blame and balm (Interview)

/ Isaac Kopstein (Interviewer), Mariah v.n. (Interviewee)

Nonfiction4 min reading time

No. 3

An Interview with Mariah v.n., Author of blame and balm
Questions Asked by Isaac Kopstein

Q: Over the past year we’ve seen a lot of people making art centered around family. This piece stands out in that it is not entirely rose-tinted in its depiction of a family dynamic. What kind of place were you in, artistically, which prompted you to write about this part of your life?

A: I think it would be unfair to say that my piece necessarily stands out because it's not exactly a rose-tinted description. Rather, I think family itself has its ups and downs. There are beautiful yet ugly things about family and this is simply a poem that reflects on the more "ugly" parts. They're not necessarily ugly because these details ... expose a complex truth behind family dynamics. Similar to works that depict family in a more positive light, there's often more to it than how it's represented — but why it's represented the way it is. I wasn't necessarily in any sort of place when I was writing. Very often when I write, it's whatever comes to me. As vague as that sounds, that's how a lot of the writing process works for me — I go my entire life thinking and then I jot down whatever comes to mind. More artistically, it was something I developed and then worked through with my gracious editors. I guess I could say it rose out of raw emotion or whatever else is in me but in the end, I don't really feel the need to have an artistic place in my mind to create anything. I'm human and I just choose to create something out of that.

Q: Did you feel that the conflict explored in this poem defined your relationship with your grandmother?

A: I can say that my relationship with almost anyone in my family is strained, often due to intergenerational conflict. I think the first thing that struck me with my grandmother's death was how little I knew about her. Going through her photo albums and other items made me realize I didn't really know her as I thought I did. When it comes to defining a relationship with her, it's rather complicated. There are many things she always forced on me for which I resent her yet whenever she was sick or weak, I would immediately come to help her. I didn't like her nor did I think that I was particularly her favorite person but we both loved each other in the way that we had some sort of common ground of what our family was. There's not too much I can say about defining our relationship other than that what we had was complicated and perhaps that is the best way to explain it.

Q: How did experiences like these change the way you interacted with the greater world?

A: How I interact with the world is based on the knowledge that there are many different sides to someone — but that doesn't make them false or invalidated. Rather, we all choose to show sides of ourselves that we want to. In my family, there's often a need to put on some kind of front. Often my older family members put up a front to establish their historical traditions while it’s vice-versa for the younger generation. It's understandable — we don't want to lose our individuality in a culture that values the family more. Going outside, I often understand that I will meet many people I will like or hate and as for people I hate, I remind myself that there is a side of them they present at home that deserves the love and forgiveness of a family. I approach the world with a forgiving lens because I am at fault as well.

Q: Is family a privilege or an obligation? How in your mind, can it lift us up or weigh us down?

A: There is a fun — well, not too fun — saying in my family that the older generation drinks from their war trauma and the younger generation drinks from the older generation's trauma. Family is both a privilege and an obligation; a privilege in that you will have those who will forgive you for the front you need to put up or the flaws you decide to show. As for obligation, there's a sense of duty that's often prevalent in my family—that even if we despise each other, it's our obligation to help out whenever others are sick or injured. It's the understanding that family is imperfect and yet accepts that imperfection from all of us.