Angel Olsen and Jules Ohman on Queer Pleasure and Making Artwork within the Pandemic

There’s an argument to be made that each one artwork—fiction or in any other case—is on some degree an artist encountering herself. In her sixth studio album, Huge Time, Angel Olsen works by way of grief and pleasure—the ache of dropping each her mother and father, two months aside, after having skilled the enjoyment of popping out to them as queer. She just lately joined a Zoom name with debut novelist Jules Ohman, whose e-book, Physique Grammar, follows Lou, a teenage mannequin thrust into the world of style, all whereas navigating loss and queer love. In a dialog moderated by novelist Rebecca Sacks, Jules and Angel discuss artwork, intercourse, and heartbreak.

REBECCA SACKS: Initially, mazal tov to each of you for making artwork through the pandemic. Youve created work that provides the viewers a lot pleasure whereas working by way of some painful stuff. I misplaced myself in Jules’ e-book, studying on my patio with my canine for hours; and I’ve been driving round L.A. listening to Angels album, feeling blissed out. It made me consider how misery can lead us to create—and the way it may also result in an expertise thats pleasurable for an viewers.

ANGEL OLSEN: [The way I] method writing is I’ll change a number of issues from what occurred. I’ve typically requested myself, am I creating chaos in my world? Or is it the best way that I see by way of this? My most up-to-date file might be essentially the most intimate, sincere, unguarded factor that I’ve finished. It’s the primary time I’m sharing my precise life, or the precise occasions that impressed the songs. Jules, you’ve written about coming to establish as queer by way of your writing. I believe that I’ve, too, however otherwise. It’s like all my followers type of knew earlier than me. Are you impressed by actual occasions in your life?

JULES OHMAN: I’m very a lot a fiction author. That essay was the primary time I had written nonfiction in a decade, and it felt like I used to be accessing a unique emotional house. [But like Lou, Body Grammar’s protagonist,] I used to be a mannequin in highschool. I used to be a horrible mannequin. I couldn’t stroll the runway. I used to be very awkward and shy. They may’ve solely needed me for my physique, as a result of there was nothing else. I used to be very closeted and type of unable to maneuver inside that world. I needed to current a sure means: put on excessive heels and transfer in a female means. Clearly, there have been fashions celebrated for his or her androgyny—even once I was doing it. However I wasn’t one among them.

jules ohman

Jules Ohman

Courtesy of the topic

In the end, Lou just isn’t me, however I actually needed to create me as a 19-year-old, as a personality—an exaggerated model of myself at that age, set now-ish, since I graduated from highschool in 2009, when no person was speaking about being queer. I work quite a bit with youngsters now, and, a minimum of in Portland, Oregon, a whole lot of them are like, ‘That is how I establish.’ The web put up a lot for them. We had the web, however we didn’t—

AO: We didn’t have the instruments or the language. I believe Gen Z is allowed to speak about their emotions. Our technology was like, ‘Okay, we will discuss somewhat bit about your emotions, however not too a lot.’ And now Gen Z is like, ‘Let’s apply nonviolent communication. Let’s ask everybody their pronouns.’ There are points of it the place I believe, Oh no, the world nonetheless doesn’t perform like this! And I’m nervous for these younger individuals, however then I keep in mind that they are the world, that they’re going to alter the world.

JO: I used to be 22 once I began scripting this e-book—a model of it anyway. It’s been redone one million instances. However again then we had been pre-gay marriage, pre- a whole lot of language that now exists. And I used to be writing into characters who had accepted themselves or who felt assured in queerness in a means that, truthfully, felt like a fantasy once I was writing it. However I mentioned to myself, Nobody is gonna come out within the story. Like, I’m simply gonna fucking write it. And now there are such a lot of novels like that. It’s the norm. Folks have created that actuality. However I attempted to make each character within the e-book queer that I may, as a result of I’ve learn so many books the place there’s one queer character that I learn the e-book for. However really, most queer persons are surrounded by different queer individuals. As a result of it’s enjoyable.

RS: So that you had been intentionally making an attempt to keep away from a coming-out narrative with queer characters, and on the time you had been writing it, that felt revolutionary? Or a minimum of, not finished?

