“There’s no such thing as failure.”
This is what my adviser (or whatever you want to call a therapist you only actually see once a year) was trying to tell me a few years back. I believe my response was to cross my arms and scowl. Of course there is. I, at the time, believed I was living proof: running my own business and doing whatever I wanted, but broke. Scary broke. Nearing eviction broke.
She sighed. “It all depends on your definition.”
Erika Lopez set fire to her promising writing career after three exciting books with Simon & Schuster in the late ‘90s. Her motorcycle road trip illustrated novel “Flaming Iguanas” was foul and hilarious, and I read it several times when it came out. Then, after two followups, she disappeared. She stopped wanting to be a writer. Stopped wanting to be anything. She found herself in the welfare line one day, wearing the shoes of a friend who had killed herself, and had the stench of failure on her.
“They tell you to follow your bliss, but that’s all they say. They don’t say that sometimes your bliss will turn on you and chain you to the back of a pickup truck and race through gravel quarries, leaving you like shredded human cheese.”
But in the end, it is all worth it. Because what’s the alternative? Getting the house/marriage/kids and a real job? Lopez starting writing and drawing again, and the result is her new memoir/manifesto for Monster Girls: “The Girl Must Die.” And she’s not just back with another incredibly ferocious, dirty, cursing and kicking and screaming book. She’s part of a new collective, Monster Girl Media, for artists, writers and filmmakers. I talked to Lopez over e-mail about her new book, the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded folk and why failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
OK, first tell me about Monster Girl Media. Where did this idea come from, and where is it going to go?
Monster Girl Media is turning into the umbrella name of this expansive coalition we’re building that will house other ventures and side-projects made by funny, complicated people with heart, for other funny, complicated people with heart.
We want to build an alternative, self-sustaining co-operative type of company and life for ourselves so we don’t have to be at the mercy of a world of Short-Term Decisions that sodomize us (in a bad and very dry way).
The basic structure will be that we write, develop, produce, tour and market our own stories, stories developed into books, theater, television, online content, movies and other media made, played and promoted our way.
LONGER, searching ANSWER (this is where my ears bleed because this is actually still the SHORT version):
The actor/director/producer Kamala Lopez and I, when we found each other, it was like the world slowed and we ran toward each other with our machetes in hand, shivs in our teeth and leopard print scarves around our necks. We wanted to build this bigger “M”pire because we’re veterans of industries notorious for short-term thinking that forgets it’s starting in reverse, and lurches into the wall, killing many and nearly crippling us. She and I are the educated generation of Latinas that now knows that the fucking Latina maid-and-hooker roles are way too dinosaur for us.
And we’re disgusted at what white women have done to feminism with words, scalpels, botulism rot. So Kamala and I would say: Monster Girl Media: “We’ll take it from here” because everything is going backwards and less interesting, while people are actually getting infinitely MORE interesting because hard times always test our mettle or levels of compassion.
But that’s theoretical ranting. After I burned my bridges at Simon & Schuster, the publishing world continued its downward spiral, and I couldn’t even get my book published. My partner, James Swanson, said “Why not go ahead and do it ourselves?” and I’m unemployable and I need to be busy. I can’t work a normal job, so we figured we’d take the risk. He thought it was LOGICAL and REALISTIC because I already had a fan base and it made sense that at least my 17 fans would buy my work. It’s a calculated risk; it’d be almost impossible to do any of this if no one had ever heard of me.
If this venture works, our dream is to bring other people with us. I don’t want to do this as an Erika Lopez solo vanity project. That’s boring to me. I’ve been over myself for quite awhile now. I want to bring other people along for the ride, help other people out, make it a community thing. My real dream is to bring people back together. Reconnect. We’re all alienated and alone, and that’s dangerous because we need to feel relevant, three-dimensional. Like we exist and MATTER. Especially for each other.
Can you, for the kids at home who have not yet read your book, explain the title “The Girl Must Die”?
“The Girl Must Die” is based on the idea of the transition between childhood and adulthood. In some cultures there’s a clear line, and there’s often a ritual involved, such as nailing your penis to a board and yelling, “There! The boy must die! You’re a man, now!”
It’s also a response to our American culture, which domesticates us, and keeps us from taking responsibility for ourselves. It also tells us that we shouldn’t be OK with who we are.
This is especially true for girls or women, who are fed impossible stereotypes and expected to be perfect virgin-sluts and look like disproportionate hairless android robot women from another planet who never age. The girl that must die is the one who still believes in that shit. That is the girl who MUST die.
I love that this book basically says that failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you. We all — those of us who are trying desperately to do our own thing, and times being what they are — fear the food stamp line and failure. But you say, never fear: it’s better than slowly killing off your soul, yes?
I’m not saying that everyone should give up their day jobs and follow their dreams. It’s another childish notion. Instead everyone needs to grow up and realize WHO they are, WHAT they want and WHAT THEY’RE WILLING TO RISK. So whether or not we take a chance on an unlikely career, like being a rock star, or we stay in a cushy corporate job, we have to take responsibility for our own choices.
So if you do attempt something bold and you fail, DON’T HIDE IT. Don’t be afraid to embrace REALITY. Part of what I’m trying to do with the failure thing is to show the other side of reality. All we get are the upside Parade stories. The downside is part of a back story. Sometimes there ISN’T an upside. Or it takes YEARS to find.
Then you’re back at “patience, faith and insanity,” and that’s a long answer that leads to too many column inches and hundreds of pages.
Americans are afraid of failure. Everyone always has to have a happy, shiny face and I’m just trying to show reality. Economists and the media meat puppets constantly exclaim that we are in a recovery even though state governments everywhere are broke and nobody has a job.
After “Flaming Iguanas,” it’s like this lovely culture of the riot grrl, or whatever you’d like to call it, died. Super fast. Everyone ran out of Manic Panic at the same time and hid their guitars under their beds. And then this idea that you are supposed to find your true calling, that the universe will support you if you do yoga every day settled in. Do you think there’s a chance we can bring it all back? Even if it’s all twisted and mutated into another form?
The real question is do we really need a “scene” in order to feel like we’re part of something bigger? What if you were a polka-loving trombone player during the riot girl era? The universe doesn’t care one way or another. It’s just that it is easier to put in the hard work if you actually care about what you are doing.