Michelle Tea’s Black Wave (And Other Stories) is a raw, bleakly comic examination of cultural and generational shifts. Blending fiction and memoir, the novel portrays the end of the world through the eyes of a queer grrrl memoirist, who attempts to come to terms with the impending apocalypse whilst also trying to put heroin addiction and a series of chaotic relationships behind her.
Her previous work includes the memoir How to Grow Up (2015), and the novel Valencia (2000), which has been adapted for a film.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
I have! I mean, that is pretty much my story. I am supposed to be living in a dumpy New England town with a bunch of kids and a deadbeat husband, working a sad, low-paying, soul-killing job. Inexplicably, I am in California, a state that is poised to secede from this hellhole of a country, and I am actually a writer, and I am gay to boot, and my ‘wife’ looks like an extra from the film The Outsiders, and we have a charming two-year old son who enjoys modern dance. The odds of me happening were great enough that this actually constitutes a miracle.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
The publisher originally slated to publish Black Wave wanted me to totally kill the first half that takes place in San Francisco, and work the remaining Los Angeles segment into a traditional sci-fi novel, sans anything meta. My first instinct to agree with her, partly because I am always waiting to hear whatever I did is awful, and also I respected her and the press a lot, and wanted to be able to ‘take criticism.’ But when I sat down to make the changes, i.e. murder my book, it broke my heart. I decided I’d rather publish it myself at the copy shop than change it. Thankfully, Jennifer Baumgardner at Feminist Press really understood the book and I didn’t have to do that! And now & Other Stories has out it out in the UK and I am just so happy I stuck with my weird vision.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
Sometimes I am just so proud that I wake up in the morning and I’m not hungover and my rent is paid and I am living this dreamy life. But as for a specific creative achievement, I’m really proud of making my book Valencia into a film. I wrangled 21 independent filmmakers and they each did me the enormous favour of shooting a chapter of the book as a short film. With the help of my co-producer (and filmmaker) Clement Goldberg we stitched all these shorts into a feature-length film that is truly genre-breaking, intelligent, wild, hilarious, dirty, arty and queer. You can check it out here.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
Getting sober. Before I got sober I kept trying to write Valencia again and again and again. You don’t grow when you’re in any sort of active addiction. Also, my hair and skin were disgusting and I generally didn’t know how to be in the world, was feral in a way that was sort of cute in my 20s but even I had the sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to age well. Getting sober helped me understand how to be the wonky sort of adult that I am, it gave me a connection to things greater than myself, made me a healthy enough person to attract my awesome husband-wife and be together enough to bring a child onto this burning planet. And it allowed me to continue to grow as a writer. It’s really everything.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and excellence, how would you describe yourself?
If I may paraphrase Jay-Z, whose masterpiece 99 Problems is one of my karaoke jams:
I don’t know what you take me as/Or understand the intelligence that Michelle Tea has/I’m from rags to riches, homos I ain’t dumb/I got ninety-nine problems but a butch ain’t one, hit me
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
You know, growing up in a very low-income, blue collar area, during an era of no industry, I didn’t have money and I didn’t expect to have money. Some underground writers may feel like they made sacrifices because they were expected to go into some more lucrative direction but decided to pursue this low-paying vocation, but since I never thought I would have anything I never felt like anything was sacrificed. Quite the opposite – everything I’ve ever gotten has felt like a huge score.
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
I guess my hugest aspiration would be to be Yoko Ono. Like, what does it feel like to be her? It must feel like being a very wise cloud. She’s the greatest. As for who I’d least like to be, I suppose the 45th American president is too, too obvious but sadly he is weighing heavily on everyone’s minds right now so I’ll go there. He is pretty much the worst case scenario of a human being.
If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
Ooooh. My computer. Some crystals. Some books. One of my son’s stuffed animals, probably his leopard. My wedding ring.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
Andy Warhol was a quote machine:
I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of ‘work’, because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
Can I list more than one? Because I love Amanda Kirkhuff’s Lorena Bobbitt, and I also love Catherine Opie’s portraits of Jerome Caja and also all of David Wojnarowicz’s Arthur Rimbaud in New York and also Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait, 1983 and Craig Calderwood’s 559 series. Phew.
Additional colour artwork for book image: Gaia June, photos courtesy of Thom Cuell.