Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Interview with Muffy Bolding

Interview with Muffy Bolding by Stacey Greenberg
Photo by Annie Bolding

I first came across Muffy Bolding on my Live Journal friend’s page a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until I read her essay in Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts that I realized I needed to know everything about her. I spent weeks stalking her online and really enjoyed getting to know Muffy a little better.

Muffy is married to Gregory, a big-shot software manager/engineer and has three babies: Betsy (18), Annie (14), and Hunter (11). She has been at the writing game, in many forms, for many years. She has written essays, comedy, social satire, political satire, speeches, one-act plays, poetry, PBS doo-dads, Disney Channel stuff, you name it. She publishes a zine, “Withered Debutante,” and is the former editor of the online satire zine, “Fresno Lampoon.” She was a straight-up newspaper reporter for years, but is now focusing on fiction, essays, and screenplay writing. In 2004, she spent a month in Romania making a film called “Madhouse” that was released theatrically throughout Europe last fall and here on DVD just recently. She has several more on deck at various stages of research, writing, casting, and production—including one that could be classified as old school Disney called “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”

Muffy was born in Rochester, New York, and is “Part Sicilian, part Philipino, part Irish, part English, part literary snob, and part carny trash.” She was raised in Fresno, California—a place which turns up frequently in her work. One day during her Junior year of high school, Muffy was driving to school and just decided that she no longer wished to attend. She drove to the library instead, and just started at one end and worked her way through.

I love that you just stopped going to high school one day. I wish I had the chutzpah to do that. I was so obsessed with my high school boyfriend and being a good student that it never occurred to me that there was a whole world out there waiting for me. What was the reaction from your parents/friends?

Well, I was the oldest girl in a working class family of nine children, so my decision to stop going to traditional school and sort of educate myself was borne of not having much time to myself in the first place. With so many younger brothers and sisters coming in the goddamned windows, all an urgently curious dame like me wanted was to just be left the fuck alone with my books. You can imagine the allure of a place like the library for someone like me; the library was my sanctuary, a cathedral of sorts. Aside from my son's head, the smell of a library or bookstore is still my most favorite of olfactory treats.

(This is the beginning snippet from Muffy’s essay entitled “Cathedral”)

It's the overwhelming smell of books that turns me on. If a man smells like a first edition Margaret Atwood, I am his for the taking, baby. And it is always with that in mind that I step through the doors of Barnes and Noble, or any of the other Big Book ‘Borgs for that matter, and feel that first blast of sweet book breath in my face. It is in this place of bound glories and shelved rapture that I find my god – and, trust me, he ain’t in the religion section, either.

My mother didn't seem to be too disturbed by the fact that I had ceased attending high school. She was rather annoyed, however, when she came to the realization that by my having gone to the library everyday instead of staying at home, she was missing out on a whole lot of free, live-in childcare. (By the time I was 13, I was running an entire household—cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, childcare—everything except fucking the ol' man. I was what I like to call a “biologically indentured servant.”) To this day, when I see any of my aunts at family get-togethers and such, they always say, “I still can't believe you ever had children!”

But I did love very nearly every minute of it. I learned so much about parenting from my own childhood...about what NOT to do, mainly. I am actually working on a book that touches on this particular subject, amongst many goddamned others, called Inside a Chinese Dragon.

So when you say you are working on a book what does that mean? Is it idling lazily on your computer or am I going to be able to get my hands on it soon? Is someone going to try and call it Momoir?

It is a work-in-progress and has NOT been officially shopped yet—though I have a pretty good idea of where it will probably eventually land. So, I suppose you could say it is currently lounging quite comfortably on my computer—but hopefully not for too long. I am fairly certain that it shan't be labeled a Momoir—though the three darling larvae do unfurl their cabbage leaves and pop their sweet-smelling heads out at various points throughout (most likely to request Taco Bell or marinated artichoke hearts or some such treat). I am not necessarily interested in getting labeled as a “Mama Writer,” per se—it just ain't my bag, baby—though I would never rule out writing a Momoir type of book if I felt like it, goddamnit. My thing is, I just like to sashay up and wolf heartily at whichever buffet looks most appealing to me at the moment. I am a withered debutante—and a shameless dilettante—and infinitely proud of it. As my bidness card reads: "Muffy Bolding: Writer, Mother, Libertine, Tart."

The longer you are a mother, do you feel like writing about it more or less?

When it comes to writing, I am positively manic. I want to write about EVERYTHING, goddamnit—I want to KNOW everything. I have a photographic memory and total recall—once I know something, I CAN'T unknow it. I read everything. I devour everything: Scottish clan tartans, Kabuki theatre, cartography, the history of New York City, the life of Ted Hughes, etc. I am the person you call at three in the morning when you are drunk and wondering what the hell The Skipper's name was on Gilligan's Island (Jonas Grumby) or what Wilma Flintstone's maiden name was (Flaghoople). I am THAT person.

