Featured Nonfiction/Hybrid Writer: Erica Wheadon
New year, new writing, same great art! We start off our wintery season with "Mouth" by Erica Wheadon. Once you're done checking the piece out, join us with your favorite cozy blanket and gnawed tibula as we chat with Erica about her work!
Ashely Adams: First off, thank you for sharing such a lovely piece for us. I know when you submitted you explained a little bit about your inspiration in the email you sent us with your submission. Do you mind sharing a little bit with our readers?
Erica Wheadon: Thank you so much. Mouth is a piece of experimental speculative memoir about a suburban house that shifts and changes shape, and its impact on a woman who questions her memory and her sanity. I wrote this piece during my Master’s degree as a way of explaining a break with reality that I experienced during the collapse of a relationship, which ultimately led to a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.
AA: Regarding the form–I love how this piece sits between the boundaries of prose and poetry. What made you decide to go this route rather than say, a more standard prose setup?
EW: I was actually taking a course on experimental writing at the time, which encouraged us to play with form and write outside of conventional genres, which is something I’m really passionate about. I initially wrote this in two ways, both in stanzas and as a short story, but when it was workshopped, it was agreed that the enjambment lent itself to the disjointed nature of the unfolding narrative.
AA: One of the things that drew me to this piece was the way the description was both very specific and grounding, yet gives a sense of unreality (for lack of a better term). Could you maybe touch on the tension there?
EW: In my experience, psychological maladjustment begins under the surface; barely noticeable, so I wanted to begin with that concrete detail – what she could see, touch, hear etc. I began to set those details just beyond her reach as she attempted to function within her isolation and grappled with her new reality. In a way, the house is gaslighting her, deliberately confusing her recall, which gives the reader a sliver of insight into the nature of the relationship. Isolation is a key part of emotional control also, so the piece can also be interpreted metaphorically.
AA: Perhaps related, I’m always fascinated with how people approach place and setting as a framework for exploring ideas. In this piece, we start with this sort of mundane setting of a house. What made you pick this sort of setting? What can we scratch at with such a small, common location in our lives?
EW: This house actually exists, although the shifting was purely speculative. I’d left it a few times over the years, but something kept compelling me to return. My ex-partner and I had designed the house ourselves and I think, in many ways, we had built our pain into it. Our attraction was cyclical, almost ouroboric in nature, and making the decision to leave for good, in order to preserve my sanity and finally seek help, felt monumental—I could hear the birds, but making that decision to fly took a long time.
AA: Finally, what is your favorite bone?
EW: I’m fascinated by the way the sacrum begins as five separate vertebrae at birth but begin to fuse together around adolescence; much like the brain. It’s so interesting that experiences we have in those formative years shape us indefinitely, both mentally and physically.