Today we are pleased to feature author Julie Marie Wade as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her podcast, Julie discusses the influence of Bernard Cooper’s Truth Serum on her work, like “Where I’m From” and The Regulars. She explains how Cooper’s memoir made her feel more comfortable exploring different essay lengths. In particular, she was inspired by Cooper’s essay, “Where to Begin,” which Julie describes as “really profound to [her] in its compression and how well it establishes what you can expect in the larger volume.”
Julie also reveals the driving force of “trying to figure out what it meant to come from a particular kind of world, where in [her] family being a regular person (synonymous with normal) was the goal.” Julie concludes by reading her essay aloud to contextualize these insights.
Under her pseudonym, internet artist and social media star Molly Soda has made her portfolio off the pitfalls of social media and the new generation of Internetisms. She set aside some time to talk to our Art Editor, Regan Henley about some of her work and her perspective as a web artist in the spotlight.
Regan Henley: One of the things I find most interesting about your work is your examination of internet fame, which of course, is a relatively new invention. I particularly like “Inbox Full.” Did you set out to examine these concepts, or do you think they are more just a product of your situation?
Molly Soda: I never put myself or my work online with the intention of becoming “famous” or with any attempts to amass a large following. I’m interested as to why certain personalities gain such followings–why do I choose to follow who I follow online? What makes someone appealing?
“Inbox Full” was definitely a product of my situation. At the height of my Tumblr “fame,” I began to notice major changes in the way people would interact with me online. The Tumblr “Ask” button sort of allowed this influx of anonymous communication–anyone can contact you, and anyone can tell you what they think of you. And all anyone wants to see–when they send someone a message, especially something negative–is a public reaction or response. I had thousands of messages in my inbox, both positive and negative. It was a way to acknowledge everyone as well as a way to purge and sort of wipe that digital slate clean.
RH: A lot of your press and presence in the art world seems intrinsically tied to your social media persona. Did you find that to be a help or a hindrance?
MS: The Internet has gotten me further than going to art school ever has.
RH: Ha. You’ve addressed the unique aspect of tween girl friendships in the context of new technology, like your “Tween Dreams” and sleepover videos. How do these stack up to your own adolescent experiences?
MS: “Tween Dreams” is very much based off of my actual adolescent experiences. I set out to make something more realistic with that series–something that reflected the reality of being a tween more so than the stuff I watched (and hoped for) when I was a tween. Also, something that actually looks like it would be made by a tween. It was important to me to put less focus on crushes, boys, not liking other girls and more focus on female friendships.
RH: How do you think these tween experiences changed/are changing with technology?
MS: I’m sure the tween experience is completely different from when I was growing up. What’s the equivalent to AIM now? That’s how I communicated with everyone after school… how I got my first boyfriends, etc. Does everyone just text?
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram didn’t exist… I don’t even think MySpace was a thing yet? Smart phones weren’t a thing. I got my first cell phone at 14. The list goes on. I only used to the Internet to take online quizzes, talk to my friends on AIM and play Neopets.
It’s vastly different! I’m sure the social codes for how to interact online with each other have changed as well because there is such an influx of new technology and rapid communication. [It] would be interesting to dig deeper–[I] feel like now that I’m not a tween, I’ll never fully comprehend it.
RH: You’ve incorporated a lot of occult elements in your work, particularly with the creation of your colorful and idyllic digital spell book. How do these practices fit into your work?
MS: I’m not a witch by any means. The Spell Book was sort of a way for me to try and incorporate our digital lives into our spiritual lives. Because the digital is so present and so fluid, it makes sense to want to reach some sort of clarity through our screens. I’m always thinking of ways to virtually cleanse myself–there’s a lot of clutter and stress that happens online that isn’t really talked about–perhaps because it doesn’t feel as palpable.
RH: Your work has a very early Internet, 2000s vibe to it at times, can you speak a bit more to that?
MS: This is mostly a product of what I grew up with. There’s something comforting in the glitter graphic. There’s something mildly liberating and chaotic about design sensibilities from the early 2000s. Everything now is a bit streamlined, you can only customize your user profiles so much–it can feel stifling, and I like to get away from that in my work.
RH: A lot of your work directly confronts social media sharing, and you’ve gone out of your way to post images of yourself that many may be more hesitant to share online. For example, your “Should I send this” nudes or any “less than flattering” images of yourself. Would you say your work comments more on a new culture of over-sharing or more on over-produced, highly-selective sharing?
MS: Just because I’m “over-sharing” and posting unflattering photos of myself does not mean I’m not curating my image to a certain degree. We all are. There’s no shame in that. For every selfie I take, there are at least 10 that didn’t “work” for me. I’m no more “real” than anyone who retouches their photos.
RH: When making these pieces, do you ever delete something you’ve put up?
MS: I generally don’t delete anything I post. It’s all up there, as embarrassing as some things may be. Owning up to embarrassment or shame is the best way to work past it.
RH: What’s your big dream for your art as of late? If someone gave you a huge grant what would you do with it?
MS: There are a lot of pieces I want to make that can’t be realized because of financial limitations. My dream is to ultimately be able to make the work I want to make and live comfortably off of it. It’s not a “big” dream, but it often feels impossible because of how money is displaced in this world–artists put so much work in and are expected to do it for free constantly.
If I were to receive a huge sum of money, I’d put it into public spaces. I want to make work that can be inhabited IRL as well as online outside of a gallery. I’m interested in parks and would like to eventually do a piece where I create my own fantasy park that people can visit.
RH: What have you read, recently or not so recently, that has inspired your work?
MS: I misread a sign that said “no cycling,” and I thought it said “no crying.” That one’s stuck with me for the past few months.
How short can a short story be? Meg Pokrass asks – and answers – that question in her fiction, which often takes the form of flash-fiction and micro-stories. Though her stories are short, they pack the same emotional punch that can be found in a lengthy piece of a prose. She delivers her characters and narrative in compact, meticulously chosen details. For example, in her short-short story “The Big Dipper,” about a young girl trying to navigate her adolescence by purchasing a four-foot-deep pool for her backyard, she conveys a great deal of personal information about her main character’s background in a single sentence. Referring to her mother, the narrator divulges that “Now that Dad has his own place and his bi-polar disorder, she had all kinds of new expressions.” Some of her shortest stories are only between 90 and 100 words long. In this compact form she writes of mother-daughter relationships, adolescence, sexuality, insecurity, and identity.
In her review of Meg Pokrass’s recent collection of short stories, Damn Sure Right, Tessa Mellas compares Pokrass’s flash fiction to the “richest morsels of chocolate. You can’t inhale them by the fistful.” This description does Pokrass’s stories justice; her fiction demands that you stop for a moment after reading, that you take in every single detail individually to get the full experience of her micro-narratives.
We asked Meg Pokrass to share her writing process, in particular what inspired the short story that will be appearing in Superstition Review Issue 8, which will launch in December. Click here to view the video that gives us a glance behind the scenes.