Now that they are older, I am very careful not to infringe on the privacy of my children by writing about them in too much detail—though, frankly, the darling little bastards seem to LOVE IT whenever I do. But then again, I come from a long line of hambones, carny trash, and there you have it.

How does motherhood inform your writing?

I don't actually write about my children that much, per se, but they DO certainly inform what I write, i.e., they inform the writer in me, if that makes any sense. Now that they are older, I don't use them as “experiments” as much as I was once wont to do when they were still babies and every moment held the potential for infinite, tiny miracles. Now, the miracles are fewer and farther between, but they are much larger and deeper and certainly more profound. Wait until one of your children starts to drive...or falls in love...or gets their heart broken...or teaches YOU a lesson about life. Talk about miraculous.

What it was like being on the road promoting Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts? Where did you go? Were there big crowds? What was the general reaction?

The Mamaphonic tour was quite literally one of the great thrills of my year. It was just me—no kids, no husband, no domestic obligations beyond the usual annoyance of bathing and picking up after myself in whatever place we were currently squatting. As always, New York City was sheer bliss. We had a grand time. The best part was that Bee (Lavender—editor of the book) and I had lots of time to just sit and talk and compare notes. Even though we had previously suspected it via email, we officially verified that we are frighteningly alike—even down to the same brand of identical tiny bottles of essential oil we both pulled out to apply to our persons.

My most favorite venue was Atomic Books in Baltimore. Aside from being the greatest fucking bookstore I have ever had the pleasure to peruse, the crowd there was outstanding in every way. Those Baltimore mamas are the shit. We had dinner with everyone beforehand, and I got to meet several dames face-to-face whom I have known seemingly forever online. It was positively riveting to finally put face and voice with screen name.

The reading which most pleasantly surprised me was, hands down, Old Greenwich, Connecticut. We took a train out to the hinterlands and arrived after dark in this charming little village that reeked of guys sporting “esquire” after their names and OLD goddamned money. When we arrived at the coffeehouse that was hosting the reading, what we found was rather...daunting: a very yuppified place filled with lovely flower arrangements whose walls were sponge-painted that very posh and particular “Provence yellow.” They were also holding a crafts show (a very upscale crafts show, mind you, with $350 brocade throw-pillows, but a crafts show nonetheless) and running the event was a ravishing legion of these beautiful, blonde, coltish women who looked like they had just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. Most were wearing cashmere sweater sets, pearls, and penny loafers. They reeked of sorority cotillions and children named Fletcher and Claire. We were stunned—particularly myself when I realized that I would be cursing like a sailor and talking about wooden spoons used as weapons and obsessive bathroom hygiene in front of dames who don't usually take very kindly to people with tattoos and mouths like teamsters.

All that superficial horseshit fell away the second that I stepped up to read. Those women BELLY LAUGHED OUT LOUD like you cannot imagine. They slapped their knees, threw their heads back, and guffawed like jackals. They nodded in solidarity when we read the stuff about women struggling to maintain their own artistic identity and integrity in the face of having children. They wept when they realized that we are all in this together. Despite the blue-blood running through their veins—and the nannies and housekeepers running through their palatial homes—they were still mothers, still creative beings, and still every bit as insane as the rest of us. I came away humbled.

Overall, the reaction we got at all of our readings was overwhelmingly overwhelming.

How did your love of men who smell like books affect your ability to do Mamaphonic book readings?

Oh, Christ—it wasn't an issue in the least! Aside from Bee's old friends, Karl T. Steele and writer Justin Hocking, there was nary a man in sight the entire time. I mean, what sane fellow wants to sit around and listen to a bunch of broads commiserating about their angst, their art, and their areolas?

So when does one stop thinking about oneself as a mother? Ever? When you think of all the things you are and all the things you do—where is mothering on the list? (Somedays I feel like I have “Mother” plastered across my forehead and other days I feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops lest anyone forget. I'm trying to picture you making big money movie deals and in my mind I'm wondering if the people around the table know or care that you are a mother.)

Oh, gosh, I don't think a mother EVER stops thinking of herself as a mother—even when her kids are completely grown and have lives of their own and wish that she and her Vicks VapoRub and Flintstones chewables and wooden spoon and butt wipies would just beat it. Even when her children have children of their own. Even if her children (god forbid) pass from this world before she does. I think motherhood is an eternal bond, an endless affiliation, a neverending identity. It never goes away—even in death. Your children are a piece of your soul and are the greatest love affair you will ever know.

And as far as do I ever stop feeling like a mother during the course of my day and my work...hmm, that's a good one. I would have to say there are probably moments when I forget about them, when I am so caught up in the work and in the process, when my brain "jumps the tracks" (as I call it) and goes to that other place that allows the work to move through me as opposed to me chasing it...when the whole experience is as pure as it ever was and ever will be -- it would have to be then...when I am just me, not Mommy, not Honey, not Baby, not Mother. Just Muffy, a girl with stories in her head and a wry smile on her face.

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