Wes Jamison‘s work appears in Essay Press, Diagram, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. After living twenty-some years in rural Ohio, he moved to Chicago to earn his MFA in Nonfiction from Columbia College and is now a PhD candidate at University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
Anne Carson. (Could you hear how quickly I said that?)
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
This is a tie between the note I taped to my phone that said, “Get your ass out of bed! You have to go get divorced!” and the essay I wrote while in therapy after that divorce, which you can read here.
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
I don’t think I need to trust a person with my drafts. A draft isn’t a precious or sacred thing: other people can’t hurt a draft. I love our notion of “ideal readers,” but it is useful to hear from someone who isn’t already biased toward my work or similar, someone, maybe, who I do not trust. Trust, I suppose, comes into play in knowing what advice to take and what to reject.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
In 2013, Jenny Boully said to me, “Trust your writerly instincts.” This same advice was given to me today by Sadie Hoagland.
5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?
Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, a novelized retelling of the myth of Atlas. The text is framed with autobiographical writing that explores the persona’s relationship to the myth, and so the retelling becomes an exercise in extended metaphor within and part of autobiography. And that is what excites me about it. And her sentences. And how she makes the idea of the self mythic. And how she incorporates artifacts from our cultural imagination, like Laika.
“You” often stands in for the “I,” but sometimes, “you” masks the “I.” I like to think of this particular usage of the second person as one in which the narrator is writing to a self who no longer exists, which is the case with all three of the examples you mention: Natashia Déon’s here-and-now narrator is addressing her adolescent self at moments of great reckoning; Susan Grier’s narrator is standing on a threshold of understanding her role as the mother of a child who will become transgendered; and Brenda Miller’s speaker is in the midst of undertaking a transformation. So in some ways, it’s as if these particular narrators are recording messages to be placed in a time capsule: “See who I was,” the you says in these instances, of a specific instance or time. Perhaps that’s why we might call this usage “diaristic”: just think of those moments when you examine a diary in which what you wrote was written by another iteration of yourself: it is a kind of first person removed. As Joan Connor puts it, “The I creates a you; the you creates an I, in a Mobius strip of recursive identity.”