20 Questions with Lindsay Amaris Temple
April 26, 2022
Manuel Marrero: There’s a conflation of a kind of religious ecstasy and mortal agony. A spiritual battle ensues in a nightclub. Is there a semblance of God in hedonism?
Lindsay Amaris Temple: Definitely. If asceticism is surrendering to something greater than you, hedonism is surrendering to yourself, making a god out of your carnal impulses. Hedonism feels good for a while, the highs come faster and it mimics contentment, but it’s the quickness with which we feel it that ultimately makes it meaningless. The feeling of emptiness comes back harder and stronger. It’s the action of humility, patience, and letting something outside of yourself be in control that is the reward with asceticism. All of these things are hard to do, too. I think it’s why people these days seem to say a lot and do little, because talking inflates the ego pretty immediately, whereas keeping your head down and being diligent with your actions takes tons of self-control, perseverance and faith.
MM: There’s an homage to YA, coming-of-age schmaltz and schlock, a fantasia of magical realist depictions, good versus evil. Your fiction in this case seems preoccupied with the visual, the vividly imagistic, pitches of lurid beauty. What influence has other media had on your work? Of the books you’ve read lately, which have you enjoyed the most?
LAT: I’ve always been drawn to “weird” stuff, weird fashion, movies that freak me out so bad I can’t sleep. It’s rarely outright horror stuff, it’s usually something that’s just bizarre. In 2012 there was this news story about the Causeway Cannibal in Miami who was so high on bath salts he started literally eating a homeless guy’s face on the interstate. I read every article I could find about it for a week straight and didn’t get a wink of sleep, extremely unsettled but so fascinated by that level of depravity. I realize the things that strike me in that way are what tend to find their way into my writing and collaging. At the same time though, I feel like I don’t have “enough” influences or the “right” influences. I’ll often fall really hard in love with an album and that one piece of media is enough to keep my imagination awake for a year or more. I like to take my time and let things marinate. Lately, I’ve really enjoyed Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis, Janet Malcolm’s Nobody’s Looking at You, Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige and Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life. I’m very particular, but I’m equally impressionable and devoted when something works for me.
MM: Do you think you have the opinions you’re supposed to have to succeed in literature? Do you think being uncompromising has a cost?
LAT: What opinions am I supposed to have? Is literature a fixed thing, is it exactly the same as it was in the 1700s, or is the world of literature, and the arts in general, always shifting? I may not have the most “woke” perspectives and I do like to be a little rebellious, but I consider these things attributes, not setbacks. It means I need to have integrity and write what is real to me. I’ve tried to write pieces that came from a dishonest place in an attempt to fit what I thought was expected of me as a writer, and even if they were decent, I hated them because I felt like a liar. Being uncompromising has a cost, of course, but it isn’t a very big one. As much as rejection hurts, I would rather twenty rejections from magazines and fellowships who don’t get what I’m about than miss out on the few that understand my mission. I don’t want to make connections or impressions for the hell of it, just so I have a longer list of accomplishments. I want the things I do to matter. All the woke/ anti-woke stuff is played out anyway. Nobody worth their salt gives a shit anymore.
MM: A violence pervades this work. Extremophiles and snuff fiends will get their kicks. It’s read matter-of-factly with a wryness that suggests a larger intent. Do you think you’d get away with this stuff if not for indie lit? Or is that low-hanging fruit, and is edginess fashionable, or something more removed and conceptual?
LAT: Edgy can be fashionable when there’s an ethos attached to it… and it’s very easy to tell when artists are being transgressive solely for the sake of a reaction. Like, I see a lot of “cultural critics” right now complaining about how sanitized/ inoffensive film and television have become, and I get that, but at the same time, abrasiveness for its own sake is very juvenile. People get so passionate about being able to use slurs and racy humor, and to a point that’s fine, but people lose all taste and discretion and just go hog wild with it like an eleven-year-old who just started swearing around his friends. It might be ironic to say, but if you’re going to transgress, you have to have some tact and self-control. Darkness and edginess work best when they come from a place of true intention or compassion. Sometimes you have to depict how disgusting and horrible something is to really understand the profound beauty of something else.
MM: Would you say Cornucopia is feminist? What is empowering to women in modernity?
