Interview with Eddie Casson, author of the coming-out memoir Farm Story.
Eddie Casson grew up on a farm in a small Indiana town where church, family, and identity were the unchanging signposts of an acceptable life. Reared in a household where perfection and faith were the two pillars of the family, he struggled to understand his own identity as well as the currents of unhappiness and change that were beginning to swirl around him and the outside world. He would find that his choices would hurt people he loved along the way, but he also knew that living his true life would be the only thing that would make it all worth it. He currently lives in Manhattan with his husband of thirty-two years, Jeff, and their two standard black poodles, Dolly & Loretta.
Mary: I think your memoir is brave. What were the hardest places to go in this seemingly tell-all story of your life?
Eddie: I would say examining all the shame of my youth. Societal, religious pressure that came from being different. My inability in never being able to please my father. But above all the shame that resulted from abandoning my wife and child when coming out. It was devastating to her entire family who had only shown me love. I was determined to be completely honest in telling my story. Taking not only responsibility for my actions but also to thank them for some precious moments in time that were real and good. I really hope my story reflected that.
Eddie: I find your writing style to be not only intimate but also romantic in tone. Is there a process you use in taking yourself to that place?
Mary: Romance and the search for it drives my memoir "(Re)Making Love" — so, that’s one answer. To find the writing, when I go to the page, I risk all. Here’s what I mean: In the memoir, I am indeed the foolish, broken-hearted woman who lived the tale to tell it. My readers know I’m not pulling punches. I’m on the page there in a way I could never be in person or in any social situation. My good friend and teacher Lee K. Abbott put the problem or, better, the answer this way, “A good story should cost the writer more than time and ink.” I see that cost in your answer to my first question.
M.: And reading is key to my work. I believe that, as Hélène Cixous says in Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, “Writing and reading are not separate, reading is a part of writing. A real reader is already on the way to writing.” Who do you read and why?
E.: No specific author but almost always memoirs. I’ve been fascinated with people since childhood. Always listening and observing. I believe it’s why I have such a sharp memory for detail. An author facing a challenge and then proceeding through the journey to a resolution. Memoirs provide unique windows into other worlds besides our own. Surprisingly, sometimes similar to our own. More than ever we urgently need to understand each other. I find inspiration based on life experience, loss, perseverance. Personal stories tell us we’re not alone.
M.: As memoir has increased in popularity both in books and movies—“A True Story” being the familiar movie tag—I’ve continued to argue that fiction, written close to the bone, will likely provide the reader with a deeper look into the life and soul of the writer, but more important, the reader if the story is worth your time. And I think this is so in my short fiction (more pots and pans, by the way) and in my novel—even though I do hold the memoir you’ve read close to my heart. It could never have been done as fiction because no one would have found it credible. But still …
E.: After finishing my manuscript and looking for a publisher I realized how difficult a memoir (unless you’re famous) is to sell versus fiction. I can understand how one might be more transparent in their writing if it falls under fiction. I do remember struggling in the beginning to remember exact dates, times and the exact wording of conversations. Perhaps labeling as fiction might release pressure and help the writing flow better?
M.: I don’t think that’s the difference, Eddie. And I understand fully why you chose memoir and think it was the right way to go with your story. I give the full argument here on this site at this link: https://www.factsandarts.com/index.php/literary-essays/how-does-autobiography-work-fiction
My point is this: Fiction, like all the arts that reveal through artifice, frees the unsayable. For me, that’s been key to the risks I take in my work. This, in no way, argues that you didn’t risk all in this memoir. Indeed, you did, dear sir.
E.: In your book, after your separation, you describe the pots and pans not being hung in your new kitchen. So deeply poignant. Your life, routine, memories, children, husband, passion. All threaded through those pots and pans. That stayed with me for days. It’s so human.
M.: One of the most wrenching and also surprisingly heartwarming chapters of your memoir deals with your marriage and the birth of your child: You, a gay man married to a woman friend, not that uncommon as we all now know but also a mistake that has the edge of irony, let alone, pathos. I am deeply struck by two things: the generosity and kindness you feel for your ex-wife and the fact that you don’t, or so it seems, know your son. Is there any chance that this memoir could reconnect you with this man who is now an adult? Or anything else you might share here about what happened in the aftermath of your divorce.
