Family of Origin Author CJ Hauser Uses Chicken Totems to Inspire Her Writing Students


-Welcome to the show, CJ!
-Thank you for having me. -So I will admit, I first
became aware of your work with this short story you wrote
in the “Paris Review” called “The Crane Wife.”
-Yes. -It’s about a trip you took. It is personal. It’s nonfiction. And what made you both take
the trip that you wrote about and then decide
to write about said trip? -Yeah, so, I took the trip
because I was writing a book that involved field scientists
studying birds. And all of the scientists
in my novel were shuffling around
great stacks of papers and saying, “Hmm.” And they didn’t seem like
very good scientists. So I went to figure out what actual scientists
look like and did. And then, I wanted
to write about it because I want people
to save the whooping cranes. And as I started writing it, I realized that I was
leaving out the part where I had called off a wedding
a week or two before and that it was impossible
to write the essay without including it. -So when you,
as a fiction writer, basically write
this nonfiction piece about your personal situation, like, is that a tough hurdle
for you to get over and insofar as what
you’re sharing with people? -Yeah, I had some
hesitations about it. I had some people
read it ahead of time. But I think what was important
for me with the essay was that it’s not about — I didn’t know how our
relationship went wrong, but it was sort of about how the call was coming
from the inside of the house and I was the problem
with a lot of things, and I wanted to unpack that. And the “Paris Review”
was like a dream publication. But I kind of anticipated
it would be like sharing a story at
a dinner party of your friends, and then it wound up being like I was screaming “Stella!”
in the street. So I did not anticipate that. So I could not
have prepared for that. -Yes.
-Yeah. -And then, you know,
I read the book after, and obviously,
it became very clear to me why you went to study
these field scientists. This, as you said,
is about a bunch of people who are studying
a specific kind of bird. -Yes. -What was it that you found out, like, going and spending time
with that kind of scientist, that informed your writing
of them in the book? -I mean, not to be
a bummer about it, but science is really slow and
really boring a lot of the time, but it is so important
that we do it. And it’s a very beautiful
kind of way, I don’t know,
to be in the world. Like, to spend that time
on the Gulf for me, in a sort of meditative state,
counting wolfberries and crabs, it really taught me a lot
about who I was and the work that people
are doing every day. -Yeah, there seems to be an
inherent patience involved in it that maybe most writers I know
don’t have. Did it feel like a difference
for you to take your writer’s brain
and have to slow it down, to just observing
as opposed to commenting on? -I was looking for the story the
whole time. And the story is,
“Here’s another wolfberry.” And so, I think
that was really humbling for me. And I think that that’s why
it took a while. I didn’t write about the trip
till a couple years afterwards, because I needed to figure out
why it was still in my head and why it still
meant so much to me. -This — In the book,
you talk about a group of people
who are reversalists in that they believe
evolution is going backwards. -Yes.
-Where did this idea come from? Where did you get that seed? -So, misanthropy at large.
I work in academia. I think that — I don’t know. I’m a child of very optimistic
baby boomers, and I would not change being raised by optimistic
baby boomers for anything. But there’s a lot of trashing
of Millennials going on. There’s a lot of “Millennials
killed the napkin industry” in literature and everything. And I just felt like
I can imagine people thinking that
everything’s getting worse. Generationally,
it’s getting worse. Every day, it’s getting worse. And I wanted to think about what sort of people,
I don’t know, feel that way. How do you get that low?
And I was getting that low. And I sort of
wanted to call myself on thinking everything
was garbage to find a better answer, I hope. -You — Another place
where, I’d imagine, optimism is very helpful
is for writers, and you are a teacher.
And you teach at Colgate. And I would imagine students, especially
writing students there, there’s a sense of frustration and how hard writing can be
when you haven’t started it or when you’ve started
and you don’t like it. You use totems
to inspire your writers. Can you explain that real quick? -I do, but first,
I have to reach into my pocket, just for a minute.
-Okay, great. -Okay, so, this is —
So, this is — Is it a little chicken?
-He’s a little chicken. -And so, you give this
to your writing students. And what does it represent? -So, the idea is that I think there’s a lot of stuff
that goes on about writing practice
and how precious people are, where, like, “I have to wake up
at 5:00 in the morning. I have to drink this coffee.
I have to be in this chair.” And I think that’s not helpful, because I think
a lot of the time, we’re broke
and we’re struggling. You’re trying to fit it in
whenever you can. I wrote most of my first novel
in bodegas on lunch break. So the idea is that
when they graduate, they take their tiny chicken, and whenever he is on the desk,
it is a writing desk. And it doesn’t matter
if it is sort of a break room for the job that they have, if it’s a desk in sort of
a house with a million roommates in a place that they’re
regretting moving. Wherever they are,
they put it on the desk, and that’s what makes it
a writing desk. -That’s fantastic.
And I can keep this? -Yes, this is your chicken. -That is very kind of you. Thank you so much
for being here. Congrats on the book. It’s wonderful.
-Thank you so much. -I really appreciate it. CJ Hauser, everybody.

15 thoughts on “Family of Origin Author CJ Hauser Uses Chicken Totems to Inspire Her Writing Students

  1. Good that it's a little chicken. 'Cause if it was a little cat, there would be too many hilarious misunderstandings about what your Prof gave you for inspiration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *