose about it, I didn’t have a lot of com­pany when I first pub­lished I Was Told There’d Be Cake. Now I do, and it’s great. It’s im­por­tant for women to tell their sto­ries.

“But I do think that there’s a ten­dency to think that it is easy. A good tweet doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into a great es­say. I think the tra­di­tion of the es­say is get­ting lost in the shuf­fle.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing you men­tion Twit­ter be­cause there are so many peo­ple with pop­u­lar Twit­ter or Tum­blr ac­counts who get a book deal, but the book turns out to be ter­ri­ble. “I don’t think it’s ac­tu­ally Twit­ter’s fault that this hap­pens. The pithy one-liner, which is a lot older than Twit­ter, is an art form. Twit­ter is ad­dic­tive and has a self-ag­gran­diz­ing na­ture, but there are peo­ple who are re­ally funny and they tell tiny sto­ries in five words that still have lay­ers. I think it’s strange that a pub­lisher would look at that and think ‘That must be the tip of the ice­berg.’ You wouldn’t look at a poet and think ‘Well, you must have a novel in you.’”

Why did you want to write The Clasp—a fic­tion? “A fic­tion.”

“A fic­tion”…I don’t know why I phrased it like that. “The way you said it, it sounds like I wove a string of lies. Part of the rea­son is I needed some new rules. If you have a nice paint­ing you bought for your house, the first thing peo­ple will tell you is to move it ev­ery cou­ple of years from one wall to an­other so you can see it again. I think that’s the clos­est anal­ogy to why I go be­tween fic­tion and non-fic­tion. With non-fic­tion, a good per­cent­age of what you’re writ­ing is not up to you—it’s the

events in the world, in your life and in other peo­ple’s lives. That can be con­strain­ing. And then you move over to fic­tion and think ‘Thank good­ness! I get to make ev­ery­thing up!’ and you re­al­ize it’s a whole dif­fer­ent kind of work—ev­ery de­ci­sion is yours, and there’s no such thing as ‘I don’t re­mem­ber what hap­pened; I was nine.’ All of a sud­den, you sort of long for the days when you had the crutch of re­al­ity.

“When you write non-fic­tion, you have this con­stant de­ci­sion of how much you re­act to what’s go­ing on in the world. I handed in Look Alive Out There the day be­fore Hil­lary Clin­ton lost. We still lived in a world coloured by Trump, but the world hadn’t changed com­pletely yet. I edited the es­says af­ter­wards, and it was like there was an ele­phant in the room. I de­cided that ev­ery­thing doesn’t need to re­volve around this un­pleas­ant cen­tre.”

I think the reader would be able to sense it if you threw in an es­say last-minute that re­flects a post-Trump world. It’s kind of re­fresh­ing not to read about him. “I hope that’s the case. I think it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that he is not our en­tire re­al­ity. It’s hu­man­iz­ing to get mad when a woman in a wheel­chair robs you of your cab [which the first es­say, ‘Wheels Up,’ is about] and to fo­cus on that for a sec­ond. [We’re] so an­gry about the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, we can for­get the lit­tle [things] that give tex­ture to the rest of our lives.”

I read in an in­ter­view from a few years ago that you tend to clear sto­ries with the peo­ple you write about be­fore pub­lish­ing. Is that still the case? “Ba­si­cally, as long as they’re iden­ti­fi­able or they’re still in my life. I don’t run much by my par­ents be­cause it doesn’t seem nec­es­sary. This isn’t Run­ning With Scis­sors—I’m not out­ing them as hor­ri­ble peo­ple. I’ve had some is­sues in the past—I even­tu­ally got dis­in­vited to a wed­ding tech­ni­cally be­cause of an es­say. My per­son­al­ity is not to hurt peo­ple, but at the same time the other half of me has the same vi­cious­ness that any other writer has, which is ‘Ev­ery­thing is copy,’ as the great Nora Ephron once said. Luck­ily it hasn’t been a huge prob­lem for me, ex­cept for that wed­ding.”

In the fi­nal es­say in the book, “The Doc­tor Is a Woman,” you write about the ex­pe­ri­ence of freez­ing your eggs. It felt more vul­ner­a­ble. “I call it the ‘blood on the field’ es­say. When you’re writ­ing es­says, it’s not a gi­ant nar­ra­tive piece. The sense that you’re writ­ing a whole book doesn’t re­ally con­geal un­til later, and when it does, it feels like ‘Now is my chance to tie in ev­ery­thing I feel is per­sonal to me and rel­e­vant to the au­di­ence.’ I have an aver­sion to di­ary-like es­says, so per­haps I feel like you have to earn that kind of story. If you’re read­ing the es­says in or­der, you get to re­ally know me. It makes it more im­pact­ful to put that es­say at the end and leave on a heartfelt note, not just a funny note.”

Do you ever get read­ers who, af­ter read­ing your es­says, think they re­ally know you and want to be your best friend? “I do get that. What’s weird is that we prob­a­bly would be. All of the peo­ple who come to my read­ings—they’re way more than I de­serve. They’re smarter, they’re bet­ter dressed, they smell nice. But it’s just that I’m in and out of town so we’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to be best friends. I’m al­ways re­ally flat­tered by it, frankly.”

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