Eli Hastings [Interview]
July 22, 2013 Leave a comment
Clearly Now, the Rain traces the decade-long relationship of Eli Hastings and his friend Serala: from ill-advised quests for narcotics in Mexican border towns through summer road trips, from southern California to Tennessee and on to New York City and Seattle, from 1996 to the very last days of 2004, when Serala’s journey concluded tragically at age 27.
Kirkus Reviews says “Clearly Now, The Rain” is “… a candid, bracing memoir of love, addiction and self-destruction … as elemental, lyrical and cringe-inducing a love story as they come.”
Eli is passionate about using writing to help at-risk youth, and is a team leader at PONGO TEEN WRITING. We caught up with Eli to ask him some questions about his life, his new memoir and to learn more about his work and the lessons he’s learned.
Can you tell us a little about Clearly Now, The Rain?
Clearly Now, the Rain traces the ten years I shared with my lover and best friend. It takes place in Seattle, NYC, Venezuela, Mexico and many other places. Because of how wild a ride those years were, the book has the good fortune of being a gritty travelogue, one of those “mental illness and addiction memoirs,” an unorthodox love story, a painful reflection on trauma and abuse and, in many ways, a tale of adventure. But most important to me, it’s an elegy. I used to tell Serala (my friend) that when she died, I was going to write a book about her. She’d scoff and say “you’d better.” Of course I lied. It’s not a book about her; it’s the story of a friendship through which I’m trying to share what she taught me about loving people—and letting them go.
The book goes into great depth about your best friend Serala’s struggles with mental illness and addiction. What advice would you give to someone with a loved one dealing with similar mental illness?
I could write an epic response here. Instead I will say this: be courageous in cultivating your spiritual beliefs. You will need them.
At the Jack London Bar in Portland Oregon you talked about using writing to heal. How long did it take to write this book, and how long until you started feeling that healing?
Serala died in the last days of 2004. In February of 2005, I had a month’s residency at the Vermont Studio Center. My first day there I stared at a blinking cursor for over an hour and then began to type. I wrote 385 pages in 12 days. Then I drank two bottles of wine and got into bed for two days. Then I got up and started revising. The book was published in May of 2013. All of the interim was a ceaseless and often painful fight through 17 revisions. I could not allow it not to happen. That is the nutshell.
I think that virtually everyone in the book has read it. I had some mild concerns but have received almost nothing but overwhelming positivity and support. One person—Serala’s other closest friend—was impressed by how differently she would have written it and felt I didn’t capture Serala’s joy. So she didn’t love it. Of course, she knew Serala when her joy was more intact, earlier. We agreed her response is what it should be.
What was the writing process like?
Ha! Like digging big shards of glass out of your knuckles. Which is something I also did in that era. It really was like digging a bullet out of yourself—exquisite pain that means you will survive.
How would you describe your writing style?
Hmmm. Unapologetically lyrical? Risky?
Any favorite writers who have inspired you or influenced your work?
Oh man. I’ll take only the second part of that question on: Ann Patchett (Truth & Beauty: A Friendship), Mark Doty (Heaven’s Coast), Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club), William Styron (Darkness Visible), David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives. And even though it only came out when my book did, I wish I could have read Christa Paravanni’s Her at the time of first writing.
Which phrase or passage from Clearly Now are you most proud of?
Too much pressure! Maybe this one:
“We circled the fire clockwise, scoping out gaps between logs to float the remaining MISSING posters. The embers were a huge spill of searing heat and it was hard to get close enough. We managed to, though not without burns. One by one, stepping in enough to singe our brows, to release and back out, like a martial art or a dance. Her face whirled and slid with the air currents around that massive blaze, falling with something like grace into the pulsing white center, curling into the holy nothingness of ash, delivered through the whirling smoke to the impossible silence of the sky.”
Much of the book takes place with the backdrop of the Pacific NW in the late 90’s early 2000’s. What local albums or bands were you listening to during that era?
You know, it’s funny—I grew up in central Seattle in the 90s, my mother’s house not a stone’s throw from Kurt Cobain’s. But in high school we were all steeped in Led Zeppelin, De La Sol, A Tribe Called Quest. It wasn’t until college that I realized the musical mecca I’d come from. Then I dove pretty hard into Pearl Jam, Mad Season, and even reached back into Nirvana and Mudhoney and stuff.
How have the experiences you discuss in the book influenced and informed your current career path?
Let me count the ways…we don’t have the space here. I work with distressed and traumatized youth via therapeutic poetry in Juvenile Detention for Pongo Teen Writing and I am finishing my clinical internship in youth and family therapy. I think that if I hadn’t lived what I did with Serala, I would still be banging my head against the academy, trying to scrap my way to tenure somewhere (which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t take it if someone put it on a platter).
A compassionate but severe self-interrogation about how well they are loving others.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
My little boy, Pax, wearing nothing but Crocs and blue sunglasses dancing in a sunray this morning.
Learn more about Eli and his new book at his Official Website.