BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Melissa Goodrich & Dana Diehl wrote a book of stories together and it’s simply amazing, as if you found your childhood in a box. The Classroom (Gold Wake Press, 2019) focuses on growing up - and how to do in a confusing world of ethics, morality, sexuality, and modernity - all mixed together in a magic-realist landscape.
Passages North published an excerpt:
“Hello? Is someone down there?”
I hear a rustling, but that could be anything, could be me hearing my hearing, repositioning my body so my ear is against the floor.
“I hear you all the time,” I say, loud enough to be heard below. “I want to meet you. I want to help you.”
But it’s quiet. Maybe they’re all sleeping. Maybe they go somewhere else to sleep.
“If you can hear me, do something. Tap the top of your classroom with a broomstick. Close a book. Cough again.”
And while I’m waiting for something to happen, my classroom doors open. And there's a flashlight beam so bright I can’t see who’s holding it. The flashlight, I mean. I mean, the beam is beaming into my eyeballs, and I can’t see, but they seem tall. They’re strong when they grab me. “Hey,” I shout. “Don’t touch me. Let go of me,” and I rip myself away, run through the door, am moving backwards, sideways, I can’t see because of the beam that blew up my eyeballs, and next thing I know I’m stumbling down the stairs, how can I be stumbling down the stairs, how could they have been here all along, and when I hit the last one, I know it. I’m where the other ones are. I’m beneath the real school.
I was lucky to speak with both of them about their favorites, their goals, and more.
Describe your favorite meal.
Dana: A bowl of seaweed salad, sweet dressing on a bed of cucumber. A plate of colorful sushi. Any sushi, but it probably includes eel sauce and yellowtail and avocado and mango and mackerel nigiri.
Melissa: My winter answer is: Japanese pot-roast over rice, or split-pea soup with warm buttered bread.
What have you been listening to lately?
Dana: This has been the season of the lady-artists for me. Right now, these are the songs I have playing on repeat: Romance by Ex:Re, These Days by Nico, Crush by Tessa Violet, and Next of Kin by Alvvays. Oh, and podcasts: Queery with Cameron Esposito, Why Won’t You Date Me? with Nicole Byer, and The JV Club with Janet Varney.
Melissa: The Good Place Podcast, Dear Prudence, Nancy, the white noise machine that sits on my beside table, the song in my head, my back when it hurts, the rabbit who makes small squeaking sounds when he drinks water, a playlist of videogame soundtracks called Nascence, my own breathing.
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
Dana: Matilda by Roald Dahl! The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis! These are books I loved as a child that still feel integral to who I am. Every year I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my class of third graders. I first read it at age 7 or 8, and I still get chills when Lucy finds her way into the snowy forest. I think I’m still looking for secret doors to secret worlds.
Melissa: Tuck Everlasting, from 5th grade. Anne Sexton’s Transformations, which I found on the bookshelf in the basement and devoured in an afternoon. Girl in the Flammable Dress, which I read in college, and made a little stone bridge for me between fiction and poetry.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
Dana: I hope I’m not breaking the rules by picking a watercolor/drawing. As a kid, I was in love with the Flower Fairies books by Cicely Mary Barker. Over breakfast, I’d flip through the pictures and invent stories about the fairies. I liked the mix of botanical accuracy with magic, the idea that fairies could be hiding under the leaves of plants I had growing in my backyard. While I was home over the holidays, I rediscovered my Flower Fairies books, and the drawing that describes me best is The Greater Knapweed Fairy. She looks harmless but has the ability to bite, to prick. When you try to move her, she holds her ground and holds tight. She’s more stubborn than you think.
Melissa: There’s this Gabriella Barouch illustration of a woman inside of a bear. I can’t tell if she looks content or swallowed. If it is beautiful or devastating.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Dana: When the apocalypse comes, my friends and I drive away from our desert home in a car with our dogs. We go north, to the tippy tops of the Arizona mountains. In this apocalypse, there is too much water or not enough water, depending on where you live. I hope I don’t die in the apocalypse.
Melissa: For some reason I always picture flames and RUNNING. I imagine the earth shaking because something enormous has hit us. I imagine craters. I imagine screams. I would want to be bunkered down somewhere under the earth and to die a long time afterwards. Do you think there will be a long time afterwards? How many of us don’t die?
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Dana: Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Melissa: Frances Ha. Moana. Um. Magnolia.
What’s your favorite animal?
Dana: Whales. Specifically, Tahlequah, the mother orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days.
Melissa: Rabbits. Specifically, the one asleep against a water bowl not two feet from where I am.
What's something that surprised you recently?
Melissa: The music, the atmosphere, the way I feel playing Gris. The sound of a real piano. The cut open spaces in Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost Of poems.
Dana: Visiting home over winter break, I went on a walk along a creek with my parents. And in the woods next to the creek, I saw an ALBINO DEER. It looked like a Patronus. It was bedded down behind a leafless bush, thinking it was camouflaged. But it was not. Because it was such a bright white.
What do you carry with you at all times?
Melissa: An inhaler. My heart.
Dana: A hair tie, either in my hair or on my wrist.
What are you afraid of?
Melissa: Being unlovable. Dying driving home.
Dana: One of my worst fears is choking. On something embarrassing. Like a normal-sized bite of bread.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
Melissa: I scritch my rabbit on the head while he eats his breakfast. I sing on the drive to work.
Dana: I brew a cup of coffee and wait until I’m at work, at my desk, to start drinking it. When Will gets home, I let our dog, Angie, out the backdoor, and she sprints to his car and jumps up into the front seat with him. I get a shower every morning and scroll through Twitter as I dry my hair.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Melissa: I don’t hate myself as much as I used to. I have a better sense of how to create boundaries. And I love this book Dana and I wrote.
Dana: I am proud of the times I’ve beat my boyfriend at Mario Kart. I am proud that I found a therapist at a point in my life when I needed a therapist. And our book!!!!
Define happiness for you.
Melissa: Having nothing to do. Hours with someone I love. Good video games. Long dinners with a friend. Getting the urge to write with no obstacles in my path. Hot dinner. An afternoon to myself. Crying because (real or fictional) people love each other. Having enough hours where the panic in my body goes down and I feel unrushed, unflustered, unfettered, and free.
Dana: Happiness is being on adventure, but still feeling safe. It’s a dog on my lap. It’s a cabin rented on a mountain with friends. Coyotes howling outside.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
Melissa: I want to keep taking walks along the river that isn’t really a river. I want to keep working on self-acceptance. I want to do more nothing. Like, the opposite of burn-out. I want to burn-in.
Dana: This year, I turn 30. I want to do something fun for my birthday that I’ve never done before. I also would really like to figure out what my next book or project will be.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (Splice UK, 2018) and TV Girls, which was the winner of the 2017-2018 New Delta Review Chapbook Contest. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Arizona State University and her BA in Creative Writing at Susquehanna University. Her work has been published in North American Review, Necessary Fiction, Passages North, and elsewhere. She lives in Tucson.
Melissa Goodrich is the author of the story collection Daughters of Monsters and the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Arizona. Her stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, PANK, and others, and her honors include the 2016 Tucson Festival of Books Fiction Award, the 2018 Passage’s North Waasnode Fiction Prize, the 2013 Margaret Sterling Memorial Award, the 2013 AWP Intro Award, and the 2012 Academy of American Poets Prize.