Erica Trabold’s flash essay, “Child Proof” (Issue 7), challenges the notion that everyone wants to be a parent. In her interview, Trabold discusses the meaning of “to have proof of” and “to proof,” creative blocks, and extravagance.
Erica Trabold is a writer of family and memory. Her essays have appeared in Seneca Review, The Collagist,and others. She writes and teaches in Oregon, where she is pursuing an MFA in nonfiction. (@ericatrabold)
What inspired you to create this piece? “Child Proof” began as a response to a prompt that asked me to “prove” something in a compressed form. In the early stages of writing and editing the piece, I thought a lot about what it means to have proof of something (to provide evidence) and what it means to proof something (to keep it out of reach). At first I couldn’t decide which of these definitions would guide my inquiry, and ultimately, I ended up with an essay that plays with several permutations of the word, addressing the original prompt quite obliquely.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? Even though this essay is brief, I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting the sentences. The revision process for shorter pieces takes quite a bit of time and energy—every word has to pack a punch, every image has to count. I chiseled away at the words until they sounded right together, which took several hours of reading my sentences out loud, restructuring them, and ordering the thoughts differently to see what worked in paragraph form.
Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. My workspace is always changing—I write in coffee shops, on the bus, on the couch in my pajamas. As long as I’ve got a big window or two and fresh pot of coffee, the work happens. I’m a very ritualistic writer in that way.
Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? Moments of arrest or clarity happen most often when I’m with the people I love. My family and close friends make appearances in my writing because I experience life more fully when we share an experience, whether that experience is shared physically in time and space or through conversation. Nonfiction writing, especially memoir, mines the world for insight, and for me, my family is the most influential in that process of discovery.
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? When I’m experiencing a creative block, I first try to kind to myself. It does no good to dwell on my lack of productivity. Actually, it causes me extreme anxiety. I have to constantly remind myself that writing doesn’t always look like sitting with a notebook or computer on the desk in front of me. Sometimes it looks like taking a walk, reading a book, or getting out of town for the weekend—the kinds of things with the power to renew inspiration and breathe a freshness of thought.
Are there any other instances in which you’re a ritualistic writer? Is there anything you feel you need to do before or during your writing? As for other rituals, I often start by reading something in a voice or style I find interesting, and when I take the time to do that first, it seems the words come more easily—they flow. I also like to revise in a quiet place, usually the desk in my living room, because I have to read my sentences out loud to hear how they sound together. I’m always worrying that it will bother people or I’ll make a spectacle of myself should I start talking to myself in a public setting.
Why do you think you experience things more fully if they are shared experiences? What I think I mean is talking, or remembering with other people. Through casually interviewing the people close to me and asking questions, my own memories start to make more sense. I get information that I may not have known or known how to interpret before, which allows me to see the picture, the bigger one, in more detail. What I think and feel from my perspective is sometimes interesting, but always limited and a bit incomplete.
We asked Erica 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? I had a happy childhood. When I was growing up, I remember thinking on more than one occasion, “I’m so glad I’m a kid!” I think I had noticed how much the adults around me had to work, worry, and in my words, “have no fun.” I can’t pinpoint the exact location or date, but I can say without a doubt that my happiest moment had to have been during one of those realizations, relishing in the good fortune of being young. Looking back now, I feel so lucky to have been surrounded by adults who made sure I didn’t have to worry about much.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? When I’m writing, I have a habit of overusing the phrase “kinds of things.” I don’t know why I do that—it works against the specificity I’m trying to achieve in nonfiction. Even having that awareness, I still seem to repeat those words, especially in early drafts. I always have to edit them out somewhere, and for the sake of proving that to anyone who might be reading this interview, I will tell you to go back to my earlier responses and see for yourself…
What is your greatest extravagance? I don’t think I’m extravagant at all, but I guess I do live with this sort of inner philosophy that says “Well, why not?” when someone tells me, “I can’t go out for dinner tonight,” or “I can’t take that trip,” or “I can’t take the time off work because x, y, z.” And in thinking that over, I’m starting to wonder if I live in a constant state of extravagance compared to most people. I use coupons, though, so I think I keep it at a healthy level.
What is your current state of mind? I’m homesick, but I’m not sure for which home (I’ve lived several places) or what about that home I’m missing most.
What is your motto? “Be cool. Be real. Behave.” I think that can be translated to mean, “stay calm, tell the truth, and do right by others.” It sounds pretty basic, right? But, I have to admit… I stole that phrasing from the packaging of a Backstreet Boys CD I adored when I was a kid.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.