Chelsea Martin is a writer unlike any other. With her unique voice, humor infused essays and her distinctive story telling ability, Martin is one to keep reading over and over again.
Caca Dolce, one of her most popular works, a collection of personal essays, touches on the experiences of her childhood and how they have created the adult she is today. Themes of class, money, art and sexuality fill the pages as Martin analyzes herself and the people within her life, in her own honest, tragic and funny way.
Martin work has been published in Electric Literature, Buzzfeed, Catapult, Nylon, Lenny Letter, Spokesman Review, The Inlander, The Cut… just to name a few. She is also an artist, creating comic, book cover designs, illustrations and more.
What drew you to the personal essay genre? Did you always want to be a writer?
I wanted to be a visual artist, and I went to art school to study painting. But once I started making work in school, I found that I wanted to write stories and philosophies connected to the visual work I was doing. I struggled with that though, because I also wasn’t into the artist statement thing, and thought work should speak for itself. I thought all of this meant that I wanted to be an illustrator, but I tried that and that wasn’t right either. Eventually I made it to the writing department and immediately experienced huge waves of inspiration and productivity, like I’d never had with my visual work.
I wasn’t interested in writing personal essays for a long time. But eventually I realized that there were certain things from my life that I was avoiding writing about at all, because fiction didn’t seem like the right way to approach the topics. So I wrote Caca Dolce.
Why do you think a lot of women are writing personal essays and memoirs right now? Do you think our social climate has anything to do with it?
Personally, growing up and in college, I was mostly interested in male artists, and thought that women’s voices didn’t speak to me. I was into the careless/punk/idiot/trashbag aesthetic that I thought only men could deliver. Everything around me seemed to reinforce the opinion that men were doing more interesting things as artists and creators.
As a culture, we’re now having a lot more conversations about how women in the arts have been systematically and personally oppressed and taken advantage of and ignored. These conversations have helped me come to terms with my own close-mindedness, and how I was buying into the patriarchy, and I’ve since started making more of an effort to consume work by women.
I think many other people are arriving at this conclusion for lots of other reasons, and it helps foster an environment that is receptive to a lot more writing by women. And, it turns out? Women have been way more punk rock than men all along.
Many essays in your collection, Caca Dolce, deal with money and growing up in a place where money was scarce. Is money an uncomfortable subject to talk about in your writing?
Sometimes I feel like how to actually make a living and make decent money is such an oddly secretive topic of conversation, no one fully disclosing how they obtain it. Do you agree? Do you think your relationship with money has changed as you have gotten older?
I am comfortable talking and writing about money, and I’m always very eager to hear other people, especially artists, talk about the specifics of their money. How and where and when artists make money is not straightforward or obvious at all. And it seems like every artist is figuring out their own way to make a living with almost zero context for what is reasonable to expect or how to prepare. I reaalllly don’t understand why so many people don’t want to talk about how much they make or how they make it or what they spend it on. What is the big secret?
I used to be more interested in thinking about my personal finances and strategizing spending and depriving myself of anything pleasurable in an effort to save money. Even though I don’t make any more money than I did when I was 20, I have relaxed about it a lot. Almost every decision I make in life is tied to money and it’s so exhausting weighing everything against my bank account constantly.
My perspective now is: I’m broke, and buying a nice bra instead of a shitty one isn’t going to change that fact dramatically, so I might as well be nice to myself. I’m a bit more irresponsible is what I’m saying.
With five published books, five chapbooks, illustrations, book covers, and comics, it seems as though you live a very creative life. How do you maintain this creative energy? What are some of your routines or rituals to get out of a creative slump?
I get a lot of energy from coming up with ideas and creating things. I’m most happy when I’m figuring out how to solve some art idea I have. So having a lot of small projects is really good for me. But I do have creative slumps, where I’m just not excited about any of my ideas and can’t find the motivation to work. I have them quite a lot, so it’s hard for me to think of myself as someone with a lot of creative energy. It’s hard to get out of a slump, but they key for me is to find some way to reengage and get inspired to do anything, even if it’s not what I think I should be working on. Working in a different medium sometimes helps me to break out of a slump, or trying to do something different than anything I would expect myself to do.
I read in an interview with Rumpus, that you said growing up you were “really embarrassed of having emotions and I never wanted people to know how I felt.” Now you are creating art in which you are revealing private details about yourself and letting your emotions be known. Do you think this fear as a child influenced your need as an adult to write this way? Do you view writing nonfiction as therapeutic?
I think the fear of my emotions IRL has necessitated writing a lot in my life. I’ve gotten better at being vulnerable as I’ve gotten older, but knowing and expressing how I feel as the feelings are happening still isn’t the most natural thing for me. Writing, nonfiction or not, helps me process and express my feelings in what feels like a safe way that I have control over. I don’t feel pressure to express it accurately on the first try. I can write it down and consider if that is that truest way to say it, and work on it until it is representative of the feeling.
Who are some other writers that have influenced your work? What are you currently reading?
Currently reading The Cassandra by Sharma Shields (love so far). Recently read Fight No More by Lydia Millet (loved), Who Is Rich by Matthew Klam (didn’t love, didn’t finish), And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell (loved) and The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (loved).
What’s next for you?
I am very superstitious about answering this question!!