Jordan Kisner on Figuring Out How to Be a Person Through Writing
The Thin Places Essayist
on So Many Damn Books
Longtime friend Jordan Kisner drops into the Damn Library for everyone to celebrate the release of her debut essay collection Thin Places! It’s an occasion for celebration indeed, as we discuss the term “thin places” and many of its permutations, being able (or not) to recognize your own mind, the joy of an egg white cocktail, and whether or not it’s okay for Harriet the Spy to’ve broken into all those houses. We also talk about whether or not we would’ve (…or did, Drew) break into our neighbor’s houses.
What is Thin Places?
Jordan: The way that I would neatly describe the book to a general anonymous listener is that it’s a collection of linked essays that are charting in some way my own curiosity about how the religious impulse, or the desire to believe in something and invest faith in something, manifests all over secular American life. And as somebody who is not religious myself but used to be, I went on this journey of sorts in my mid-20s to figure out what were the systems of faith that were going to work for me—were there any that would work for me? None of them had to do with organized religion, per se, but I wanted to investigate “is there anything in this world I can believe in” and I wasn’t sure how to do that. So I started looking around at other people who were experiencing something similar, some kind of big shift in an understanding of themselves and the world, and each of the essays is kind of a stop along my path towards figuring out how to be a person.
This book as a thin place:
Jordan: I think a lot about books as thin places, or as these possible moments of erasure of space between one person and another. There’s this whole body of writing that I cut, mostly, out of this book about language as a thin place—it got a little too Biblical, a little too heady, and I just couldn’t fit it anywhere that didn’t feel pedantic. So I cut it. But I’m fascinated with language—obviously, I became a writer—but I’m fascinated with the way it can create that kind of collapse between me and you or me and the world. And my hope for this, or anything I write, is that it might provoke that kind of feeling in somebody who reads it.
The thing about Harriet…
Jordan: The thing about Harriet is that she… we see this journey of a young person who really wants to understand the world and who thinks she will understand the world by observing it, but mostly she doesn’t understand what’s happening in front of her. She’s getting the concrete details but she doesn’t understand emotionally what’s going on for the people around her that she’s observing. […] She’s eleven, and she can’t quite get to understanding other people’s feelings. She’s a really sharp observer but there’s so much she doesn’t understand yet.
This Episode’s Recommendations:
Jordan’s pick: Cheer (Netflix) // Drifts by Kate Zambreno
Drew’s picks: Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas // Pew by Catherine Lacey
Christopher’s picks: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead // “Your Arms Around Me” by Jens Lekman
This week’s themed cocktail: