from the Powell’s Books blog… Eight odd questions for JFB…

Powell’s Books is one of my favorite independent bookstores in the country. They did this deranged Q&A with me a little while ago in the run-up to my reading in one of their stores.   You can, and should, visit their blog here.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is Professor of English at Colby College and the author of the bestseller She’s Not There, as well as the acclaimed novels The Planets and Getting In. A three-time guest of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she has also appeared on Larry King Live, Today, and 48 Hours, and has played herself on ABC’s All My Children. She lives in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.

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Describe your latest project.

I’m Looking through You is a memoir about growing up in a haunted house — and an examination of what it means to be “haunted.” In addition to the traditional ghosts — a woman who appeared in a mirror; a mysterious “conductor” who walked the halls; clouds of moving mist and footsteps in the attic — the house had other spirits beneath its roof. My diffident, wry father and my complex, unpredictable sister became ghosts, in time, as well. In the end the book is about making peace with all our ghosts — between the people we have been and the people we become; with our loved ones; and with the uncanny boundaries between men and women.

What’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve ever had?

IMG_1632As a journalist for Condé Nast Traveller magazine, I got to go to Easter Island and see all those mysterious big heads. On the way down from the volcano, my Rapa Nui native guide began to flirt with me. He asked a question which sounded like, “Juliqee Tombettee?” Which turned out to be, “Do you like Tom Petty?” Then he saw the ring on my finger and asked, “Ju married?” Thinking quickly — and not really wanting to go into the whole sex-change thing — I said, “I kept the ring. Got rid of the man.” My guide, whose name was Senga, thought this over, then smiled broadly and gave me the double thumbs-up sign.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

I like the story of James Thurber, who met a woman at a party in Paris. She told him how much funnier his work was in French, and he said, “Yes, I know. It does tend to lose something in the original.” Somehow, this strikes me as the perfect metaphor for thinking about transgendered people.

How do you relax?

I’m a member of a not-so-terrible rock-and-roll band in central Maine, Strangebrew. I play the keyboards — organ and piano. This puts me in lots of crappy bars in rural Maine, where guys often like to buy me drinks like the Warsaw Waffle (Maine maple syrup with a shot of vodka) or the Fart in the Ocean (tequila and 7UP, served with a prune). On the whole, men generally like that I’m “one of the guys,” that I am a woman who likes to tell jokes and play loud music. At least they like it until someone tells them I used to be a man myself, at which point they look kind of like a boy who realizes that the thing he’s just purchased as “sea monkeys” have really turned out to be brine shrimp.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?

I have found myself at a number of writers’ graves — Thurber‘s, Keats‘s, Shelley‘s, Poe‘s. But my most interesting pilgrimage might be to Jan Morris‘s old house in Venice, which you can see just off the Accademia Bridge. Morris — then James — used to stand on the balcony of the Palazzo by the Grand Canal and wave to “his” children as they crossed the bridge. I stood there and looked at Morris’s old house and then I waved. I guess my feeling was that, in a way, I am one of her children, too.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?

Dogs. I have two black Labs. I am sorry to tell you they sleep in the bed with me and my partner. Recently we realized that there wasn’t enough room in the bed for two adults and two grown Labs. So we did the logical thing. We got a bigger bed. Edward Albee, who at one point owned seven Irish wolfhounds, claims that he once got six wolfhounds into a king-size bed with himself and his partner. I would like to have seen that.

In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?

Everyone on this earth deserves to be treated with love, and the things we all have in common are more important than the things that make us different.

Make a question of your own, then answer it.

Q: Jennifer Boylan, is there anything you miss about being a man?

A: Yeah. Pockets. Women’s clothes never have pockets. I miss pockets. Other than that, not much.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five or six memoirs about gender and gender variance:

My Husband Betty and She’s Not the Man I Married by Helen Boyd

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Cherry by Mary Karr

Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso (graphic novel/memoir)

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3 Comments

  1. Posted October 3, 2009 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    That James Thurber quote brought a smile to my face and is a lovley metophor.

  2. Christina
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I was ENGRAGED when I first put on one of my dad’s old suit jackets and discovered it had something like SIX pockets. My suit jackets don’t have any, and I’m lucky if my pants have pockets.

    It just isn’t right.

  3. Gina James
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I got that book at the SCC.Havent started it yet.
    Love your “Pockets” answer,Jenny.

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  • The Boylan Family, summer 2010

    DSC_0063 "You hang around our family, you learn all kinds of stuff."
  • Will Forte as Jennifer Finney Boylan on “Saturday Night Live”

    WiFo-Jennifer Finney Boylan-1
  • Jenny with Barbara Walters, December, 2008

    wawa
  • Jenny atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin

    2036947979_34bfbec240 August, 2002.
  • Surrounded

    boylanWith President Clinton and Maine's Governor John Baldacci, fall 2006.
  • JFB and Edward Albee

    edward_albee_by_fred_j_field-150x150

    Edward had been my teacher at Johns Hopkins in the winter of 1986. He visited Colby in fall, 2007. As we took our leave of each other, he kissed me on both cheeks and said, "We have done well. You and I."

  • Jenny and her teacher, the great John Barth

    Boylan_Barth

    Jack was my professor at JHU when I did my thesis, back in the day. After many years, I can now confidently say I finally understand his definition of plot. Which is, of course, "the perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium."