Dana Norris captures teenage “Rebellion” (Issue 3), inside the aisles of Walgreens. Unexpected freedom and boys are found beside facial masks and Cadbury cream eggs. In the interview following, Norris discusses dance, motherhood, and purchasing things as an escape.
Dana Norris is the founder of Story Club, a monthly storytelling show in Chicago, Boston,and Minneapolis. She is the editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. She has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, the Tampa Review, and her stories have been featured on Chicago Public Radio. She still spends too much money at drugstores.
What inspired you to create this piece? The hope that buying something is going to make us feel better and how it does, buying something does make you feel better, but only for a flash and then you’re not only back where you started but also a bit more disappointed.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? (ex: fast and furious, slow brew, fits and starts) This one was fast and furious. It was originally the center of a longer piece that took a bit of time, but this section just flew out of me.
What writing or other artistic expression has had a profound impact on your work? Why? I love dance because I cannot do it. I cannot dance well. But it’s so gorgeous to watch and I can appreciate how it must feel to be able to do it so, so well.
Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. Either out, at a coffee shop, or at home, in my bed, lying on my stomach. The bed posture is terrible for my shoulders and wrists and as I get older I’m probably going to do something crazy like buying a desk.
Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? Why? Recently Megan Sielstra has been incredibly influential. I’m a working mother who’s trying to find time to write and she is too. She talks about this in her latest book “Once I Was Cool” and I adore how she doesn’t sugar coat it. Writing in the bathroom while your child sits on the other side of the door, demanding that you come out, is a reality. Balance is elusive and we need to relax and remember that we’re doing the best that we can. And sitting down to write, no matter how briefly, is always a victory.
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? I give myself permission to suck so much that if anyone read it they would lose all respect for me. That usually works. Because then you flush out all of the flotsam and get back to the story you’re trying to tell.
What living writer would you recommend other nonfiction writers read? What titles in particular? Why? “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. It’s a graphic memoir and the way she structures the story, and the images, is just flat out brilliant. I’m a sucker for structure and hers in this book – a spiral where the same events are visited and revisited and revisited but each time with a different perspective – is something I want to try myself very badly.
Why do you believe that buying something makes us take a step backward–bringing us not to where we started, but feeling a little disappointed? People buy things because they want an escape. They want the possibility of a new life, and the release of endorphins that comes from acquiring something new. But the high lasts for such a short period of time, and the thing itself is just a thing. It doesn’t actually help. A few moments later you own it, it’s no longer new, and you’re back with your thoughts.
How does being a working mother influence your writing? Being a working mother influences my writing by making me have to prioritize writing. There’s so little down time that I have to set aside chunks of time for writing and make sure that I spend that time to actually write – not flit around the internet, but actually write.
We asked Dana to dip into the “Proust Questionnaire” and select a few fun (less writing-related) questions to answer.This probing set of questions originated as a 19th-century parlor game popularized by contemporaries of Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that an individual’s answers reveal his or her true nature.
When and where were you happiest? When I’m lying in bed with my husband and my baby and my husband is making the baby laugh and I can just watch their joy. It’s sublime.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Part of me…” I’m always qualifying my feelings with that phrase. I very much want to stop qualifying things.
What is your greatest extravagance? Eating out in restaurants with my husband. We’re saving up to go Next – an amazing restaurant in Chicago. The dinner is going to cost almost the equivalent of our rent but I hear that it’s so, so worth it.
What is your motto? CTFD. Stands for “Calm the Fuck Down.” It’s the perfect mantra for an anxious mind.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.