In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Rayya Elias tells us about Harley Loco and a life of “hard living, hair, and post-punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side.” We start with Elias’s childhood in Syria, then growing up in Detroit in the late 1960s and ’70s when her family came to the United States, and the desires that led her towards New York City. She talked about how she turned to drug use as a way push aside the internal conflicts she was dealing with over her sexuality and her efforts to break away from her past. The drugs, she says, “unlocked me a little bit, helped me move past all of those barriers that I felt contained me. That was my first experience, and it was amazing. Not only was I able to fit in, but I was also able to be comfortable in my own skin, and able to just be freer.” It didn’t stop there:
“When the harder drugs started happening… here in New York, in the art scene, in the music scene, and I was looking up to see who were the people I was mostly attracted to in my life, they were the people that were out there using drugs and still having these lives that were beyond my imagination…They were doing it, and they seemed f’ed up… and [yet] they seemed to be doing a really job at being everything. And I thought, wow, I can do that!”
She couldn’t, though, and she writes about the long downward spiral that followed, and the slow process of turning her life around. We also talk about how she’d originally set out to turn her story into a movie, when the encouragement and generosity of Elizabeth Gilbert steered her towards memoir.
Listen to Life Stories #75: Rayya Elias (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)
6 July 2014 | life stories |
On this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, my guest is Damian Barr, and we’re talking about Maggie & Me, his story of “coming out and coming of age in 1980s Scotland.” We discussed his complex feelings towards then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher; on the one hand, he admired her messages of individualism and achievement, yet her economic policies had a devastating effect on his family and the community in which they lived—and the government’s condemnation of homosexuality, and even of the “promoting” of homosexuality, intensified the isolation he endured as he struggled to make sense of his identity.
We also talked about the abuse that young Barr suffered at the hands of a stepfather who’d already guessed at his gayness before he himself had put a name to it, and that got us talking about whether his parents had known as well:
“I remember the first time that somebody called me a poof, and they said it with such venom… More than that, they knew, they knew something about me that I didn’t know, and that was really disturbing. And I remember thinking, what is this thing that I don’t know, and I ran into the house to my mum and said, ‘Mum, mum, mum!” What is it? ‘Jason (or whatever his name was) just called me a poof! What’s a poof?’ And she didn’t say, That’s not you, or Tell me who this Jason is, or anything else; she just said, Don’t you worry about that—it’s okay.
I think she always knew. When I did come out, she wasn’t surprised. She was upset and sad, and she tried to ground me… My dad said, It’s not true. ‘Well, it is true.’ It’s just not true. Come back to me in a few years. And I went back to him in a few years and said, ‘Still true.’
And, among other things, we talk about how Barr came to write a memoir after making attempts at fiction—and why, once he plunged into nonfiction, he decided not to visit Scotland during the writing, or draw upon his journalistic training to interview the other major figures in that time of his life.
Listen to Life Stories #74: Damian Barr (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)
1 July 2014 | life stories |