I couldn’t wait to interview Michelle for Rabble & Twine because she looks at the world and approaches her writing with an unique perspective. I’ve watched her step in and embrace her creative self over the past few years. Michelle’s experienced the struggle of whether or not to pursue her creative outlet first hand. Damn that constant push and pull to allow/balance creativity in your life! She’s adjusted her scheduled and sets aside dedicated time for her creative process everyday – she says she’s never been happier! Michelle is headed to my old stomping grounds at Mills to pursue an MFA in creative writing in the fall. Girl’s got big plans!
I love how Michelle uses music and visual art to inspire her writing. You can read her work on her website BananaPitch.com – a collaborative, illustrated collection of stories. She plans to one day transform Banana Pitch into a print magazine. She collaborates with several illustrators on the site and is currently looking for submissions — check the links after the article.
Writing Workshops for Caregivers [shameless plug]
As a long-time caregiver professionally, and as a granddaughter to someone who suffered from Alzheimer’s, this community has a very special spot in my heart. It is a tough and tender job, whether professionally or for a loved one. Having an artistic release and creative support system can be a huge stress relief, and can be quite fun! I look forward to helping provide this space to my community.
AnnaGive me a brief history of how you started writing and what lead you to where you currently are.
MichelleApparently, I’ve been writing since I was about ten. I recently unearthed all these old journals. Through middle school and high school I was writing stories and had all these ideas, but when it was time to choose a major in college I felt like it wasn’t professional enough. That writing wasn’t serious, just a fantastical dream – not a real thing. So went I with something in the health field and studied nutrition instead. It wasn’t until my last semester in college when I took a creative writing class that I was like ‘Oh, I should be doing this’. After graduation I moved to France and kept writing, but when I came back it was the same – ‘this isn’t a real thing’. So I got a job, but more and more I kept getting pulled back to it. And the more I started focusing on it the more I felt like ‘I guess this has to be my life’. Suddenly couldn’t not do it. I needed to have that creative process as part of my everyday.
AnnaTell me about your creative habits. Do you always write in the same place? What are some of the rituals in your creative routine?
MichelleI’ve created my schedule so I have long chunks of time to dedicate to it. Nothing is a rush job. I usually put on some music with no lyrics that suits the mood of what I’m writing. I listen to a lot of classical pieces. Sometimes I close my eyes when I first start writing to visualize the scene. I write in my apartment, sometimes the library or a cafe. Some days it takes me like a solid hour to get into it. I have to sit there and day dream for a while.
It’s an interesting experience writing a novel versus short stories because I am with the same character. Months and months of thinking about them makes them almost like a real person. Even when I’m not sitting down writing I’ll still end up thinking about them. It’s become more of an ever-present thought around me.
AnnaWhat first inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas? Are they based on real events from your life?
MichelleMore and more I feel like my writing is shaped by real moments and people in my life. But it won’t be exact. The more I get into fiction the more I can adapt one part and turn it into ten parts. It is definitely easier for me to write about a character—though I’m not a visual artist at all—if I try to sketch them first. Sometimes I search online for images based on different characteristics, like “Bald white guy with glasses” or “guy with a beard”, and print them out. Then I sit down and draw them so I can visualize the character all the time, and by extension help my readers visualize it.
AnnaI think it is a really cool way to collaborate with others. You get to see where they take the story and decide what moments stand out.
MichelleI really like it, it feels like they get to experience my work in a really intimate way. Carefully reading and interpreting it…and then they love it in a different way. Cool mix of worlds. Even if I could illustrate I don’t know if I would. I’m really enjoying reaching out to other artists, experimenting by pairing them up with different kinds of stories or the mood. With illustrated stories it does influence the reader, as if to say THIS is what it is, versus their imagination taking over. But I think it’s fun to have both options.
AnnaAt what point do you share your works in progress with others, if at all?
MichelleFor Banana Pitch I don’t. I just write and edit a bunch of times, and if I feel good about it I put it up. It isn’t until I’ve edited and held it for weeks (and then edited it a few more times) before I show things to people. Unless something is completely published and done…well, certain things are never done. I was just reading something last night that had been published and was thinking ‘I would do this differently, and I could change this and that’, but at the same time ‘editors chose this; it’s fine!’. At a certain point I have to let go.
