After honing her craft over the last several years, award-winning essayist Chelsey Clammer is out with her first collection of essays, BodyHome. Sex, addiction, mental illness and assaultshe covers these and more with an honest voice that will have readers laughing at times and completely silenced at others.
Windy City Times spoke with the writer about her process and the personal nature of her pieces.
Windy City Times: BodyHome is the title of the last essay in the book and it's also the title of the book as a whole. Why go with that title?
Chelsey Clammer: I've just always been obsessed about bodies. First, I liked anatomy and medical stuff. When I did some studies in college I just got really into what the body means. And then after some traumatic events that I've survived through, like assault and alcoholic family typing, my body became a really scary place to live in.
Eventually through writing and writing about the body, [it] just kind of came about that, "Oh, my body is my home." Like this is where I live. If I live present and here in this body, then there's so much more that I can do.
WCT: Your essays are really descriptive. Reading them I often felt like I was there with you. How much of that comes out naturally and how much of that is deliberate?
CC: It's just been years of practice and writing and messing around with words to kind of hit that natural flow.
WCT: Most of your stories are told in the first person. But for the essay On Grief, which deals with the loss of your best friend and your father, you use the third person. Why is that?
CC: For me, it's about the way that I connect with the audience or can get the audience to identify. Either with it, or to perceive it in a different way.
I use third person as a way to speak all encompassing and also to show, "'Here's something that's really hard for me to think about, so I'm going to take a step back with it and write in third person."
With third person, it also allows more room for the reader to come in and see how they feel about something and how they're connecting to it. It's not an automatic "I" speaking from the author narrative.
WCT: Unsurprisingly, this collection of personal essays is incredibly personal. It makes one wonder whether the writing process was therapeutic or triggering. How would you describe it?
CC: It depends which essay it is. The Objects of Desire one about masturbation was just fun. I just challenged myself like, "What's really the most embarrassing stuff that I would never write about? Okay, now let's write that."
The Hands piece is about when I was sexually assaulted. Even when I read that piece now, I have to have someone in the room with me because it's just too intense.
Most of the other ones are just me questioning myself and figuring out how I feel about a certain topic.
I guess you can say it is therapeutic. Writing is sort of like a sense of spirituality for me. So it's always going to be that way in which I feel like I connect to someone or something.
WCT: Reading the book, it becomes clear that some societal pressures had more of an impact on you than others. Matters as serious as the need to be thin to the expectation that little girls must love plush toys clearly weighed on you. But your sexual orientation doesn't come across as something you struggled with throughout your adolescence and your twenties. Can you speak to that?
CC: There's no problem that comes across because it was never an issue for me. I felt really comfortable coming out as a lesbian and, now, while I don't like the term bisexual, I'm married to a dude so I guess bisexual is the term. Queer! We'll go with queer.
This book is not about me wrestling with my sexual orientation. That's just a part of who I am.
WCT: So when would you say you finally felt at home in your body? Or are you still on that journey?
CC: The idea of home, kind of like the idea of safety, is always going to be shifting and switching. The cover of the bookthe home tattoo is actually my tattoo. And it's just a nice reminder that this is my home and like my skin, like everything else, it's going to keep morphing and changing.
Published by Hopewell Publications, BodyHome comes out March 31. It will be available at local independent bookstores or on Amazon.com .
Find out more about Chelsey and her work by visiting www.chelseyclammer.com .