The Joyless House Interview: Mallory Whitten by Sam Pink
I'm a huge fan of Mallory Whitten's writing, and I have been for the last 6 or 7 years. I guess I'm a fan of 'minimalism' but only when it seems to have found a new style, a different ante, and Mallory's writing is an example. Her writing is like a couple coats of white paint in an apartment. It's a new lightbulb. It's glass cleaner. It's a brand new knife. I recently read her new book 'God Box' from Monster House Press. 'God Box' is another great example of her prose/poetry, this time revolving around recent bouts with mental illness. It's not the 'lol i'm sad' type of look at mental illness, but instead a no frills look at a real episode. 'God Box' is for those nearing, already there, or long past it. A memento from a tourist in the swamp of 'what am I doing here.' I sent Mallory some interview questions via email, to learn more about 'God Box.'
SP: Can you tell me a little about the beginning of the book. like how you got started/knew it was a book/etc.
MW: When I got started with God Box I didn't know what I was starting. I would open Microsoft Word files and write and save them all over my computer. I was going through a time of trying to turn to psychiatry again for mental health issues that had reached an all time high. It was the scariest thing to me, and I didn't feel like anyone I knew could relate to it on the level I felt it so I didn't feel a lot of optimism. I think the first piece that I wrote was Psychiatric Medications I Have Been Put On Recently, partially to document how I was reacting to them and also so that I could put it on the internet and ask for help because I was having really scary reactions to them.
I knew it was going to be a book once I stopped hallucinating and had gotten into the idea of raising my vibration and trying to call experiences into my reality that were positive and gave me joy. The year after I got better was the best time of my life that I had experienced so far, and I was documenting the experiences, like Greece and Hawaii. I realized I wanted to share all of this collectively to possibly help someone and share my experience.
SP: There's something about the tone that i think is really good. it's confessional but like, dark confessional, like telling everyone/anyone how it 'really' went down. It's angry. Where does anger fit in all this, for healing etc.
MW: I think when I was writing this I was learning I could be angry about things that werent okay for the first time instead of nurturing Mal. I felt anger at myself for not being able to function successfully in society when my mental health was ill, angry at how we deal with and view mental health in the US, anger at my partner at the time for not knowing how to show up for me, jealousy/anger at friends for being healthy even a little, anger about sexual assault, anger at innocent emailers asking me to check out their writing and let me know what they think because it felt absurd in the context of my life then, like I just saw a person in my house that wasn't there and you want me to check out your sad boy poem AND we have never spoken before? etc.
Anger at these things, even though some of them were not productive or completely fair, helped my personal healing. I think anger can be beneficial for people who have been made feel like their safety or wellbeing is out of their control, because by being angry its kind of like saying "what the fuck, this isn't right, I deserve better," which can be empowering to a point. I think my nurturing nature stems from not wanting other people to feel ways that I have felt, to help people feel ok in their lives, and by viewing myself as a nurturing person I disqualified myself from getting angry for a long time.
SP: Where do writing and healing merge?
MW: When I look back at my writing it is easy for me to recall where I was emotionally, so I think this shows me that in my experience, writing and healing merge a lot. I used to view writing for healing as a separate type of writing that I did, but I think that all writing has to do with healing and growth for me. Documenting something that happened may feel purely like documenting at the time I am writing it, but by choosing to write about this thing I am affirming some pre-existing belief or writing it because when it occurred it felt out of the ordinary and I would like to call more of that into my experience. Then these things continue to shape my daily thoughts and outlook on the world and my experience in it, contributing to my overall state of happiness or lack of it. I want to shout out to my Leo goddess friend Erin Elizabeth Wehrenberg, author of Soften and Notes On Healing and Clarity, because she helped me to realize writing specifically for healing can happen without feeling like complaining. Erin used to post monthly questions that felt like writing prompts related to the astrology of the new or full moon that was occurring, and they would be questions relating to what is coming up for you, what you would like to release, what you would like to call in, etc.
SP: What do you think dictates what form you choose (like prose thing or poem thing)?
MW: First I write it how it is in my brain, trying to replicate the way it flows through my brain. I think the amount of information I feel comfortable about sharing mainly contributes to if it is a story or a poem. If I am leaving a lot of things out I write a poem. If I am including most things or a lot of things it is a story. If I wrote it as a story and it feels like too much information is being shared I make it a poem.
