Feature: On Subjectivity and Secrets

Interview with: Christina Kubasta


First of all, very well done! Your story was a very interesting read. What made you think of the idea behind “On Subjectivity and  Secrets”?

Well, thank you, truly. I should say though that I consider this piece much more in the vein of creative nonfiction than fiction. There was a girl called Contagious, there was a girl whose party I went to where I was the only guest, and I do remember staring at a girl’s lips for a long time, at about a certain age, mesmerized. But, beyond the particulars of this piece, I do wonder if there’s something about the female gaze that is meaningfully different than the male one (within the context of a heteronormative culture). Or does all desire necessarily reduce the desired one into something other, something less than a whole person? If a girl is staring at the particular shape of a girl’s mouth, is that any different than if a boy/man were doing it? In “The Ballad of the Sad Café,” Carson McCullers wrote:

And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved.

Maybe I’m writing about desire and McCullers about love (although the line between those two is often policed too heavily for my tastes). Seeing, and being seen, maybe for the first time, was something I wanted to write about.

And finally, because Contagious (sorry to keep using that “name”) was a real person, I wanted to address the way women/female figures are often brought out or treated as symbols in art, or as muses. She was/is real. The narrator/I am real.

Did you find yourself “stuck” at any point of the writing process? Are there any suggestions you could give to other writers about what to do when they experience a block?

I am very lucky in that I’m endlessly mesmerized by all sorts of things. I’ve been prepping for teaching a Horror class lately, so I’ve been writing poetry and short stories that experiment with horror tropes and horror theory. I started experimenting with creative nonfiction because a dear writer friend and some students were getting so excited about it. Because my work (as a teacher) forces me to read all the time, I’m forever running across interesting things that get me thinking.

If I do run out of ideas for a while, or just don’t feel like writing, I spend that time reading. I think of it as filling up the tank, it’s also a necessary part of the work. If a writer needs some quiet or time away from the writing, that’s also the work – thinking and percolating ideas, or recharging however they choose: spending time with friends who tell great stories, taking the dog for a walk, or watching a great new TV series with amazing characters and a great plot. It’s all filling up the tank.

What first drew you to creative writing?

The last few days I’ve been emailing with a professor from college and just talking to him again reminded me of the kindness and care with which he always treated his students. Although I was already writing poetry – notebook after notebook of poetry in high school – he helped me understand what it meant to write and revise and revise again, and then share and send that work out.

For me, I always wrote because I felt like I had something I wanted to say, even though it was often just to myself; he (and other wonderful teachers) helped me to think of a broader audience beyond myself.

Now when I search out writers, I’m most interested in those who will push me to think beyond my own comfort – who will engage me in contexts and questions I hadn’t thought about before. I think that’s the natural evolution of writing: discover the self first, and then push beyond it.

The physical descriptions in “On Subjectivity and Secrets” really help to personify your characters in a relatively short piece of prose, particularly with the little girl called “Contagious.” Did you have a mental image of the type of person you wanted her to be, or were there several versions of “Contagious” you were working with before you decided on this one?

As I said, she was real – mostly. I’ve been looking at several of my short stories lately, and noticed that many of my woman characters share similar characteristics. They all look like a grown-up Contagious. So, I guess she imprinted pretty strongly (at least subconsciously); perhaps I’ve been carrying around her mental image for a while.

But I also think her depiction is the mirror opposite of the girl I was in many ways, so that’s probably (psychologically) important as well. Perhaps the narrator-girl was seeking another self, and in the girl who looked most unlike her, she tried to find her, and find something else out along the way.

Also, I’ve been thinking about the orange Popsicle part since I’ve read your piece. It was such a short piece of her description but for me, it was one of the most interesting. What made you think of it?

Who doesn’t enjoy a Popsicle as a kid? Also, what kid doesn’t recognize the way those double popsicles are like some kind of test to pass – will someone share or not? Will you keep it to yourself or not? And likely each of us had a favorite, a second-favorite, and down the line.

But if the piece is also about the formation of nascent desire, the awakening of sexuality, it would make sense to equate that feeling – that looking – with taste. In a few years, the narrator will be slathering her lips with fruity lip balm and licking it all off.

You bring us into the mind of an unnamed narrator near the end of the story. The buttered noodles scene, and her meticulous process of washing the dishes so none of her family will know about her “strange tastes,” is particularly compelling. I believe I have an idea of what this section was getting at, but would you mind dissecting this a bit for our readers?

The narrator is hiding things from her parents – here, maybe it’s just that she’s ruining her dinner. Maybe it’s that she’s eating things she not supposed to. Maybe she shouldn’t be making things for herself at all – maybe she picked something up from Contagious after all, something she’s not ready to share.

I don’t want to be too literal and ruin the pleasure of ambiguity, but I suspect there are other things the narrator will be trying out soon that she will be hiding from others… and they will be about taste, and pleasure, and the sort of things that other people may not understand.

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C. Kubasta writes poetry, prose, and hybrid forms. Her favorite rejection (so far) noted that one editor loved her work, and the other hated it.  She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, the full-length collections: All Beautiful & Useless (BlazeVOX) and Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press), and she authored the novella Girling (Brain Mill Press). Her novel This Business of the Flesh is newly out from Apprentice House. She teaches literature, writing, and cultural studies at Marian University where she is active with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and works with Brain Mill Press. Find her at ckubasta.com. Follow her @CKubastathePoet.