Violet Paley‘s powerful memoir, Frozen Oranges, is a sensual, non-fiction bildungsroman. The writer/director/actor delves fearlessly into her sexual psyche from childhood through her early 20s, writing candidly about masturbation, sexual assault, the orgasm gap, heartbreak, celebrity and mental illness in prose that swings from bitingly funny to painfully beautiful. In anticipation of the book’s May 7th release, we asked Paley about her process, being part of the #MeToo movement, and writing methods for self-care.
I was really drawn in by the narrative structure of Frozen Oranges. At some points your writing has a stream of consciousness vibe, but there’s also a deceptive intentionality to every twist and turn and transition. One paragraph you’re dealing with something quite painful and serious and then the next you inject some levity or humor by completely changing the subject. (For example: jumping from being in a psychiatric hospital to the TSA finding your Hitachi Magic Wand). Who are your writing influences, and what books in particular have influenced your style?
My biggest writing influence is Maggie Nelson. Bluets definitely inspired me to try the stream of consciousness type of writing. It made writing easier because there were no rules. Citizen by Claudia Rankine also gave me the confidence to be honest and jump around from subject to subject. As for more linear books, I really enjoyed reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler, her honesty and humor was inspiring. It actually made me cry even though its in the “humor” section at bookstores. Lidia Yuknavitch’s Chronology of Water was also big for me. Making yourself that vulnerable is something I actively attempt to do and she nailed it.
What’s so powerful about Frozen Oranges is how you can talk about the realities of both sexual pleasure and sexual assault in such close proximity. One does not negate the other, but they profoundly impact one another in your life — and in the lives of most survivors. What do you think are some of the misconceptions about sexuality and trauma?
I’m a very sexual being and I love showing my body and talking about sex. People (trolls) on the internet tend to say “look at her, she’s naked talking about masturbation. She was asking for it.” Or “she wants it”. No. Sex is fun. Sex is beautiful. Sex can also just be shitty, but not be unconsensual. I think the misconception is this idea of the perfect victim. Someone so innocent and virginal and uninterested in sex seems to be the only victim society will accept as a whole. There is no such thing as a perfect victim. You can be a sex worker and get raped (and many are!)
You’ve lent your voice publicly to the #MeToo movement. What advice can you offer to those who follow in your footsteps?
It’s scary and the most anxiety-provoking thing at the beginning, but once you speak up it’s freeing. And the negative feedback you get stops bothering you. I encourage everyone to speak out. All of us good ones have your back.
You’re brutally honest about living with BPD and how it has impacted your life and your relationships. One section in particular that struck me was your commentary about how desirable some guys find “crazy girl” sex, which is one disgusting way that women’s mental health struggles are minimized and sexualized for the consumption of men. Do you view mental health as a feminist issue?
Of course it is, it’s an issue for all genders but women in particular get pigeonholed into “crazy girl”. There’s so much stigma that comes with it. And it’s dangerous. Some people romanticize it and try to “save” the person. Other people write literal articles about “why you should never date someone with bpd”. It’s hard enough as it is. Fuck those people. They probably suck in bed.
In a previous interview you spoke about writing as self-care. What suggestions do you have for anyone looking to tease out their feelings on the page, or to tell their story publicly?
Just turn off your phone and write or do whatever your art form is. Let it all out. Cry your eyes out and share like no one will ever see it. I think you’ll actually want to share it after you show it to a couple people you trust.
Can you share some of the writing rituals you engaged in while writing this book?
No sleep, some wine, weed, and SO MANY TEARS. And just not stopping. Give yourself a reward when you get to 5000 words. Go masturbate or take a bath or both. I would literally hold off on masturbating until I thought I completed enough.
Any book tour or public event plans to promote Frozen Oranges?