Sometimes there just isn't enough time to get it all done. Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte has certainly felt that way. "I was working all the time and yet never very good at what I was doing," she tells NPR's David Greene. " ... I felt all this pressure that I was a working mom and so I was always so guilty, and I didn't want to ruin their childhood. So I was up at 2 in the morning to bake cupcakes for the Valentine's party."
Schulte consulted a sociologist who studies how people use their time. "I will show you where your leisure is," he told her. So she tracked her activities for a week and he took out a yellow highlighter and found 27 hours of what he called "leisure time." Schulte didn't think of those five- or 10-minute increments as leisure — she thought of that as scrap time. He insisted she needed to rethink her priorities.
In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte writes about what she learned about motherhood, time-management and her own marriage (to NPR correspondent Tom Bowman.)
"We had started off, I think like most people in our generation, wanting to have a true partnership, wanting to be equal partners," she says. " ... We had a very low moment where I thought, 'Wow, we have really gotten off track. What happened?' "
On one particularly bad Thanksgiving
We have 18 people coming over. The kitchen is covered with chopped vegetables and half-done side dishes, and flour spilled everywhere, and the floor's a mess, and we had three hours before people arrive, and the table's not set, and Tom comes over to the refrigerator, opens it up, and I think he's going to put the turkey in, which is huge and raw and, you know, he's going to help out.
He takes out a six-pack of beer and he says, "OK, well, I'm going to go over to a friend's house and help him smoke his turkey." And my eyes just almost bugged out of my head, and I said, "Smoke a turkey? You're basically going to sit on the patio and watch the turkey get smoked and drink beer all afternoon while I'm doing all this work?"
And he sort of shrugged and walked out the door, and at that moment I was filled with fury and rage, and it felt so unfair, but it was also really sad. It took awhile, but I realized that we had both fallen into very traditional roles without even realizing it, particularly when our first child was born.
On what many women are juggling
One of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care. ... There's physical labor that goes along with that, but there's also mental labor. You're keeping track of everything, you know? You've got all this stuff going on in your mind: the to-do lists, and "Did I remember the carpool?" and "Oh, my goodness, I gotta fill out the Girl Scout forms," ... all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you've got to do at work. Men generally don't have that. They have one sphere, which is work.
On workplace expectations being out of sync with reality
We're on such a cutting edge of changing gender roles, [but] our workplaces really haven't changed and haven't caught up with that reality. So workplaces, you know, if you look at surveys from around the globe, they think the best workers are the ones that come in early, that leave late, that are available 24/7, and our workplaces are becoming even more and more demanding. And we demand that most of men. ...
[There is] fascinating emerging social science that shows that men are more punished in the workplace if they try to be more involved at home. They're seen as weird, and wimps, and weaklings, because we have this notion that to be an ideal worker — to be a good man, a provider for your family — you've got to work these crazy hours.
On how she has reassessed her priorities
I'm still a work in progress. You know, there's a lot that I've learned. We have made great progress in terms of who does what and what's fair at home, and that's made a huge difference. I don't feel the same mental clutter that I did before. And when it comes to leisure time, I do my to-do list differently now. I make time to step outside of what I'm doing. I make time for reflection — not as much as I'd like, but I'd never done that before.
On putting everything in perspective
I was just with my father who's had a stroke, and sitting in a hospital room really makes you remember: ... We don't have that much time; what do you want to make of your life here on this Earth? And so, my to-do list is really: What are my priorities? What is most important to me? And then everything else, everything my to-do list used to be, I call the other 5 percent — it shouldn't take more than 5 percent of my time or energy. There's a lot of stuff that I used to do that I don't do anymore.
On what this Thanksgiving was like
This year for Thanksgiving was completely different. Tom had his jobs, I had mine, and at the end of the day we all did the dishes and we all went to bed at the same time, and it was a lovely, lovely day.
Let's say you meet a Rockefeller — Clark Rockefeller — and suddenly you have this connection to a world of wealth and privilege. Or so you think, because one day you find out he's an imposter. And not just an imposter — a murderer.
That's what happened to Walter Kirn, and Kirn's a smart guy — he's a journalist and the author of two novels that have been adapted into films, Up In The Air and Thumbsucker. How he was deceived, and what the consequences were, is the subject of Kirn's new memoir, Blood Will Out.
Clark Rockefeller was one of several identities assumed by Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German national. He murdered his landlady's son in 1985 and the bones of his victim were discovered in 1994.
