Winter Reading: Elisa Albert

The Open Bar

You can now read Elisa Albert’s contribution to our Winter issue online. We spoke with the author about the claustrophobic world that is “I am Happy For You That You Are So Happy.”

Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing “I am Happy For You That You Are So Happy”?

Elisa Albert: It’s excerpted from the first part of a novel, so piecing it together as a stand-alone was interesting. A first for me. There’s so much fat in a novel. I like fat, but lean is very cool.

TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?

EA: It was winter. I was living in Holland with my husband and baby son, biking through rainy flower fields to and from the writing office we shared in an old stone house. We could not believe our good fortune. But I was having a miserable time transitioning to marriage and motherhood. I missed my friends. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Birth was like a collision with a brick wall. What do you do with that tangle? I began to write a novel.

TH: Do you any have any writing rituals?

EA: All writing rituals are a variation on the same writing ritual: putting ass in chair. Bribe, cajole, wheedle, demand, threaten, depends on the day. Internet blockage is my friend. Music helps immensely. Walks. Bikes. Stretching. Breathing. Various granola esoterica. Favorite books, which keep good company and remind me to press on in the right spirit. Art by friends, the general effect of which is inspirational and protective. Also pink string lights, which gladden me.

TH: The last sentence you underlined in a book?

EA: From Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, which is no shit. It’s a whole passage. There are scribble-joy marks in the margin. “Naked I came into the world, but brush strokes cover me, language raises me, music rhymes me. Art is my rod and staff, my resting place and shield, and not mine only, for art leaves nobody out. Even those from whom art has been stolen away by tyranny, by poverty, begin to make it again. If the arts did not exist, at every moment, someone would begin to create them, in song, out of dust and mud, and although the artifacts might be destroyed, the energy that creates them is not destroyed.”

TH: What is the next short story I should read?

EA: I don’t know! Who are you? What are you in need of? The magic is in sniffing out your own idiosyncratic trail. Whatever turns you on, go there, it’ll take you to the next place.

The Edith Pearlman stories are great.

Elisa Albert is the author of The Book of Dahlia and How This Night Is Different: Stories. After Birth will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2014.