Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Miah Jeffra’s nonfiction piece, A Miracle of Miracles
Sommer: Oh yes, Miah, birth is a messy hell demon. You forget to mention the vomit, which usually comes right around the baby’s crowning, which is also when death feels imminent. Good times. Why not just stick with the myth? You came out smiling, smelling of lavender, and glowing like a cherub, just like your mother. There, that was easy.
Miah: Vomit?! See, there’s more to this birth thing than I think! Perhaps I was too mesmerized by the other excreta that I didn’t even notice vomit.
Why not stick with the myth? Plato advised me that when the shadows of the cave became so real, I need to turn my head and see the flame. 🙂
I greatly admire and love how you combine humor and deep sincerity in this piece—no easy feat. What’s your advice on writing humor?
Sensuality and vulnerability. I write the in-the-crack moments most often glossed over for fear of discomfort, especially the ones that make me feel the most uncomfortable. And then I write them VISCERALLY, attentively; I sit there and stare for longer than is orthodox. The humor usually sits behind the uncomfortable, and it takes a moment to show itself.
You also write fiction. Do you find that the process is different for you when crafting a nonfiction piece? Is one easier, harder? Is the play of truth a factor at all?
The process is definitely different. When I write fiction I tend to use ethnographic methodology, especially because I am dedicated more to writing characters somewhat outside my own experience—a tricky endeavor. Nonfiction, on the other hand, involves more self-awareness. I think they’re difficult for different reasons, and it relates to the play of truth, actually. In nonfiction, I often have to ask myself, how much ‘truth’ are you willing to see and, subsequently, reveal? Keeping myself aware of what there is to reveal is the difficulty. With fiction, being true to my character—rather than serving my own predilections—is what can be difficult. Which is more difficult? It depends on the work. I don’t know how to measure that, and I certainly am not one for fabricating standards of quantification.
Sin may be part of propagating the birth myth, sure. There’s also something about religion wanting control of women’s bodies. I also think humans want to elevate ourselves above animals, reluctant to admit we’re just as mammalian as the tic-riddled deer, the raccoon digging for yellowjackets in the yard. Have you observed other instances of this kind of myth in our society? And what’s the best antidote to them?
Hell, yeah! In the way we enslave animals and then coo at them as pets. The way we farm animals as food. We are so grossly anthropocentric that even the “sweet gestures” that we largely acknowledge with Hallmark sensibility are abusive to nature, indicative of our perceived superiority. And let’s not even talk about our expectations for the female body, from body hair removal to acerbic purification rituals to not being able to even admit they fart. It’s astounding. I mean, our rules of propriety are almost entirely informed by our need to separate ourselves from nature. I could talk about this all day. Let’s get a six-pack.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Yeah, I do: expose yourself to it more. At first, I felt the sting every time I got a rejection. Now, I have a rule: I must have 50 concurrent submissions out there at any give time. The rejections now come often. I’ll sometimes get multiple rejections in one day. The more it happens, the less it feels personal. Basically, the sheer volume helps me take my self out of the equation, less opportunity to dwell on my self. Taking the attention away from that helps me remember why I write in the first place, and what matters—the erasure of self.
Okay, tell me your mother has read this and now told you the truth of your birth.
My Mama is Southern. She sure hasn’t told me, and she never will. [side-eyes with attitude]
What a fantastic piece. Thanks for doing this with me, and congratulations!
Thank you! What a pleasure to be interviewed by one of the best fiction writers in the Bay Area!