LAT: Cornucopia is certainly a feminist story. I honestly don’t know what is empowering to women these days, not in any real sense. In Cornucopia, Fiona finds her power in the midst of turmoil, and she walks away completely unscathed. She actually feels better about herself than she ever had before, in spite of it all. In the face of unfairness is probably the best time to learn of your own might. You’ll never really know how much of a fighter you are until someone throws a punch.
MM: What’s next for you? What are you working on? You write essays and are interested in making films. There’s an essay included as the foreword to your book. Your influences seem to lie outside modern indie literature.
LAT: I’m working on about four different projects right now, one of which is a novel, and then I have about ten other ideas for nonfiction works in my back pocket. I’m interested in rapping too, so I’ve been toying with writing lyrics… they’re all terrible but I’m trying. The writing impulse is a machine I can’t turn off.
MM: Outside the broader swath of online artists, is there a creative ecosystem worth salvaging?
LAT: It seems to me that there are a plethora of artists with little to no online presence, but those of us who have limited our world view to just what we see online have developed the entitled idea that “real art” is dying and there’s no opportunity for connecting to people with similar ideas. While we’re sitting on Twitter posting threads about the collapse of the film industry, there is probably a team of completely broke, self-taught 20-year-olds in Nebraska making the coolest most transcendent movie you’ve ever seen. The truth is probably that these artists who aren’t poisoned by the internet are considerably wiser, more productive and more tenacious than those of us who have sequestered our worldview to what we see online. We all should know by now that that isn’t an accurate representation of reality. As useful a tool as social media can be, and as hard as it would be to try and go back to a life without it, I want to put more emphasis on putting myself and my work out there in real time, grassroots style. It will be harder to accomplish things that way, but it will make me stronger and more faithful to my own vision.
MM: What are the lessons of the culture war once the dust has settled/ is settling?
LAT: Fear, ego and the need to be “right” will rob you of your life. Wisdom and values are best expressed not in what you say, but in what you do. Integrity and a heart of gold are more valuable than your explicit beliefs, which are subject to change or be proven wrong at any time. The more you run your mouth, the less I’m listening.
MM: Surviving this life is surreal, ethereal. Is this a tale of trauma?
MM: How do you listen to music? What are you listening to?
LAT: The older I get the more space I like to leave for silence, so if I feel far away from my thoughts I’ll go four or five days not listening to any music, not watching TV or movies at all. Otherwise, I like to listen to Esperanza Spalding or Erykah Badu in the mornings as I get ready for work. Been listening to a lot of Liz Phair (specifically her album Whitechocolatespaceegg), this psychedelic death metal band from Gainesville, FL called Wharflurch, ‘Untouched’ by the Veronicas, ‘That’s Not My Name’ by the Ting Tings, OD’ing on Kanye’s Graduation and Yeezus…
MM: What’s your favorite city?
LAT: I’m obsessed with Chicago. For a few years now I’ve been interested in that city, because of the assortment of friends I know who moved up and managed to really make a home out of it, and because I’d made a couple very electric romantic connections with Chicago men. New York City intimidates me: I feel like its entire identity is in the fact that it is New York City, y’know? It just seems like it’s hard to get “in” unless you’re already “in,” and I don’t wanna have to deal with that. I don’t want clout or popularity or superficial relationships with “important” people, I want to be honest with myself and everyone else.
I just came from my first trip to Chicago and I fell in love with that Midwestern humility, hardworking communal quality of it. A city full of hustlers who bust their asses because they really believe in what they’re doing. People there seem so much more invested in each other. The weirdest, smartest, most creative people I know live in Chicago, and that’s what I wanna be around. And plus, on my last day there my flight got canceled at the last second, and as my friend drove me back into the city we spotted graffiti of my name (spelled correctly!) on an overpass. It’s clearly a sign.
MM: In this digital age that is dependent more on images than words, has art moved beyond literature?
LAT: It would be foolish of me to spend so much of my time refining my writing skills if I thought the art world had moved beyond literature. I think, maybe, that literature feels too academic and stodgy right now. Writing is an extremely personal, neurotic pursuit, but I think the best writers are bizarre and colorful and we need to find new ways to link our writing to our personalities in a forward-facing way. I’m very sensitive and have become pretty private, but I’m also not shy and I have a big personality, and I think it’s the latter that informs my writing more than my introversion does. Writing is just the catalyst for me to show people how much there is inside of me, to peel back all of my layers. Certain creative pursuits may go out of fashion, like I feel reading and writing is right now, but it isn’t dead unless everyone loses interest in it collectively.