Kirn met Rockefeller in 1998. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "He was beyond eccentric and he had refined his act with so many people that he knew that he could go right up to the brink — right up to the brink — of incoherence and absurdity. And he also knew that the closer he went to it, the harder he would be to figure out."
Rockefeller was charged with murder in 2011. He was convicted last August and sentenced to 27 years in prison.
On the murder of John Sohus
In 1985, February ... Clark was living next door to an old lady who had a big mansion-like house in San Marino, Calif., and he was living in the guest house. She had a son in his 20s named John Sohus who had just gotten married to ... Linda Sohus. They were living in the main house. Somehow — in a way that's never really been made clear because the investigation has big holes in it — Clark murdered John Sohus. We've never found Linda. Her body has never turned up.
He cut him up, perhaps using a chainsaw that he borrowed from a neighbor (there was testimony about a chainsaw being borrowed) ... then put the body parts into plastic book bags and grocery bags and buried them in the yard between the guest house and the mother's house.
He then covered the grave and then in a couple of months' time ... he held a [Trivial Pursuit party] next to the grave outdoors. [He] served iced tea. One of the guests looked down, saw the dirt on the ground and said, "What's all that?" He told them, "Well, there have been plumbing problems in the yard."
That body wasn't found for nine years, [not] until that yard was excavated for a swimming pool. And when it was ... the man who had been living in that guest house had disappeared. ... What no one knew is that he was now living in New York City as Clark Rockefeller.
On how Rockefeller manipulated people
Here is the secret of a master manipulator and liar: They leave lots of blanks for you to fill in. For example, when he was living in San Marino and pretending to be a British aristocrat — and this came out of the trial — he told one young woman, "Oh, you know, I have an aunt in England, her name is Elizabeth." Then at another point he said, "I have to go visit my family in Windsor." This person thought, "Oh my lord, he's related to the queen! The queen is named Elizabeth and she lives in Windsor."
He was always doing that. He was always dropping breadcrumbs because he knew that if you put the story together in your own mind you'd be more convinced by it than if he told you the whole story ...
When I first met him, he took me out to a very fancy dinner atop a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. We looked down on Rockefeller Center. At one point he said, "Let's go take a private tour of it, I have the key in my pocket." ... I think I said "Oh, sure," but ... he said it in a way that's like how people say, "You must come and stay at my house for a week." And you say, "I'd love to," but you don't ever take them up on it? He's making a social gesture here, but do I really want to go through the sub-basements of Rockefeller Center with this character at 10 o'clock at night? He made a lot of offers he knew you wouldn't accept.
On his elaborate lies, including that he was a freelance central banker for Thailand
He said he had a model on his computer that allowed him to set the money supply and interest rates for these third-world countries because they couldn't afford their own Alan Greenspans.
It didn't make sense, but then again I didn't have time to go into it. He had another stunner already in the chamber. I think the next [lie] that he told me was that he could put the words of Gilligan's Island to any tune that I could mention, then he told me that he had never eaten in a restaurant, then he told me that he had gone to Yale at 14. So the minute that I was trying to figure out one riddle, another one was presented. It stops the mind after a while.
On how he reacted to learning the truth about Rockefeller
It happened gradually that I started to realize that I had been in danger. My mind protected me, at first, from that thought. But what it felt like to realize that I had been in the presence of a kind of almost Jeffrey Dahmer-like character was to suddenly realize that we're all in danger a lot of the time. I sort of got post-traumatic stress, or some version of it, immediately. People on the street dressed as policemen we assume are policemen, and bankers in the bank we assume are bankers, not criminals posing as them. When I suddenly realized that I had it so wrong, I started not trusting my judgment about pretty much anyone at anything, and that became mind-bending.
On how Rockefeller exploited the social contract
This book is a meditation to a large degree on the social contract and how so much of what people appear to be is based on what they say they are, or what other people say they are.
He'd go to a party at a yacht club, say, in Connecticut. Somehow he'd get to the party and no one would bar him at the door. He'd be dressed right; he'd tell people he was a Rockefeller; he'd make friends with them; he'd get in that club. And then he'd get reciprocity at other clubs because other clubs trusted that clubs like them had good members. And basically, through this series of references, he would expand his circle larger and larger and soon have access to everything. He was on the board of directors of one of the most exclusive private clubs in Boston. His name was on the wall...
An accent sounding kind of like Katharine Hepburn's cousin ... a monogrammed shirt and the right shoes will get you everywhere, apparently.
