The Momus Questionnaire — Liska Jacobs

Liska Jacobs’ debut novel Catalina (MCD/FSG Originals) follows the exploits of Elsa Fisher, a woman on the edge trying to curb her rage with a steady mix of booze and pills. Elsa flees New York and heads home to Los Angeles after an affair with her married boss leads to her firing from MoMA. Jacobs’ shimmering prose reveals the interplay of deep shadows in sharp contrast against the dazzling LA landscape, reflecting Elsa’s inner fracturing.  Liska Jacobs’ essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

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?

No one likes expectations. I can feel myself balking just typing the word. But defying expectation is a difficult thing. Especially for a woman. If you can’t pigeonhole her—at least in the classic sense of ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’—people get uncomfortable. An unlikeable woman makes the world feel less stable, more opaque. And they will distrust her because of it. But what’s more satisfying? Falling in line because you don’t want to upset the balance, or doing what you want, and laughing in their face?

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?

All of it. Play this jam at my funeral. Only play the Nina Simone version.

What creative achievements are you most proud of?

An essay called Our Best Work, which is about my decision to leave The Getty. It was the first time I wrote something and felt I’d gotten it right—that I’d been able to express why I left, and also what the people and the art meant (and mean) to me. Even now, when I reread it, I’m right back there. Young and in love with a dream.

And of course, my first novel, Catalina (MCD | FSG Originals). I did my best to imbue it with all of my rage, but in an easily digestible way. I wanted it to be the sweetest, lightest cotton candy you ever tasted—confection that would give a wicked hangover.

If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?

Oh, this is a hard one. There are a lot of heavy things that come to mind, but I like to think smaller moments can have big impacts. Like the first time I traveled on a plane solo. A lot of the trouble I got into when I was younger was because I believed the world was out of reach. I was a high school dropout, a junkie, and for a beat, homeless too. My parents’ favorite word to describe me was ‘floundering’. I really never thought I’d climb out.

So that first plane ride was transformative. It was a redeye from Los Angeles to Dublin, I was twenty-one. I remember staying awake the whole flight trying to absorb the vibrations of the plane, the soft chatter of my fellow travelers—even the smell of the microwaved in-flight meals. When the overhead lights dimmed, and everyone shuttered their windows, snuggling deeper into their neck pillows, I stayed awake. We were flying over the Atlantic by then, the continental US far behind us, the cabin almost entirely dark. A flight attendant brought me a cup of tea. It was Lipton’s, I think. There was a Walker’s biscuit too. And I remember lifting the shutter of my window—just a peak, just to see what was out there—and there below us was the craggiest mountain range I’d ever seen, completely covered in snow, turning pink from the sunrise. It did something to me. Shifted my perspective.

If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?

Here’s a good ditty I grew-up with, which I think sums up my charm.

Eat-it- All Elaine
By Kay Starbird

I went away last August
To summer camp in Maine,
And there I met a camper
called Eat-it- all Elaine.
Although Elaine was quiet,
She liked to cause a stir
By acting out the nickname
Her camp-mates gave to her.
The day of our arrival
At Cabin Number 3
When girls kept coming over
To greet Elaine and me,
She took a piece of Kleenex
And calmly chewed it up,
Then strolled outside the cabin
And ate the buttercup.
Elaine from that day forward
Was always in command,
On hikes, she’d eat some birch-bark
On swims, she’d eat some sand.
At meals she’d swallow prune-pits
And never have a pain,
While everyone around her
Would giggle “Oh Elaine!”
One morning, berry-picking,
A bug was in her pail,
And though we thought for certain
Her appetite would fail,
Elain said, “Hmmm, a stinkbug”
And while we murmured, “Ooooh,”
She ate her pail of berries
And at the stinkbug too.
The night of Final Banquet,
When Counselors were handing
Awards to different children
Whom they believed outstanding,
To every thinking person
At summer camp in Maine
The Most Outstanding Camper
Was Eat-it- all Elaine!

Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?

After leaving the Getty we were dead broke and had to move into a much smaller apartment in a not so nice part of town. More than half our stuff was lost to cockroach infestations. It was a difficult couple of years. I worked a part-time job downtown at The Last Bookstore, buying used books and DVDs. This is when I decided to get my MFA and took out more loans to do so. If I wasn’t going to make it as a writer, it wouldn’t be because I hadn’t gone all-in.

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 love how Chris Kraus subverts expectation, the female gaze, and the line between truth and fiction. I cannot stand the Kardashians. They represent everything wrong with American culture: the monetizing of self, corrosive identity politics, asinine celebrity worship. And the clothes and plastic surgery—blerg.

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?

Ingredients for a martini—so, ice and a shaker, a bottle of Hendrick’s, a bottle of Dolin
vermouth, a lemon, a coupe glass. I’d also bring my wedding ring.

Do you have a favorite joke, quotation or proverb?

“Words. To make somebody understand.”
—  Jean Rhys

What’s your favorite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?

Ouuuu, this is a good one! Here’s two:

Millard Sheet’s painting Angel’s Flight, which depicts two women overlooking Bunker Hill before it was torn down and built anew.

And Cecily Brown’s Black Painting, which muses on sex and death.