Falling for Lidia


Chelsea Cain’s introduction to Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, which is the Rumpus Book Club’s March selection:

Lidia and I are in therapy together.

That’s what she calls it.  Technically it is more of a writing workshop, at least that’s what the rest of us would like to think. It works like this.  We meet once a week.  Some of us bring work.  We all critique it.  Then someone goes into the bathroom and cries.

Lidia joined two years ago.

Chuck Palahniuk brought up the idea of inviting her.  “She writes this literary prose,” he told us.  “But she’s this big-breasted blond from Texas, and she used to be a stripper and she’s done heroin.”  Needless to say, we were impressed.

I already wanted her to sit by me.

There was more.  Chuck told us that some really famous edgy writer–I didn’t recognize her name, but I pretended that I did—had given a talk at a conference about the State of Sex Scenes in Literature and she’d said that all sex scenes were shit, except for the sex written by Lidia Yuknavitch.   Maybe Chuck didn’t tell us that.  But someone in the group did.  I don’t remember.  I think I was still thinking about the stripper thing.  A real-life ex-stripper in our writing group!  So glamorous.

Yes, we said, invite her.  Please.

She showed up a few weeks later, wearing a long black coat.  I couldn’t see her breasts.  She was quiet.  She didn’t make eye contact.  She did not sound like she was from Texas.

Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

Where was the big hair, the Lucite platform heels?  The track marks?

Had Chuck made the whole thing up?  (He does that sometimes.)

How was he describing me to people?

Lidia had pages.  That first night she came.  She shared work.  If you are a writer, or really a human at all, you will recognize how terrifying this is.  You show up and sit down with a group of strangers and share your art, having no idea how they will respond, these assholes marking up your pages with their pens, judging you, leering at your tits.

She read us the first chapter of her novel The Small Backs of Children (due out with Hawthorne Books next year), while we all followed along with the copies she’d passed out.  They say that alcoholics remember their first drink, that lightening feeling in your body that says yes-yes-let’s-feel-this-way-all-the-time–well I will always remember the first time I heard Lidia Yuknavitch read.

I thought, this is how writing is supposed to be.  I thought, man oh man, she’s good.  I thought, I want that.

Literally.  I wanted that chapter.

See the protocol at workshop is that we bring in pages, hand them out, read them out loud, and then go around the table for comments.  After that, we collect the pages, which by then are theoretically covered with highly useful notes.  Work does not leave the room.  We never take home anyone’s pages.  They don’t let scientists take home uranium in their pockets after a day at Los Alamos.  That’s the deal.

But I wanted that chapter.  I wanted to take it home so I could read it again and again.  I’d never felt like that about anyone else’s work, ever.

I considered stealing it.

I could pretend to put it in the stack as the pages were collected, but then palm it off the table onto my lap and slip it onto the floor into my open purse.  I didn’t want to ask her for it.  She already thought we were all perverts, the way we kept checking out her chest.

I decided to play it cool.  We went around the table, all of us giving feedback, happy, exhausted, delighted that she didn’t suck.

I tried not to blather, counting on the fact that there would be more, more writing, more Lidia.

It worked.  She came back.  The next week.  Amazing!

She workshopped that book, and this memoir.  And the more I’ve learned about her, the more in awe I am.

To start, she isn’t really from Texas.  She just went to college there, which is a totally different thing.  She does have nice knockers.  For the other stuff, you’ll have to read the book.

I’m just looking forward to getting a copy I can keep.


Click here to join The Rumpus Book Club and receive a copy of The Chronology of Water.

Rumpus original art by Rachael Schafer.

Chelsea Cain was born in 1972, lived the first few years of her life on a hippie commune in Iowa, and grew up in Bellingham, Washington. Chelsea is a former columnist for The Oregonian, and a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, as well as the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers. More from this author →