Thursday, August 01, 2013

On Writing Violence Girl, DIY, Community and Creativity

Interview with Alice Bag, July 2013

(this is part of a larger project examining the intersections of feminism, creative writing, and punk)
Reposted with permission from
Your writing has taken many forms — lyrics, blogs, and now memoir with the publication of Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story. What inspired you to write the book?
A friend of mine was interviewing me for a play she was writing about East LA. We were at a bar, swapping stories about growing up on the east side during the 60s and 70s. We were all laughing when she turned to me and said “you should write a book." Her words stuck with me.
The next day when my husband went to work, I found the laptop left open to a new webpage he had created for me. It was a blog site called “The True Life Adventure of Violence Girl."  I’m a comic book and graphic novel fan so I especially loved the ring of “True Life Adventures." I got sucked in and started writing: an entry a day, every weekday. Over the course of the next ten months, I wrote what would become my memoir, Violence Girl.

What influence have DIY ethics had on your motivation to write?
At the point in my life when I started writing Violence Girl, I didn’t even see myself as a real writer. I was blogging regularly at the time  but I couldn’t imagine writing a whole book. Blogging is a manageable commitment, you don’t need a lot of time or planning to do it and it’s very DIY; anyone can write and share their thoughts and feelings with the world. You don’t need to major in journalism to have a successful blog, you just have to have something interesting to say and figure out a compelling way to say it.
The idea that you don’t need to master a technique in order to create something meaningful or useful is the essence of DIY (and punk) to me. I often joke that I wrote my book using the punk rock method: short, fast stories, hammered out with more honesty than ability. It worked for me, and I think readers who connect with my book are willing to look beyond my writing limitations.
My roots are in performance, and I think it’s important to note that having an audience or a community to provide encouragement and feedback during the writing process really helped me. When I was blogging “True Life Adventures of Violence Girl," I picked up followers along the way to whom I felt connected. They gave me daily feedback and encouragement on each new installment, they even pointed me towards potential publishers when I finally finished writing my story.  I felt like I had a community behind me who wanted to see the book published.  

You’ve talked about the importance of documenting the creative output of social and art movements. How does the desire to create recorded history inform your writing?
Writing the book was something that I really did for myself. I didn’t approach it as a documentarian, it was more a journey of self-discovery and healing. As I was writing about my childhood I realized that for those I love to really know who I am, they have to understand what shaped me. After a while, I realized that other people might be facing some of the challenges that I faced while growing up and might benefit from reading my story, so those are the things that informed my writing. There is certainly a historical element to the book, not so much about the creative output of any particular artist but about what environmental conditions led up to punk and fostered the movement’s growth. I consciously avoided the documentary approach towards the LA punk scene because other books have already taken that approach and I wanted to tell a much more personal story, one I hoped would be more universal and not just of interest to punk fans.

What role do you feel the presence of community — be it through punk, one’s cultural identity, etc. — plays in fostering creative development?
It’s huge! As I mentioned earlier, I felt like my community of blog followers really carried me. They encouraged me every step of the way. When I didn’t feel like writing and would skip a day, they gently reminded me that they were waiting for my next blog entry!
Community, especially the community I built through social media, also played a big part in the success of my book tour. I booked my own tour - it was all DIY, cold calling places or getting suggestions from Twitter and Facebook friends. If friends were currency I would be a millionaire. I had so much help from people across the country who helped book readings, offered to play with me or offered me a place to sleep. My publisher is a small publisher and does not offer tour support so it was all DIY, punk rock style. Hugely rewarding, especially for an old bag in her mid-fifties; it felt like the fucking fountain of youth to be on the road, playing, reading, meeting new people and it would not have happened without my communities supporting me every step of the way.

In Violence Girl, you connect the trauma of abuse to your involvement in the punk scene. How do you feel punk can act as a site for meaningful catharsis?
Sometimes you just can’t verbalize what you’re feeling because you may not even be consciously aware of what’s triggering your emotions. When I was younger, I didn’t understand where my feelings of anger and violence were coming from and I didn’t know how to deal with them. Luckily, punk came along and gave me an outlet. Through punk performance, I could vent and forge the raw emotion that was bubbling up inside of me into something creative rather than destructive.
Beyond that, I think punk is really empowering in the long term because it encourages self-determination and challenges the status quo. As part of the punk community, I came away with the feeling that if we were able to create a movement that continually changes the course of art and music, then we can create a movement that changes the world in many other ways. That is enormously empowering.

How has your relationship to creative expression changed over the years?
I still tap into my anger from time to time but these days, I usually know where it’s coming from. Over the years, I’ve realized that the only limits to my creativity are the ones I place on myself by saying “I can’t do that, because…" There really aren’t any limits when we stop making excuses for why we can’t do something. I think I’m much braver as an artist now than I was 35 years ago and I’ve learned to value the ups and downs of getting where I want to go because the only failure is not to go after your dreams.

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