JO: There have been novelists who had been writing books with queer characters the place it wasn’t a coming-out narrative. However by way of the stuff that was somewhat bit extra mainstream, there simply wasn’t that a lot actually. Now there’s type of an abundance that’s superb to be within the panorama of, simply as a reader.

The three of us are all in our thirties—I really feel this bizarre distance between what our years of adolescence would’ve been like culturally and the way a lot has modified. I had emotional whiplash over it for years. Such as you mentioned, Angel, about your followers figuring out: Why was it extra evident to them and never evident to you, ?

angel olsen sitting at dusk, near shrubs

Angel Olsen

Angela Ricciardi

AO: Perhaps it’s the best way I maintain my character. I believe it’s in all probability the best way that I maintain myself. I dunno. I do assume that there’s a sure type of neutrality and openness in writing. For me, I might typically type of conceal, being like, ‘Effectively, I’m simply writing for human beings, ? I’m not homosexual—I’m simply making an attempt to attach with individuals.’ I believe persons are afraid to say the phrase homosexual. Once I got here out, I used to be like, I want to make use of the phrase homosexual.

However I’m interested in writers that, whether or not or not they’re queer, are unorthodox of their confidence and neutrality. I actually love Joan Didion, Rachel Cusk, Clarice Lispector.

Earlier than My Sensible Good friend was this massive HBO sequence, I used to be making an attempt to get everybody to learn Elena Ferrante. It was as if part of myself had been sleeping. Not that I might write something like that, nevertheless it woke one thing up in me. I used to be like, That is like how I stroll round on a regular basis—with inside monologues about my hetero relationships and who I’m to this particular person, and on the finish of the day, simply making an attempt to look cute. And so it was actually inspiring for me to listen to I wasn’t alone. I don’t know if these writers establish as queer, however there’s a feeling of I’m upset in these buildings, whether or not or not I’m queer.

RS: Did you discover the pandemic performed a task? Are you and I each pandemic queers, Angel? Individuals who got here out through the pandemic?

AO: It began with tour really, earlier than the pandemic. I used to be on tour with somebody who had been my good friend for seven years. I noticed this particular person develop up. I keep in mind assembly them once they had braided Willie Nelson pigtails, and now they’re non-binary. I noticed them once they had been a unique particular person. Or, they had been the identical particular person, however they had been exploring one thing in themselves. And I used to be a very completely different particular person, additionally in drag, simply making an attempt to make it work inside my little world.

After which on tour I used to be like, why can’t I simply hang around with them? They’re my good friend. Why is it bizarre proper now? Like, they wanna get espresso with me earlier than the present, and I’m like, I can’t do it. I’ve to cancel. I used to be operating. Actually, I mentioned, ‘I can’t, I’m gonna run.’ After which I used to be like, Why do I must run proper now? Why is that this so laborious for me? Ultimately I mentioned one thing type of drunkenly, like, ‘I’ve a crush on you.’ It was the week earlier than the tip of tour. And so they had been identical to, ‘Don’t say that in case you don’t really feel it.’

It’s scary popping out late. I used to be inexperienced. I’d had very minor experiences, and I used to be scared to be judged, or scared that I wouldn’t know what to do. After which it might be embarrassing for the opposite particular person to have to show me. However what I spotted is that everyone is completely different, and also you’re all the time studying and exploring with that particular person for the primary time. Everyone has a unique language in relation to intercourse. So I ended feeling small and scared about it. Additionally, I’ll say the best a part of that have is simply pondering that somebody for therefore a few years—and your self for therefore a few years—after which at some point you notice you’re not the identical and neither are they, and you’ll have a connection like that.

RS: This is reminding me of a friendship in Jules’ e-book. The primary character, Lou, is all the time being seen—this tall, androgynous teen. However there are so few individuals who really know her. Her oldest good friend, Ivy, is a musician, who additionally goes on tour.

JO: Some individuals have been annoyed by the connection between Lou and Ivy, the place it’s type of cease, begin, cease, begin, cease, begin.

RS: Okay, however I’m sorry: Have they ever been homosexual? I’ve been on a 3rd date, and I nonetheless wasn’t certain if it was a date.

JO: That’s what one among my finest associates was saying! “You assume it’s irritating to learn? Strive being a queer teenager or a queer particular person of any age.”