SP: Can you tell me a worry/concern/state that marked the period of writing this.
MW: "Am I losing it for real to the point of no return?" I survived and lived to think another am-I-losing-it-for-real-to-the-point-of-no-return thought again and again!
SP: What seems different about your outlook after writing this book?
MW: My outlook seems different after writing this book because I know I have reached a personal point of no return and it feels a lot easier that I have accepted this, while also knowing that the point of no return can get farther and farther. Relaxing into it/this place keeps me feeling like I am secure and not being pushed any further. The other peeps at this point of no return make me laugh the hardest and feel the most plugged-in to being a human and I am grateful for them and that we get to exist on earth together.
SP: What did you notice either while or after writing it, from a new distance? Is there a difference, and if so, can you explain it, between the you that wrote this book and the you that edited it?
MW: The me that wrote the book felt really frantic trying to keep hold of reality. Even after things were sorted out with mental health and I was able to work to save money to travel, insane life things kept coming up that I had no idea at the time how to handle so the frantic feeling stayed for a long time. The me that helped edit it (shout out to Michelle for all the help and doing the majority of the editing) feels less frantic and much happier with my reality. I remember deleting so many things that I wrote about my body from the final edits. I wrote a lot about my body and I think it was relating to staying on earth and not being like helium floating above myself. I feel more in my body and so much more happy than I did while writing this book.
SP: If you were a real estate agent showing the inside of your head to a prospective new tenant, what would you highlight.
MW: Currently I would highlight all the space. I would use the word "spacious" and hold my arm out and turn around inside my head to the prospective tenant.
SP: Do you observe a routine when writing? What was is for this book compared to other books/things you've written?
MW: I have no routine whatsoever related to writing. I wait until I feel really compelled to finally transcribe everything, which can take over a year sometimes, then often after that happens I start coming up with more ideas because I am in the zone again.
SP: If your life was a boardgame, what would be 'the point.'
MW: Oh damn. The point would be to drive a car with pegs representing people in it (as if it is the game Life, I am going to borrow that idea) to a house or tent or something near the beach and on the board there would be dolphins and sea turtles smiling in the water to congratulate the winner.
SP: I've observed, with great glee, pictures of your dog Grace. Is it true that she's a good baby?
MW: I am happy Grace has brought some glee into your life! She is good sometimes. Yesterday I almost dry-heaved because she caught a mouse outside and bit down hard into it, and I thought I am never kissing you or letting you lick me again, for real this time. Something nice she did recently was smell my Mom's cat named Yubao, really tenderly, kind of nudging him with her nose and being like "hey there, um h, hi!" She is currently hiding in the bathroom because it is raining outside. She is a good baby sometimes, I repeat: she is a good baby sometimes.
SP: Are you working on anything now?
MW: I had an experience a few months ago that I really want to write out but haven't felt compelled so sit down and write it yet. I have been working on collages recently. I took notes while on a trip with my grandparents and sister of things that they said to tell my boyfriend, and I think that I will look back at those and try to remember how some of the conversations went more specifically and turn them into short poems.
Two poems from Whitten's upcoming At the Hospital:
What Is Your Favorite Marine Animal? at 8 AM the patients were filling out worksheets with small pencils answering questions like what is your favorite color, animal, place when it was Charlie’s turn to share he sighs,
leans back in his chair, spreads his legs father apart, moves his dreads around “my favorite marine animal.. has to be… probably... a dog because... they work with the marines and.. they jump in the water to save people’s lives” he looked up at the therapist while his head was still tilted down and smirked
Devon He is sitting with impeccable posture at the window where medication pass-out occurs He is looking at me from across the room and trying not to laugh Abruptly his face becomes dead serious and he slams his hand down on the counter “Can I get some service?” He looks around A nurse comes over and takes his blood pressure
She expresses that his blood pressure is too high, then gives him Ativan Devon, still in character, looks over at me and sternly says “Man, this restaurant serves the worst medications”
Deer and alpaca collages by Mallory Whitten
Buy God Box here: monsterhousepress.com/god-box-mallory-whitten