MM: What is there an appetite for in art?
LAT: I think people just want things that feel real. Social media thrives on artifice: you can say what you want and be who you want online, and it never has to be sincere. People will just share for the sake of being seen. There’s lots of gesturing, posturing, bragging, and if you look closely you can often see through that. I think people just want visceral honesty and relatability, they want cutting-edge erratic creativity now, for its own sake, not for the sake of posting about it later. So many things “seem” cool when you experience them digitally, but in real time they’re totally hollow. I think people just want to see and read and hear things that truly touch their hearts, without an ounce of pretense.
MM: You publish nonfiction on Substack, and write rather prolifically on your own time and terms. Is it all self-propelled? What externalities influence you?
LAT: I sincerely do write because I feel I have to. Loneliness and feeling misunderstood has been a feature of my life for as long as I can remember, and I figured out that writing is my opportunity to force people to see the world through my eyes. Even if I am alone, other people will know who I am and how I feel. I don’t have to hide when I write, and the idea of getting reactions out of people who may not expect certain ideas to come out of me is particularly exciting. Whereas friends and family and boyfriends have rarely seemed to “get” me and where I’m coming from, if I write an essay about something that I feel very seriously about and execute it with a razor sharp tongue and a bit of wit, I get to show people the fire inside of me that I may not be given the room to release otherwise. It makes me feel in control, less weird and isolated. Instead of waiting for people to meet me where I am and try to understand me, I lay it all out. Perhaps it’s corny but writing, and writing well, makes me feel like a superhero. I may be sensitive and emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve, but my writing is where I can go to be tough, uncompromising, and a bit of a ballbuster.
MM: How did Cornucopia come about?
LAT: In late July 2021, I quit my job on impulse – I just walked out. Two days later I had COVID. A few weeks prior I’d been talking to a couple girlfriends about wanting to write a specific scene of a girl dancing alone in a club, so engrossed in her environment it was as if she was possessed. I let the idea percolate for a while, kind of put it on the back burner, thinking it would come back to me when it was time. While unemployed and home with COVID I was preparing to do a guest appearance on the podcast Hate Fiction, in which I had to read Requiem for a Dream and watch Christiane F.- Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. In between fever dreams and headaches I watched Safe and Body Double and looked at a bunch of Nan Goldin photos, as well as a couple designer collections inspired by Christiane F.. At night when I got bored of sitting in bed I would dance around my room to one of DJ Karl Meier’s mixes on Soundcloud. I guess the combination of all these things – the inability to go anywhere and do anything, plus the uncomfortable lack of taste and smell – is what caused the idea for Cornucopia to come rushing back in technicolor. I hadn’t written fiction in about seven years so I wasn’t sure how to start, so I just took it sentence by sentence until the story created its own momentum. By day three or so of working on it I was hooked and wrote obsessively, finishing it in about twelve days.
MM: For a short book, Cornucopia feels ambitious. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman comes to mind as another such work of similar length that stands proudly on its own. In far fewer words, you encompass a novelistic breadth of emotion. Did you begin writing knowing more or less it would be a long short story? At what point do you feel like a work is finished?
LAT: I love that story… I also love “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, and “E—– on ‘How and Why I Have Come to be Totally Devoted to S—– and Have Made Her the Linchpin and Plinth of My Entire Emotional Existence’” by David Foster Wallace. I’ve always preferred the short story to the novel because you have to build emotion and tension quickly… same with movies. I like being emotionally suckerpunched, whereas television is a slower burn and it doesn’t take long for me to lose patience. I anticipated Cornucopia being much shorter, but I also didn’t have any idea what the story was actually going to be. I made everything up as I went.
For me, I know that a work is complete when the nagging sensation of getting it out subsides. That feeling turns into elation, but that’s short-lived. A couple days, maybe. Then it’s followed by a kind of melancholy, something similar to what I imagine postpartum depression feels like. When I’ve said all I can say without altering the piece’s original intent, that’s when I know I’m done. It’s always bittersweet.
