Saturday, June 21, 2014

Interview: Keeping Secrets with Daisy Rockwell

Daisy Rockwell paints under the takhallus, or alias, Lapata (pronounced ‘laapataa’), which is Urdu for “missing,” or “absconded,” as in “my luggage is missing,” or “the bandits have absconded.” She posts her paintings regularly to Flickr, and writes for the blog Chapati Mystery. She has shown her work in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Waterloo, Ontario, and Lenox and North Adams, Massachusetts. Her essays on literature and art have appeared in Bookslut, Caravan and The Sunday Guardian (New Delhi).

Rockwell grew up in a family of artists in western Massachusetts, some whose work adorns the surfaces of chinaware and brightens up the waiting rooms of dentists’ offices, and others whose artistic output has found more select audiences. From 1992-2006, Lapata made a detour into Academia, from which she emerged with a PhD in South Asian literature, a book on the Hindi author Upendranath Ashk and a mild case of depression.

Rockwell has written The Little Book of Terror, a volume of paintings and essays on the Global War on Terror (Foxhead Books, 2012), and her collection of translations of stories by Ashk, Hats and Doctors, was published in 2013 by Penguin India. Her novel Taste was published by Foxhead Books in December 2013.

She recently took time to talk with me for a bit here at Bent Country.

SLC: You write and paint.  In fact you've published books in both art forms (The Little Book of Terror and Taste).  If you had to choose one or the other, which one would it be?

DR: I've spent a lot of time trying to choose one or the other thing, and realize that choosing makes me ill, physically and mentally. I have to do both. I can't live in a text-only world, and I also can't live in a visual-only world.

SLC: That idea of choosing between two art forms, two crafts, is something that could bring about some mental and physical anguish.  I can surely see that possibility. I think it's safe to say we are all better off that you don't.  If I had to choose between enjoying one of your paintings or reading your writing, I'd suffer some of the same symptoms.  Take some time and tell me some things about Taste, your novel out from Foxhead Books.  Tell me some things I can't find reading about it online or hearing about it around the horn.

DR:  Taste is a novel I started to write when I left my academic job at UC Berkeley in 2006. I told everyone I was going off to write a novel, such a cliché, and though I did start to write Taste then, no one heard of it until 2014. In the meantime I started painting again, and I'm sure by now, most had forgotten I had set out to write fiction. It's a very short book that took a very long time, mostly because I had never written fiction before; my academic self studied fiction and translated it, but never wrote it. It's very hard to make that switch, from critic to author, and I found it absolutely gratifying.

SLC: So I imagine you didn’t talk about your work on Taste during that period of time between 2006 and 2012?  Many writers tend to keep quiet about books they’re working on, but for others it’s just the opposite.  Is this your process, keeping an ongoing project close to you in that way?

DR: Yes, I always keep things a secret. Even my paintings; no one can see them until they're done. This does not, of course, extend to my five-year-old daughter, who can't be kept away, and longs to stand nearby and kibitz.

SLC: I remember when my kids were five.  It was this sleepless, surreal time when I had to find things to keep my creative spark going while balancing life in general.  I read writers I admired and listened to a lot of music to keep me going.  What are some things you lean to that help you stayed tuned in?  What is it about it these things that keeps you inspired?

DR: I translate a lot (from Hindi), write, and follow the news avidly. None of this while she's around, of course.

SLC: Pretend I'm a college freshman having just declared writing or art to be my main course of study and eventual career.  Now pretend that you are the only person they are ever going to hear advice from ever - a one shot moment to convey whatever you can to them.  What do you tell this freshman?

DR: Don't ever expect to earn money from what you love; learn a second career which doesn't use up too much of your intellectual and emotional energy so you'll have some left when you come home and create.

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