A REASONABLE PORPOISE [excerpt]
A warbling voice kept repeating the word eggshells! I looked up to see the Alberts’ elderly neighbor, standing in her bathrobe on the edge of the sidewalk, one hand in a ragged terry cloth pocket, shaking her head. Her other hand was fixed to her temple, rubbing it, as if she were having a hard time detaching her fingers from the indent in her forehead.
“You’re okay?” I asked, wanting to assume she was fine so I could move on without the crippling guilt of leaving her there. I looked down the street again, holding the thermos I always brought to school, because somehow at thirty-two I’d turned into that sixty-five year old English teacher who carried around a perpetually stained mug, and whose breath was always stale with the scent of old coffee.Read More…
AnnaTell me about being a writer in the Bay Area, and what your experience of the scene is like.
MichelleI think it is one of the best places for being a writer! More and more there is such a community. In Oakland there is a different vibe of more performance, and it’s very open minded (of course). It’s very accepting for all different subjects and types of writers. I feel very fortunate to be here. One of the reasons I’m going to get my MFA at Mills in the fall is because I wasn’t ready to leave this community. I’m just starting to make a lot of connections here. I work at a literary salon called The Octopus and we put on reading and writing focused events. It is particularly exciting to be involved in that. In the Bay, there are lots of magazines and independent bookstores that are interested in supporting new authors and putting out materials. The longer I live here the more I can’t picture doing this anywhere else.
AnnaWhat do you think art does for people in your community?
Michelle It is a very bonding experience. Whether it combines different mediums, or writing about a subject we can all relate to. At reading events you see people reacting to something together, sharing whatever the mood is, and that is really powerful. And I think by knowing that artists are from your community you have more of a connection to their work. You can see and feel their influences.
AnnaSpeaking of community, what is the scoop on your gofundme caregiver project?
MichelleWell, I got into Mills and I wrote a proposal to lead writing workshops for caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My project didn’t get accepted, but I still wanted to do it. My grandmother had Alzheimers and I worked as a caregiver for people with dementia, so connection to this community is a really important thing to me. The project started as a way to get funding for my MFA but the more research I did the more I felt there still had to be a way to do these workshops. So that is what I’m raising money is for. That and to one day turn Banana Pitch into a print magazine!
AnnaIf you weren’t a writer what medium or genre of art do you think would do it for you?
MichelleI have a secret stand up dreamIn my opinion, Michelle would be great at stand up!. Another incredibly hard path to go down! Or acting. I’ve never experimented with it. It seems scary and so hard to make happen and make a living at. If I were actually given the chance—and really put my mind to it—I feel like I would be a bomb actress! I have such a weird imagination, incredibly elaborate day dreams. It is interesting and fun to see how far you can bring people with you somewhere. There is almost a weird power to it. Why do I need that? There is something about knowing I put someone in a different place for a while.
AnnaThere is a magical transportive power in it. Drawing an audience in.
MichelleA brief little spell that you worked hard at conjuring up…I just wanted to say conjure.
MichelleMake sure you include conjure in there!
AnnaAny advice to anyone reading this? Or anyone who wants to start writing or making art?
MichelleWhat other than sitting down and doing it? Which is sometimes a scary concept. Even raw-talent people have to work hard. Keep it in mind that—whereever you start—you’ll just keep getting better, and the work is worth it in a good way. You progress and change, and you will feel better when you keep at it. Keep sitting down and
making forcing in the time. It is easy to be busy and distracted in your life, and we forget how important it is to make a habit and dedicate the time, even just a little bit.
Also know that not everyone is not going to like your stuff. That is totally fine! Try to think of someone everyone likes…there’s no one. That doesn’t exist. It almost makes me feel better when I have written something that some people are really into and other people really don’t like. I’d rather you love or hate me a little bit instead of just ‘meh’
Banana Pitch is launching its first magazine! Interested in submitting?
We are looking for flash fiction (up to 1000 words), short fiction (up to 5,000 words), poems, illustrations, and single panel comics or comic strips.
We are looking for material that is interesting and amusing, slightly weird but not mystical, concise and thought-provoking. We want work from diverse points of view. We love illustrations that aren’t super digital. We love comics that are simple, funny, non-violent. We are open to ideas. Check out some of our stuff and if you feel like you’re a good fit, send us your material!