MM: We met on the internet. It’s been an isolating couple of years where many things have taken off online, and people have been slowly returning to interpersonal networking in the physical world. Is your online presence any different from your physical presence? If literature benefits from community and discussion, where do earthly values intersect with increasingly automated algorithms and social networks? Do you see the internet as a gateway for otherwise disenfranchised talent to be noticed?
LAT: Truthfully, I feel like the cons of social media and the internet are beginning to outweigh the pros, at least for me. I still use Twitter and Instagram but less and less as the months go by. I think I would be doing myself more harm than good by abandoning social media at this point, but I am trying to remember the importance of physicality, both in my own life and in terms of how vital the organic spread of information and ideas is, from one person’s hands to the next. Recently, I spoke with a designer friend of mine about the importance of touch. She once worked in a textile mill, and she told me about how working with huge spools of wool and other raw materials for months and months on end to perfect their texture and durability was essential to the relationship she has with the fabrics she now wears and designs. Touch is the primary sense, if you ask me. Our flesh is what allows us to interact with the rest of the world. If you can touch something, it can be assumed that you can also see it, smell it, taste and hear it. All the intangible dimensions of a Thing are made manifest once they are physically in our reach. If anything I think social media should be used as a tool, much like popular bands in the early aughts had websites for merchandise and tour tickets. They made use of the technology but weren’t reliant on it for success. Social media does give disenfranchised, alternative artists more options for visibility – Cornucopia likely would not be published had it not been for us linking on Twitter – but I think, in some ways, the same things can be achieved in real time. It might just take more blood, sweat and tears. Which could ultimately be a good thing…
MM: Who are you writing for?
LAT:I write for myself, first… the truth is if I didn’t write I’d likely be institutionalized or a junkie on the street somewhere. It’s like working out or sleeping for me: I have to do it to regulate myself. But beyond that, I write for those who don’t fit in anywhere, no matter how hard they try. I write for those who refuse to let the world or others tell them who they are or what they can do. I write for people who know the future is in their hands. I write for teenage loners with heads full of brilliant, fresh ideas who cry themselves to sleep every night because they don’t realize yet that they are visionaries, leaders, and pioneers, and that the world needs their originality. I write for those who see the issues of our society and decide to take these things as challenges instead of surrendering to them. The news and social media will have you thinking that society is moments away from collapsing, but I write for those who feel the world is finally making room for them. While everyone is so preoccupied with their whining and flailing and holding on tight to the past, the rest of us are getting ready to pounce.
MM: What’s your favorite color?
LAT: Royal blue and cerulean, rust orange, lavender, emerald green, chestnut, charcoal. I’m a manager at a fast-fashion retailer and it’s taught me a lot about color. I can’t quite explain it, but we’ll get new merchandise in and the style of the garment will be cute but it’s the complete WRONG shade of red or green. It grinds my gears so bad. Maybe the color is too muted or there’s a shade of coral that’s too pink and not orange enough. Coral is a weird color anyway, so I don’t know why the company expects that stuff to sell. They need to let me be in control of the color palettes we’re using. I need to be in charge of those meetings. There’s a reason why everyone loves the shades of Kanye’s earth tone loungewear and stuff, and it’s easy to spot a fake. Not all beiges are created equal.
MM: Last meal before you die?
LAT: The meal will last about five hours, and I will barely eat for two days prior, only consuming water and shredded lettuce when I feel like I’m going to pass out. I’ll be dressed head to toe in vintage Vivienne Westwood. On the guest list will be Dennis Rodman, Malcolm Gladwell, Hanif Abdurraqib, Young Thug, Dara Allen, Mowalola Ogunlesi, David Byrne, Exene Cervenka and a resurrected Janet Malcolm and Anthony Bourdain. We’ll eat vichyssoise, chargrilled oysters topped with prosciutto and pecorino, sea salted french fries cooked in duck fat, pork rillette, lox bagels, eel sashimi, kimchi fried rice, ricotta-based pimento cheese with charred onion relish on toasted french bread, roasted brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds and goat cheese, squid ink pasta and grilled octopus. We will drink shots of saké, Montenegro, Strega and Fernet-Branca while sipping Stellas, gin and tonics, and mezcal margaritas. And for dessert, we’ll each have giant hot fudge brownie sundaes and one yellow American Spirit. Bourdain will make eyes at me all night, but I’ll pretend not to notice.