Melissa Chadburn on the Moment You Realize Not Everyone Loves You Back
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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On intergenerational trauma:
The aswang is a figure born out of colonialism. And depending on who you ask, they might tell you that she’s a vampire or a shapeshifter or a werewoman. But truly she is a figure born out of colonialism in that this is a matriarchy in a space where women had a lot of power. They had healing practices and sexual prowess. I wanted to capture women’s strength, and it seemed like the best way to bestow either revenge or mercy, and to personify what I consider to be justice, would be by way of the aswang…
I’ve been in edits on this book for so long that I’m almost a different person from the one who started it. I’ve entered this new phase of life. I remember a couple of years ago having access to this emotion that I wasn’t familiar with at all. I was like, what is that? It was rage. Intense rage. And I thought this feels sort of ancient, like something I had access to from generations past. And it feels exciting too.
So in that sense the aswang is intergenerational, but it’s like a power who can be brought down from person to person. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Toni Morrison used this term rememory in reference to intergenerational trauma or what people have called post-trauma of the genocide of Black people in slavery. She uses the phrase rememory as opposed to post-memory, which is often used in Holocaust studies, because there is no post. There’s an ongoingness to this trauma. We’re still in it. And there’s no post-colonialism. There’s an ongoingness to colonialism.
I was also trying to exhibit the multiple breakdowns within society, like our foster care system and economic violence and addiction. I wanted to point out these other slow forms of killing that are current and ongoing.
On realizing not everyone loves you back:
For Marina [the novel’s main character] and for myself, the crisis wasn’t entering foster care or losing a brother or addiction. For me, the crisis was a very universal one. When I was growing up I loved every one and everything. I loved my mailbox, I loved my teacher, I loved the bus driver, I love the person who worked at the liquor store, I just loved everyone and I assumed they all loved me back. And so the crisis is the day you realize that that’s not true… Marina’s mother was her superhero. She was stunning and she loved to dance to the Beegees and she taught Marina to kick a guy where it counts. She was Marina’s world. But there is a point when Marina realizes she’s human.
Melissa Chadburn‘s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. Her extensive reporting on the child welfare system appears in the Netflix docuseries The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing at USC and lives in greater Los Angeles. Her debut novel is called A Tiny Upward Shove.