Working Writers Series: Chelsea Hodson
Welcome to our many-part series where we chat with Working Writers who have not had success in the traditional sense. No major awards, no books in print, maybe only a few or no publications, but are still writing. Our goal is to give voice to a wide range of writers, to learn from their experiences, and to open a discussion about living the craft. If you fit the description and want to be involved, please send an email to us at TMRWorkingWritersSeries@gmail.com
Today’s Working Writer is Chelsea Hodson.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. I’m originally from Phoenix, Arizona. I was a 2012 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. I’m writing a personal essay collection. I work as an editor for Kill Your Idols & a personal assistant to a writer. I always thought I’d be a journalist, but then I read Sarah Manguso’s The Captain Lands in Paradise in a college poetry class & I wanted to be a poet. I have a journalism degree & no MFA. My blog, Inventory, is an attempt to catalog everything I own.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do for Kill your Idols, and as a personal assistant?
I copy edit the text & assist with editorial decisions for the books Kill Your Idols publishes. The most recent book I worked on was 101 Essential Rock Records. Though there’s definitely a creative element to copy editing, I love how clinical it can be. It’s comforting to have rules to follow.
I began working as a personal assistant when I first moved to New York & desperately needed money. I assumed it would be a terrible job, but I soon found that I quite liked it, & I’ve worked for several different people since then. It’s flexible, & I’m often sent off to work on my own to do research or run errands. I like writing & editing because it allows me to put things in order, & I often find that personal assisting is another way to do that.
What was it about The Captain Lands in Paradise that drove your interests towards poetry? Does your interest in journalism ever enter into your verse?
The Captain Lands in Paradise was the first book of any genre I’d read that haunted me. Certain lines or entire poems would loop in my head for days after reading them. They still do. I’d always respected poetry as a form, but I never felt a personal connection to it until I read this book. Something stirred in me–I wanted to be part of it.
My journalism training informs nearly everything I write. Though I realized early on that I wasn’t interested in becoming a reporter, I always loved the concise, direct approach to journalism. I learned how to ask questions, how to observe small details, how to research, & how to write clearly.
When you say you’re working on a personal essay collection, are you working with memoir?
Yes, most of them have memoir elements, but some of them don’t. I love writing about memories because of their fragmented nature, & how biased & incorrect they often are. I like to get as close as I can to the things I write about, & the details of memories are often so far away, almost unreachable. Like many writers before me, I write to investigate, & sometimes that means investigating things inside my own brain.
Can you go on a bit about the how you weave the fragmentary nature of memory into a cohesive narrative?
The absence of memory is often just as interesting as a vivid memory to me, so the fragmented nature of it doesn’t bother me. I work with whatever I’ve got. I’ll often use numbers or locations to indicate how to group certain memories together. Even if I end up not using the headings later, it always helps me to organize them in some way to make them feel more contained.
Why have you decided to catalog everything you own, as well as blog about it?
When I moved back to Brooklyn from Los Angeles earlier this year, I thought, why not make a list of every single thing I’m taking with me? I realize now that many people think that’s a bizarre question, but it seemed simple to me. Writing about each item seemed like a good opportunity for an exercise: I put something online every day no matter what. Even if I can’t write well that day, it’s just about completing the list I started.
Do you write about the memories associated with the object? Have there been any surprises along the way?
I write whatever feels most natural that day. Usually that is memory-based, but the length & style of the Inventory pieces are always evolving. Sometimes I include themes from that day’s news stories, or I’ll write from someone else’s point of view–two things I don’t typically do in my essays. But even if the form feels inconsistent at times, each piece is written to connect to the former piece in some way.
What I’ve found most surprising is how time consuming the project is. I figured I could crank out these small pieces of text & prepare all the posts months in advance, but I actually spend a lot of time on Inventory, often working on it at some point every day.
Do you have any goals for where your Inventory project is going to do? Do you want to publish it?
No, and no. I think the internet is a suitable home for it.
Have you been reading anything good lately that you’d recommend?
I just finished reading Lolita for the first time, which I loved. That was one of those books that I always meant to read but never did until recently. Now I’m making my way through Sophie Calle’s Did You See Me? and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage.