Welcome faithful readers and virtual book tour roadies alike! Today I'm setting out the welcome mat and dusting off the coffee table to have a little chat with soon-to-be world renowned author Ayun Halliday, whose book Mama Lama Ding Dong is just being released in the UK. (The book is titled The Big Rumpus here in the states.) I had the opportunity to read it this past weekend, and truly loved it. Here's a transcript of the conversation we had over tea and crumpets (fitting, don't you think?), and be sure to read the excerpt that follows!____________________
Christine: First of all, please tell me how to pronounce your name, because I'm sure I'm saying it wrong in my head.
Ayun: My name rhymes with ray gun, in a sort of mush mouthed way - many people side step the issue by calling me Annie, and telemarketers seem to prefer Ah-yoon.
Christine:I love that you sat down and started publishing a zine when Inky was a baby. I absolutely loved what you said about it in your book. "That was scary. I was about to take the plunge and identify myself as something other than a mother." That *is* scary, and yet I think all mothers want something like that - something apart from their families and children. Had you always wanted to put out a zine, or was this an impromptu way of helping you keep your sanity while raising a little person?
Ayun: Ever since discovering what they were, around 1992 or so, I wanted to create a zine, but until I became a mom, I didn't feel I had a subject compelling enough to sustain the multiple issues I'd want to put out. Also, pre-motherhood, my creative needs were met by my low budget theatrical activities, which, with day jobs and socializing, tied up great chunks of time, or so it seemed before Inky arrived to put a whole new spin on lack of free time.
Christine: The way you describe The East Village Inky in your book, it strikes me as a sort of low-tech blog. Am I wrong?
Ayun: A very, very low tech blog, though there are several important differences, important to me anyway.
First of all, there's the hand written aspect, which means I can work on it anywhere. I can pop a couple of pages in my purse and go work on it in a cafe, which helps me feel like I'm out and about, leading a gay boulevardier type of existence, even though I'm not. Huh, I guess I also take my lap top to cafes, but sometimes, another customer beats me to the outlet, which creates a sort of mental hostility that I don't need. I can work on it on a park bench, how's that? Anything that doesn't move. I can work on it even if every computer in the world crashes.
Second, a lot of exposition, and often the punch line to any given East Village Inky anecdote is contained in the illustrations and pound for pound, there are far more illustrations in it as is than there would be if it was an online project. Also, I have this thing where I'm constantly running out of space, and have to squeeze the text around the illustrations, my printing becoming smaller and smaller as I near the bottom of the page. It's hardly the work of a professional but it does give the zine a recognizable energy.
Third, there's less immediacy to the zine than there is to most daily blogs. For someone like me, that's a good thing. It usually takes me at least a week to describe some event, sometimes more if it's something as huge as the Republican National Convention's effect on NYC, or the attending birth of Little MoMo's baby. And often, I've had a couple of weeks to mull that event over before touching pen to paper. Plus, I've got white-out, oceans of it. Wish I had stock in it. There are several safetys in place to prevent me from saying something I'll regret or committing to a point of view that lasts only until the liquor or the bad mood wears off, know what I'm saying? I made a couple of big boo boos on the Internet before I learned how to keep my leash on in that medium, but the quantity of content on a blog makes it much more likely that a big-mouthed booby like myself will slip up and sound like a real A-hole. If I sound like an A-hole in the zine, you can bet that a lot of effort and consideration went into it! Which is not to say that your blog isn't totally pitch-perfect and above reproach!
And lastly, a zine can be passed from hand to hand. If I happen to strike up a conversation with a simpatico mother on the subway, I can lay a zine on her (And she's probably like, oh no, some sort of freaky religious tract, hope she gets off at the next stop!) You can refer someone to an URL that you think they'll like, but you can rarely ensure that they'll check it out. The Inky has the advantage of being pocket-sized and densely packed - which not only makes it well suited to toilet and transit reading, it probably goes a long way toward explaining its popularity with nursing mothers. My secret hope is that some reader will endeavor to bury an issue in a time capsule... and then a couple hundred years from now, some foot soldier in the conquering ape army will dig it up and say, "What ...is... this thing the humans call...zine?"
Christine: How has The East Village Inky evolved since you first started?
Ayun: The Inky has evolved right along with the kids and me. The early issues are pretty primitive, which is saying something because it's hardly a model of sophistication and organization now. The anecdotes used to be shorter, and there were more guidebook-ish entries, because I wanted to hedge my bets. I figured people are always coming to New York and some cheap, offbeat suggestions might help move my product.
The East Village Inky's original slogan was Fuck All Y'All, a motto I'd seen on the t-shirt of this scowling, cigarette-smokin' woman ignoring the howling toddler in the stroller she was pushing down First Avenue. (What I wouldn't have given for the back of the shirt had read Mother of the Year!) Then Inky started to read, so I changed the slogan to Dare to Be Heinie! Nobody knows what it means, including me. It's something Inky started chanting in a merry mood, at about the age of four or five.
And these days, there are a few subjects I run past the boss before airing them in the zine. She's pretty liberal about granting permission, but there are a couple of hot stories she's put the kabosh on. Both of the kids are big hams in their own way, but I suspect that the days of drawing them prancing around in their underpants are numbered, not that they show any inclination to put on pants any time soon.
Christine: What prompted you to write The Big Rumpus?
The Big Rumpus grew out of a sort of bass-ackwards proposal I made to Leslie Miller, the in-house editor of the Breeder anthology that hip Mama editors Bee Lavender and Ariel Gore published with Seal Press. I had hopes that we could just smoosh together the first ten issues of the zine into a book. It didn't quite work out that way but I felt so lucky to have her exhibiting an interest in me that I would have written a book about bamboo if that's what she wanted. (Actually, a writer who was a friend of a friend once suggested that I would be the perfect person to write this bamboo book that she herself was too busy to write. I was kind of flattered, but also kind of insulted, as if maybe what she was really saying was, here's someone boring enough to write an entire book about bamboo, and if not bamboo, perhaps oatmeal, or straw.)
Christine: Now please explain why they change the title of your book for the UK?
Ayun: You tell me. Maybe Rumpus means something naughty in British, like fanny or bloody. A cab driver once told some friends who'd hired him to drive them to a Middle Eastern restaurant that 'couscous' meant 'pussy' in his language.
Christine: Is that the only thing they change, or do they go through and change 'trash' for 'rubbish', and 'bathroom' for 'water closet'? :)
I think the original illustrations took a digger too, though I was pleased to see that a tiny icon of Inky's double-thumbed hand in the thumbs-up position was retained on the back cover, like some bizarre seal of approval. Also, I dicked with the acknowledgments to make sure that credit was assigned where it is due, most notably to my friend, Heather, who's serving ombudswoman for the Mama Lama Ding Dong Virtual Book Tour. As if being the mother of three young boys isn't work enough!
Christine: Now that your memoir is being released in the UK, I certainly hope your publisher is sending you across the pond on a fabulous book tour!
Ayun: I WISH! I had this apartment swap fantasy whereby I'd take the kids to London this month, but it was too cost-prohibitive. Have you clapped eyes on airline ticket prices this summer? It's obscene! It would have been self-financed. Snowbooks, my UK publisher, strikes me as a cash-strapped, but right-on, straight-up indie, along the lines of Akashic or Soft Skull here in the States. I'm happy to forego the caviar to be in such good company.
Christine: For a small town/suburban girl like me, reading about your daily life in the East Village sounds so exciting! Even though my roots are as an outdoors girl trekking around the mountains, there's always been a city girl inside me, just longing for a modern apartment downtown Somewhere, going to the markets everyday, saying hello to that good-natured drunk guy that's always on the corner. If you could trade your life for one day to experience anything else (kids optional in this hypothetical!), what would it be?
Ayun: One day only? You know, I think I'd have to take a turn as a neonatal nurse at St. Vincent's, where Inky spent her first two weeks. I'd like to see what it feels like to perform such an essential, grueling, under-acknowledged and largely selfless job. I'd like to reenter that strange little asteroid of a world from a different angle.
Christine: And before I let you go, the question that I have to ask every parent I ever get a chance to talk with - what *is* the secret to potty training?! (Seriously - I need help! LOL!)
#1, schedule it for the summer months, so you're not peeling off layers of pissy snowsuits.
#2, have a lax definition of what constitutes potty-trained. Inky used to pee all over my friend Nancy's apartment, leading her to cry, "It's not so much that she's potty trained as you can't be bothered to put a diaper on her anymore!"
Christine: Thank you so much for visiting Mommy Matters today, Ayun. I wish you lots of success with the UK release of Mama Lama Ding Dong!
Ayun: Thanks so much for letting me park the virtual tour bus on Mommy Matter's back 40, Christine, and best of luck w/ the potty!
"I used to think that this expression meant that we all shared one boat, that your paddles are made lighter by the presence of others. That's not what it means. Even on a good day, my paddles feel like they're filled with buckshot. I'm willing to bet that every other mother's do too. Shortly after you give birth, most of the activities that defined your identity are suspended to let you mix apple juice, deal with somebody else's snot and develop a lot of highfalutin ideas about television. You're not being paranoid or melodramatic if you feel like you're the only grown-up in your boat. The kids never leave the boat either, but what help are they with the paddles? Their arms are hardly bigger than celery stalks. Also, as delightfully surreal and repeatable as their beginning syntax might be, their conversation cannot sustain you through the tedious stretches. If it were't for those little kids waiting for you to harpoon a fish so that they can tell you they don't like fish, you'd go right over the gunwales. You can't leave them to fend for themselves, even though they are the ones who got you into this mess. You're stuck choking down soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in that leaky skiff. The inviting blast of an ocean liner taunts you as it glides by, its portholes twinkling like a string of white Christmas lights. Damn the passenger list of merrymakers in bias-cut gowns and party hats. It's always New Year's Eve nineteen-thirty-something on the ocean liner. Too bad you're missing it. Then in the middle of some dark night, when you're up, dog tired, struggling to keep your sleeping children out of the bilge water, you notice another crappy little boat a few yards out. And another. And another. The ocean is fairly crawling with boats as crappy and little as yours. Each one holds a mother tethered to a baby, a sleeping toddler or jacked-up three-year-old still gibbering from an ill-advised late-afternoon sugar fix. We're all in the same boat, all right. It smells like mildewed life preservers. There are millions of these boats in the sea. We shout to each other across the waves. Nobody will get offended if you have to interrupt her midsentence to seize your daughter by the ankle before she dives after a birthday party favor she dropped overboard, possibly on purpose."