Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Krista Diamond’s fiction piece, Impermanence
John: One of the things I love about this story is the way you maintain tension between polarities. The most prominent one, of course, is past trauma and the fear being hurt vs. the narrator’s desire for connection. This seems like a universal human dilemma—the choice between opening up and closing down, and, tragically, neither choice is always the correct one. Any ideas on how we should negotiate this difficult terrain?
Krista: There are a few different ways in which fiction tends to approach this polarity. When a character has experienced trauma but yearns for connection, often they are met with more pain when they finally decide to open up—perhaps the story will depict a survivor of abuse ending up with another cruel partner. Or in other cases, the impasse presents itself as an understandable and unstoppable type of self-sabotage—the trauma-stricken protagonist cannot open up even though the situation is safe. Instead of cruelty or self-sabotage, I wanted to offer Ava love and acceptance on the dry lake bed. I wanted to offer all three characters that. Zachary confesses his grief over his failed dreams in Los Angeles. Jack expresses regret over letting life pass him by. Ava tells the truth about where she’s from and what she’s left behind. And the result, for all of them, is a kind of reward—a connection, albeit a fleeting one. A moment of grace.
Jack and and Zachary inhabit the nice guy/stud territories, the male analogs of the madonna and whore dichotomy. Do you think these roles might be as damaging for men as they sometimes are for women? Or does the relative lack of sexual expectations and mores placed on men render ease this burden for them?
I have no choice but to talk about Sex and the City here because I think the show has such a beautiful depiction of the Madonna-whore dichotomy. There’s an episode where one of the central characters is struggling in her sex life with her new husband. He’s able to get aroused by porn but not her, explaining that she’s his wife, the implication being that wife and sex symbol can’t exist in the same person. It’s not until she touches herself in front of him and says that yes she’s his wife but she’s also sexual that it clicks. And it’s a really vulnerable, lovely moment. But also, I don’t know that women experience the reverse of the Madonna-whore dichotomy when we have sex with men. Does Sigmund Freud even have a term for that? I certainly can’t speak for men in the real world, but in the world of this story, I don’t believe that Zachary and Jack are damaged by these roles. Both offer Ava different halves of the love she needs. Zachary’s is physical; Jack’s is emotional. Perhaps there is an awareness of that, but there is no resentment over it, and when the three of them go out into the desert at night, those roles disappear.
The sense of place is very strong here. I’ve spent some time in small desert towns like this, and you depict the social milieu very well. What is it about the desert that creates these strange pockets of misfits and castaways? And is there something particular about American society that makes the desert appealing to people like this?
I spent most of my twenties working seasonal jobs in the national parks. I would spend winters in Death Valley and then go to Yellowstone or Glacier for the summer. If you spend time in this lifestyle, you’ll encounter many strange pockets of misfits and castaways, particularly in the desert parks like Death Valley and Big Bend, because the desert is really not for everybody, so oftentimes people who end up there seem like orphans estranged from the rest of the world. There are some people in these desert communities who you might work with day in and day out for months but know almost nothing about, not because you don’t want to, but because you can tell that too many personal details are off-limits. I brought a lot of that to this story because I know what it’s like to live in a desert community where everyone hangs out and drinks together but there’s still a sense of anonymity. This type of setting can be appealing to anyone who wants to hide. Whether it’s from something external, as is the case with Ava in this story, or it’s some inner demon that’s haunting you, the desert is a place where you can be left alone. In the case of this small-town setting along the desolate highway between Los Angeles to Las Vegas, there’s an added factor of knowing that most people are just passing through. Having lived in touristy places—the national parks and now Las Vegas—there’s something so fascinating to me as a writer about being a fixed object in a location where everyone else is just a visitor.
Have you ever felt the urge to retreat to a tiny desert town yourself? Why or why not?
I often joke that Slab City—the lawless, off-the-grid squatter’s camp down near the Salton Sea—is my backup plan. Some days I’m actually kidding, other days I’m not. I moved to Las Vegas from the middle-of-nowhere about five years ago and there’s always a pull to return to a place where nobody knows me. Sometimes I’ll be driving through a part of the desert with no cell phone service and nothing for miles and then I’ll see a gas station and think, maybe I should just get a job there. When I was working in the national parks it got to the point where moving around so often and getting to start fresh every few months was such a comfort. Spend a few months somewhere and then drive away. Clean break. But I want to nurture long-lasting connections in the city I’m in now. I want to know people and build things. It’s scary, but I love it. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always Slab City.