Before he became famous — and infamous — for calling on black power for black people, Stokely Carmichael was better known as a rising young community organizer in the civil rights movement. The tall, handsome philosophy major from Howard University spent summers in the South, working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, to get African-Americans in Alabama and Mississippi registered to vote in the face of tremendous, often violent resistance from segregationists.
Historian Peniel Joseph's new biography of Carmichael, titled Stokely: A Life, shows that for a time, the Trinidad-born New Yorker was everywhere that counted in the South, a real-life Zelig: "He is an organizer who had his hand in every major demonstration and event that occurs between 1960-1965."
Joseph, a professor at Tufts University, says Carmichael was ever-present in what he considers "the second half of the civil rights movement's heroic period." (After the Montgomery Bus Boycott and before the attempts to integrate the North.)
Photographs from the time show him walking down dusty highways with Martin Luther King Jr. in Mississippi, chatting easily with farmers in Lowndes County, Ala., listening to elderly black ladies who plied him with sweet tea on their front porches while he (often successfully) charmed them into joining him in organizing their neighbors. Joseph says Carmichael had "amazing charisma."
A Call For Black Power
Carmichael spent the early '60s firmly embracing nonviolent protest: sit-ins, marches, assemblies. But the soaring victories of the late '50s and early '60s seemed to bog down after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Joseph says Carmichael began to wonder if new methods needed to be considered.
In 1966, he used the phrase "black power" at a rally in Mississippi. It caught the nation's attention, but it meant different things to different people.
Many whites who heard the phrase were uneasy, Joseph says. "They assumed that black power meant being anti-white and really sort of violent, foreboding."
Black listeners, on the other hand, heard a call "for cultural political and economic self-determination," Joseph says. The phrase, he adds, resonated powerfully for a people who'd long been measured by arbitrarily set white standards and aesthetics.
"We have to stop being ashamed of being black!" was the first point in a four-part manifesto he often used in his speeches. Black, Carmichael told his audiences, was survivor-strong. It was resourceful. And beautiful.
Tall and thin, with limpid eyes and a dazzling smile that contrasted with his deeply brown skin, Carmichael walked like he thought he was a good-looking guy — in an era when, for many blacks, lighter was better.
"That was really one of his most important legacies," Joseph says. "He was really defiant in declaring 'black is beautiful' well before that became popular in the late '60s." In other words, Carmichael was black and proud years before James Brown turned the concept into a best-selling R&B hit.
'The United States Has No Conscience'
He was also rethinking the practicality of nonviolence in an environment where black life was often viewed as disposable.
The 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner in Neshoba County, Miss., the assassination of Malcolm X and the crushing government response to the unrest that had blazed through several cities by the late '60s caused Carmichael to rethink his beliefs.
King (who regarded the younger Carmichael as one of the movement's most promising leaders) believed in the concept of "redemptive suffering" and thought the sight of protesters accepting beatings, dog bites and fire-hosing would soften America's heart and inspire the country to reject segregation. But after seeing so many of his comrades maimed and killed, Carmichael no longer shared that belief.
King had gotten a lot right, Carmichael said, but in betting on nonviolence, "he only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent has to have a conscience. The United States has no conscience."
And it was becoming increasingly hard for him to live in the United States. Hounded by the FBI at home, tracked by the CIA when he went abroad, Carmichael had had enough. He changed his name to Kwame Ture in homage to two African heroes — his friend Kwame Nkrumah (the first president of independent Ghana), and Sékou Touré, the president of Guinea, the country that had welcomed the former civil rights worker as an honored citizen.
Ture would live for another three decades, visiting the United States frequently as he traveled the globe preaching the merits of pan-Africanism and scientific socialism. People listened — but not in the same numbers as they had in the early days. Ture, with his modest lifestyle and reminders of communal responsibility seemed ... quaint. "It's interesting," biographer Joseph notes: "Times changed, but Stokely didn't."
The former civil rights warrior died in Guinea in 1998 at age 57, of prostate cancer. And while he's no longer a household name in most places, Peniel Joseph says, Stokely Carmichael's legacy is the very notion of black power, "which was enormously successful in redefining the contours of African-American identity but also race relations in the United States — and globally."
In his latest book, Ethiopian-American writer Dinaw Mengestu explores the nature of loneliness, violence and love. Mengestu is known for his novels about the immigrant experience in this country, but this book, All Our Names, is something of a departure. Much of the story unfolds in Africa and there are two narrators: One is a young man who flees violence and revolution to seek refuge in America, the other is a white woman who has never left the Midwest.