RS: However perhaps one thing that ties collectively these narratives is how being seen just isn’t all the time the identical as being seen. And being seen isn’t all the time secure. And if love is a state of data, it’s highly effective to come back to know your self by way of somebody that you simply’ve identified for a very long time—somebody who’s witnessed you alter. I got here out through the pandemic. Once I got here out as homosexual to my mother and father, I used to be so critical that they thought I used to be going to inform them I used to be pregnant.

AO: Pregnant with change, pregnant with my hidden identification.

RS: Proper, I simply gave start to myself. After which I assumed I used to be finished, as a result of the best way popping out narratives are sometimes depicted, it’s such as you articulate who you’re. And then you definitely’re completed. However later, I got here out as nonbinary.

AO: You’re by no means completed.

RS: Proper?

AO: I may find yourself with a cisgendered dude at some point. Who is aware of? I do not know. However I used to be hiding this a part of myself, and proper now, it’s laborious to think about going again.

JO: I believe you may current your self to the individuals who know you very well, and your whole intimate relationships, in a particular means. However if you put a chunk of artwork out into the world, persons are going to say about it no matter they are saying about it, and, like, listening to the album, Angel, it felt queer.

angel olsen's big time album cover

Angel Olsen’s Huge Time is out now.

Angela Ricciardi

AO: I don’t get up and assume, All my songs are about my identification as a queer particular person. However I’m a queer one that is writing these songs. I’m making an attempt to chisel my means by way of this expertise and discover the phrases to uncover it for myself.

I really feel like I’ve tried to maintain issues obscure for therefore lengthy, and this album is essentially the most easy. However with out figuring out the context, you wouldn’t ever know that “Huge Time” was one thing I wrote with my associate on the time. Would you name it a homosexual music in case you hadn’t identified that? However it’s a music about queer love and falling in love with this particular person.

After my first queer breakup, I had all of those childhood reminiscences come again. And I spotted that as a result of I had been so sincere with myself, it was a lot tougher dropping this particular person than anyone else I had ever related with. It was like my first break up as a result of I used to be being my true self.

JO: That’s what I imply by Huge Time feeling like a queer file to me. Once I had my first grownup relationship with one other queer particular person, I felt prefer it was the primary time I used to be falling in love. It was the primary time I used to be having actual emotions. Once I had my first relationship with a lady, I used to be like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? Like, that is the way it’s purported to be? That is how individuals really feel? For actual?’ It completely wrecks you.

I’ve associates proper now who’re going by way of this. Queer adolescence is an actual factor—that coming-of-age can occur if you’re 50, it could occur if you’re 30. We’re all the time coming into that, and the ache is so actual.

I used to be listening to the file, strolling round in wet Portland the previous couple of days. I simply felt very hit by this line within the title observe that goes, “Guess I needed to be dropping to get right here on time.” And I used to be like, Fuck, if that’s not a sense of the way it’s okay to have ended up right here now. As a result of I believe lots of people really feel a way of like, Why didn’t I do that sooner?

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RS: I actually relate to what Angel mentioned about that concern of inexperience—that at a sure level, it is likely to be too late. That perhaps I used to be solely able to giving sure sorts of enjoyment, perhaps I may by no means be an actual lover to anybody however a cis man, ? I felt this concern of being uncovered as some type of fraud.

AO: Effectively, I assumed I used to be being true to myself earlier than. I believe I did join with these individuals. I’m not gonna write these relationships off. However my therapist was like, Since you are being actually true to your self, it’s nearly like going residence for the primary time. And there’s somebody there who sees you and welcomes you. Then they go away, and it’s like your property isn’t secure anymore.

I used to be heartbroken earlier than, after which I fell in love once more, and I fell in love even deeper with my second associate. It confirmed me that the deeper that you simply go, sure, you may get damage and left behind and damaged down, however you discover ways to expertise issues deeper due to these losses.

And I really feel actually grateful to them, despite the fact that they’re so fucking exhausting, as a result of they’ve expanded my capacity to carry house for larger issues. Extra expansive, larger love. And to carry it in myself.

RS: Do you each really feel that artwork emerges from grief?

JO: I began writing the draft that ended up being the e-book, kind of, in the summertime of 2020. My grandmother who I used to be tremendous shut with had handed away the earlier summer time. It had been like a 12 months since she died, and I used to be nonetheless very a lot in grief about her. Additionally, we had been amidst the most important quantity of grief on the planet since I’ve been alive.