E.: My ex-wife and I were so young and inexperienced when we were together. I believe we had a chemistry with each other that developed into a loving friendship. So much happened in a very short span of time. Our bond remains no matter how many years pass without seeing each other. She is an incredible, loving, forgiving, compassionate and funny girl.
Back in that time, we were limited on what we understood about sexuality. You were either gay or straight. We didn’t understand sexual fluidity, as we do today. A waitress I worked with shortly after I’d come out shared that she had been deeply in love with a woman who had died. She explained that, though she loved her husband and child, had her female partner lived she’d still be with her. I’ve had countless friends that had same-sex encounters, yet went on to have very successful, fulfilled heterosexual marriages. That wouldn’t have worked for me. For as much as I loved my ex-wife, I could never have provided her with the life she wanted and deserved. Recently, a disgruntled family member accused me of abandoning my wife and child for an alternative lifestyle. I left for an authentic life. The life I deserved.
We didn’t have emails or social media back then, so I’d usually call once a year and check in. Though I was careful not to ask, my ex-wife would graciously give me updates on “The Baby.” She told him about me early on and he just shrugged and said, “Okay.” The title of ‘father’ belongs to the man who raised him. She did once tell me there are times when she’s washing dishes or preoccupied, and he’ll come up behind her saying something, and she’ll turn around expecting to see me. That brought healing and joy to me. I like to believe “The Baby” needed to get here and there was value in my being a part of that.
M.: Your answer brought me to tears, Eddie. Your heart is so open, so generous. I’m also struck by the importance of understanding what you term “sexual fluidity”—something I’ve not understood well—and perhaps if I had, I think some aspects of my story would, in fact, be different and I’d have been a better person. In some ways, the difficulty of your journey speaks to the age-old truism that what breaks us makes us whole. You are a shining example of that in your life and your memoir. I’m struck dumb— Your turn …
E.: Your book (Re)Making Love begins at the end of your marriage. I thought you were so courageous, a woman in her sixties, allowing others an intimate look into this search for passion, love, finding your place. So many would have just given up thinking their best days were over. Your voice/narrative shines with such determination, forgiveness and elegance.
Like you, I also blogged when writing my book. Do you feel blogging provided a safe place while finding the courage needed in telling your story. And do you feel stronger, more intimate in your relationships today? Not just with D., but others?
And I got to thinking about the 2nd part of my earlier question? When I ask about intimacy, I’m not asking about sex. I meant, Are you more open, connected to feelings with your friends, people you meet, with D.? Since writing my book everyone says I’m a changed person. More outgoing, more willing to share my feelings. I don’t have my guard up the way I used to.
M.: I call the memoir the story of “the good, the bad, and the foolish” —and, boy, oh boy, did I play the fool way too well. So, I’m grateful for your generous read. Related was very much the crazy blogging experience. Before a publisher picked up the story along with "Real Simple" magazine, I was blogging as I was living the story and had readers on every continent except Antarctica—D. has joked, “What the hell was wrong with Antarctica?” As I say in the afterword of the memoir, what I’ve learned while writing this has come from the discovery that taking the risk of writing gifts—and I use that word gifts literally. As Elizabeth Bishop so wisely advises in her poem “One Art”,
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
And, dear blog readers, your comments have informed these pages more than you know. I have read your comments and you have become part and parcel of this book. You have commented. I have rethought, been encouraged, forged ahead like a little boat on the sea of your belief.
And I say to you, Eddie, from reading you: My heart opens to yours and to all who suffer and lose—and then are found.
I’ll close here with the review of "Farm Story" that I posted on Amazon where you may buy this book: "Coming Out of Indiana" by Eddie Casson.
Glitter and Candor: Eddie Casson, who was my love of a hair stylist and a friend, has found me after many years, and told me he had written this memoir. I love this telling: Eddie never spares himself on the road to discovery. He takes to heart words I cherish: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” This unflinching memoir deals head-on with the struggles of a gay man, born into an intolerant community, to not only “come out” but to come to terms with the fact that love is love is love. I hold in my hand a cupful of metaphorical glitter to sprinkle on Eddie and to shout “Hear! Hear!” for the candor that spills out on his pages.
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