“I think it’s stupid when people talk about like the internet’s not real. Yes, it is!”
What’s the biggest difference you found in writing and launching a book rather than writing a long form piece for the internet?
SK: I think something that certain collections of essays can suffer from is that they don’t have any connective tissue between them. When I was working on the collection, I wanted there to be some sort of uniformity—that you didn’t feel like you were reading some random essays that I put together for no reason. I think there was like a conscious effort to have some through-line in all of them, whereas if I write something for the internet, that’s the context.
And how would you define the through-line in this book?
SK: Oh, loneliness and anxiety. It’s a real beach read. [Laughs]
It is, though!
SK: I’m not good at like the deeply emotional stuff without also kind of tricking you into a joke. I’ve never been good at that. The portions of the book that are highly emotional or really exhausting is a testament to my editors because they were sort of behind me being like, “Okay this is cute, but you also need to tell a story.” Because it’d be easy for me personally to just write kind of a funny book and then not have it have any weight, and I didn’t want that.
There was such a great blending of funny and heartfelt and emotionally resonant. You were saying—what was something that your editors helped you bring out? Like a story, specifically.
SK: When I started writing about [my dad], he was really cartoony in the book; he was kind of comedic relief, he was goofy and not very well-drawn. He was very much like a caricature of a person. And I was writing [the last essay about him] while he and I were fighting, so it read like so disingenuous at the time that I was painting him as this funny kook—which he totally is, he’s a lunatic [Laughs], and I think the book gets to that, it walks you to that point. But ultimately he and I were having a really difficult time with each other. I don’t think it’s the funniest [essay] in the collection; I think there’s some good laughs in there but ultimately it ends on a note of uncertainty.
You speak about people and events and cultural artifacts close to you in such an incisive and funny way, but also in a way that’s really grateful and tender and empathic. I was wondering how you walk that line.
SK: My general thought is that if I’m writing about somebody close to me and I feel angry about it while I’m writing it, I might not be ready to write that essay. There were things that I had written that didn’t make it into the collection because when I was writing them it was thousands of words of rage—like, I was still mad. I had a piece written about a friend that I had had a falling out with that I still think about all the time, and I still think it’d make an interesting essay. However, when I was working on it, I was so mad at her that it just came out really angry and I couldn’t see her side. So then what’s the point? I don’t think anyone actually wants to read me yelling at somebody, you know what I mean?
Right, a less compelling essay is like, “Beth Is an Asshole.”
SK: Yeah like, “What the Fuck, Catherine?” I mean, as much as I could write it, I just don’t know if it’s that engaging. And then with my parents, I think… I don’t really have any interest in pillorying my extremely suburban, middle-class, hardworking parents for the little mistakes they made when I was a kid because, honestly, of course they fucked up. So did I.
“I don’t really have any interest in pillorying my extremely suburban, middle-class, hardworking parents for the little mistakes they made when I was a kid because, honestly, of course they fucked up. So did I.”
Another thing with the tenderness in the book that I really love were the nicknames. I had seen in yourthat for your boyfriend you gave him the choice of using his first name or nickname. Is that a nickname that you use outside of the book, or was it one you just made up for the book?
SK: We once went to Thailand years ago, and I took a photo of him in a pool and he had his arms on the side of the pool and his arms just looked really beefy, and so I called him Hamhock… [Laughs] And also, there’s a rich history in Indian culture and brown culture of nicknaming people. Like, my parents have never called me by my first name. There’s just a list of them that we all seem to have pulled from. I have two cousins named Anita, so one’s Anna and one’s Nita. I don’t know why. Like, why can’t one of them be Anita? I don’t know.
This might be facile, did you have an ideal reader in mind when you were writing this book?
SK: Not really. I think with something like this, I wrote it first for brown girls, because I feel like we don’t get talked to that much—especially in nonfiction writing. There’s not a ton, you know? I wish I had something like this when I was 15, 16. I feel like it would’ve made parts of my life a little more understandable—I would’ve understood them more.
If you’d had some…
SK: If I had something. I had certain fiction that spoke to me, but I didn’t really have a nonfiction collection of somebody saying like, “Listen, you’re going to grow a hair on your nipple, it’s going to be real gross, you’re going to hate it.” That’s it: There’s no advice, there’s no help, that’s just what’s going to happen.
There were a lot of specific cultural terms that you use, some defined because it was important to the narrative, and then other things it was just like, “Look it up, white guy! Google it.” Was there discussion about it with the editors?
SK: Not really. They kind of let me do it. I mean, with the earring in the wedding—the dejhoor—I have to tell you where that goes so you know why it hurts, because pulling something through your earlobe as I’m doing right now is not that painful. But cartilage, it hurts. If I’m going to tell you, I might as well give you the word for it so that you don’t repeat it and say, “It’s an earring,” because that’s not what it’s called. But then there are other words in there where it’s not necessary for the narrative for you to know. So I don’t need to give you everything, because some of those things are calling cards for other brown people, honestly.
Okay, last question, because we had pie and I promised: What are some dreams that you’ve had recently?
SK: Okay, I have a really, I have a good—[Laughs] You look like you’re going to die. You have to fake interest.
Look at my eyebrows!
SK: My editor didn’t want to deal with me. My editor lives in L.A. and I live in Toronto, and so I always think of her as very desert-y, because she’s always hiking and stuff. And I was talking to her, and she was getting fed up with me, and then to avoid dealing with me she just turned into a cactus! I’ve clearly created an anxiety that she doesn’t find me interesting and so to avoid dealing with me she just turns into plants. I can’t believe you don’t think this is the best story you’ve ever heard!
I like it…
SK: But you don’t love it.
Don’t love it.
SK: I had a dream a little while ago that I was pregnant and intentionally bumping up against people.
Whoa. To like, inconvenience them?
SK: Yeah. And I woke up and I was sad I didn’t have it. Not a baby but—
A reason to inconvenience people.
SK: Yes. Like, I need to sit down, I’m tired, my feet hurt. That’s sad, right? That’s not good.