That was all type of compounding. I believe what I needed to do, once I sat down to write down daily, was occupy an area of magnificence and pleasure and love. The e-book turned far more in that path than it beforehand had. I used to be in a position to increase into a spot of making—creating an expertise for myself first, the place it was a consolation to enter that house daily.

The e-book is a fantasy of youngsters being queer and hanging out within the style business, which is type of a weird place. It was essentially the most lush panorama I may think about. And I needed to dwell in it for only a few hours a day, as a result of all the things else was so actual and so troublesome to course of. I couldn’t watch something or learn something that was greater than a romcom. I simply stayed within the house of enjoyment. It’s fascinating when different individuals learn Physique Grammar and are like, Oh, it is a e-book about grief, whereas I genuinely thought this was a e-book about pleasure and pleasure.

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AO: You had been escaping into the world of the novel through the pandemic. And the pandemic has its personal grief. However perhaps it impressed you to make these experiences extra significant as nicely?

JO: One hundred percent. In Huge Time, there are little moments of dialogue, stuff that feels of the world of fiction or prose. Like, it’s a must to totally occupy that scene your self, and actually take into consideration how individuals’s our bodies are within the house. When persons are having intercourse or hugging or simply being close to one another, how does that really feel? Writing it felt like self preservation to me, as a result of it was like, the one particular person I’ve touched in six months is the particular person dwelling with me. That’s what made it a lot extra vivid, as a result of there’s a lot need there—that was one thing I used to be lacking.

AO: As you began accepting your queer identification by way of your writing, what are a number of the works that impressed you?

JO: That’s an awesome query. And I actually wish to discuss to you about Ferrante, as a result of I’m completely obsessed along with her, and I completely learn these books as queer. That interiority and closeness with one other particular person. I’d by no means seen it articulated like that earlier than, and it blew my thoughts.

AO: I’m interested in Anne Goldstein as a result of she translated all of them in English. So there’s part of me that’s like, ‘Hmm. Perhaps I ought to learn some extra Anne Goldstein.’

RS: I actually beloved the wording you used earlier, Angel, about sensing a sure disappointment in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels—disappointment with patriarchal buildings. It makes me consider how being within the pandemic, and getting an opportunity to think about myself exterior of sure buildings, helped me come out.

JO: I do know lots of people who’ve come out within the pandemic. I used to be a part of the wave of pandemic proposals. There was a time frame by which individuals had been getting engaged, and now all of these weddings are taking place. At that time I had been with my associate for a very long time—it wasn’t like we met within the pandemic after which obtained married, though respect to whoever does: I get it, I actually get it. However there was a sense of, such as you mentioned, lifting of buildings. Even simply individuals being like, What are your pronouns on zoom? It was an area by which you can make choices at nearly a slower tempo as a result of all the things was type of at a take away. [It became clear to me] that I needed to be with this particular person for so long as we will [make it work], for so long as it’s good.

RS: Had been you married just lately?

JO: In October, within the Arboretum in Portland.

AO: I might like to get married, even when it ends. I simply love ceremony. I like the dedication. So I’m not towards marriage. I’m simply scared that if I attempt to marry somebody, they’ll run or I’ll run.

JO: I’ve felt that means too. My spouse is a musician [Jess Jones, who records as Sand Duney.], and I believe the central a part of our relationship within the pandemic was with the ability to go into our elements of the home for vital durations of the day—I’m in our attic proper now, and she or he has a basement recording studio.

AO: It’s actually essential to have a separate life.

JO: It takes a number of the strain off of your relationship being the principle factor. It’s like, nicely, my relationship is to my writing, and her relationship is to her guitar or songwriting. These are particular person spheres, however then it’s actually fascinating to have the ability to join over that.

AO: I all the time thought perhaps I may dwell in a single home and the opposite particular person may dwell down the road. They’ll have the canine and I’ll have the cat, ? And we will have sleepovers, however we have now this house to be ourselves.

RS: My ex-girlfriend purchased a home in my neighborhood, which is now fairly awkward. However Jules, you’re saying that you simply’re within the attic and she or he’s within the basement, and then you definitely meet within the center?

JO: Yeah.

AO: I like that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

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