Not for nothing is Meg Remy’s new memoir called Begin By Telling. “For some unknown reason, I craved and I ate Taco Bell after all three abortions,” she says on page 73. “I regret only the Taco Bell.”
It’s a pithy zinger of a confession worthy of Dorothy Parker and too good for Twitter. Remy has a lot to tell.
She’s the American-born-and-raised indie-pop artist based in Toronto who works under the name U.S. Girls. Her slim book (96 pages, published by Book*hug Press) is remarkable for its candidness, intimacy and potent social commentary.
Presented in a zine-like essay format, the memoir is an attempt by Remy to understand her own traumas, against the backdrop of colossal events that include war and acts of terrorism, but also one life-changing moment as a toddler.
You start the book with a story about a television falling on you while you watched Sesame Street, when you were still in diapers. What’s the significance?
The story had to do with, at a very young age, something shifting in my lens of the way that I see things. It was seeing that the images on the television were made up of small squares. I was seeing Sesame Street, but looking close there were all these tiny pictures making a bigger picture. It changed how I see everything, and I’ve carried on in that way ever since.
Well, I look at an electric car. I think, “Yes, that’s good, it’s better than a car that’s running on gas. Yet, what am I looking at? The car is sitting on four tires. How much oil are in those tires? The plastic in the car is all oil.” So, it’s a process of breaking down what I’m looking at and experiencing.
Is it a curse, or is it a blessing?
It’s something that has served me well, as far as having an interesting life and a vivid inner monologue. But sometimes it hasn’t served as well. Not everything needs to be looked at under a microscope. Also, seeing things this way, it gave me the impression that I was always right. Which is not accurate [laughs].
So, it’s about context, or connecting the dots, as you put it in the book. What dots are being connected with this book?
That family systems often have no chance but to mimic the larger systems they exist under.
The things that you write about in the book are very personal, including being raped. Did the choice to present the text in a freestyle format, with quotes, transcripts, footnotes and lots of white space, make the confessions easier?
I needed a different kind of format in order to even have the courage to do it. The format could act as a mask, or a buffer, for me. It came from necessity, and not wanting to grip the text too tight.
The book is Begin By Telling. How does it feel, now that you’ve told?
The process was super healing. It made my empathy grow massively. I was able to let go of a lot of anger and realize that things that happened to me had another person on the other side of it. That is a person, too, who was born, who showed up on this planet, just like me. No one is born a rapist. Things happened to them and their families. They have to exist under these vast oppressive systems.
How hard was it write about such personal, emotional things?
It was very difficult. I could only do it because I was working with a friend as an editor. Kassie Richardson has known me for over a decade. She was a safety net for me. There were times I got sick during the writing of the book. I had to take time off, because it completely flattened me. But the main thing was to decide what to tell and what not to tell. Often these stories involve other people. Here I am with a platform that they don’t have.
Does the man who raped you deserve a platform?
There’s a disadvantage there, as strange as that sounds. With the book, I’m able to have the definitive account of that event.
Did you struggle with that imbalance?
A lot. I would debate with my editor over one word. I knew one word could change the context in a huge way. When there’s not a lot of words, each one really counts.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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