In the past, Mengestu says, his novels have dealt with the rupture and sense of loss that accompanies migration. But in All Our Names, he wanted his characters' lives and the politics of their times to converge in unexpected ways.
"I think part of it is this idea that we tend to think of the stories that happen in Africa as being so radically distinct from our narratives here in America, and I wanted to find ways of making those narratives rub up against one another," he says. "And I wanted to also write, I think, from the point of view of a distinctly American voice, because that's another part of my identity that oftentimes hasn't come through in my other two novels."
Mengestu's family moved to the U.S. when he was a toddler. He grew up in the Midwest, so it doesn't seem strange to him that his distinctly American voice took shape in the form of a white woman named Helen.
"In many ways, I think, Helen's voice was actually the easiest to write out of, not only because she arrived in the novel almost fully formed in my imagination, but because she was, you know, sort of a compilation of many women that I have met and known throughout my life," he says. "When we left Ethiopia ... my first memories are of Peoria, Ill. I've never known a social worker exactly like Helen, but I have known many good women like her."
Helen is the social worker assigned to help a young man named Isaac who has just arrived in the U.S. A lonely woman who still lives at home with her mother, Helen falls in love and begins a passionate and secret relationship with him. It's the early 1970s and the taboo against mixed race couples is still powerful. They meet with open hostility when they go to eat in a local diner, but she fantasizes that it makes the relationship stronger:
"The fact that we chose to sit there and linger when every part of me wanted to run was proof of the sacrifices we were willing to make.
"When we left the restaurant and were back in the car, he said to me, 'Now you know. This is how they break you, slowly, in pieces.' "
For most of the book, Isaac's past is a mystery to Helen, but gradually the reader learns that he has left his real identity behind in Africa and entered this country with a name he borrowed from his best friend. The two young men met at a university in Uganda's capital, Kampala. Neither could afford to go to the school, but they hung around the campus soaking up the energy of post-colonial Africa in the late 1960s, when anything seemed possible.
"They meet out of this sort of shared desire to make something of themselves in a sort of very basic way, and I think the process by which they both go about doing that is where their narratives begin to sort of diverge," Mengestu says. "They both choose slightly different paths and yet at the same time they're intricately bound to each other. So that deep intimacy is, you know, put through this dramatic test of the war and the violence that follows it."
Isaac the narrator becomes dependent on his namesake, who provides him with both companionship and a sense of identity and purpose. At one point they are separated and he is bereft:
"Every day following Isaac's absence, I was reminded that without him I made an impact on no one. I was seen, and perhaps occasionally heard strictly by strangers, and always in passing. I was a much poorer for this than I had ever thought."
Anti-government rallies erupt on campus. The real Isaac becomes a popular leader and is drawn into a violent insurgency which both men get caught up in. Mengestu says he wanted to use a novel of relationships to complicate the simplistic way that such conflicts are often reported:
"You begin to see it not as, sort of, an inevitable product of ethnicity or religion or whatever tropes we may have, but really as the story of two young men who want something better for themselves. And this war, this conflict becomes one way that they think that they might be able to achieve that."
The author also drew from his experience writing about African conflicts as a journalist.
He says, "One of the things I have found working as journalist — and specifically covering conflicts and trying to meet men who, at some point in time, are or were in the process of becoming their own sort of revolutionary-like figures — I often found that there was a total randomness to it, a randomness not only to how they came into power, but to their causes and their sort of logic of why they began the violence. You know, violence kind of unfolded without a logical necessity behind it. You know, there was an expression of frustration and I think when you don't have any other means to express that frustration, violence quickly becomes the form."
Still, Mengetsu says, this is not a book about war — it is a book about love. He sees it as a series of portraits of love: a love born out of loneliness and need, complicated by war and politics; but a love that, in the end, saves his characters and redeems them.
Being haunted seems like it might be an occupational hazard for Helen Oyeyemi. Her books are re-worked fairy tales, the gruesome kind, with beheadings and wicked stepmothers and ghosts and death, death, and more death (though, once dead, her characters don't always stay that way).
The first time I met her, it was in a bar so dark that all I could see were her eyes and very white teeth. Cheshire cat-like, she reminded me of a line from her fourth novel, Mr. Fox: "There's something ghostlike about this girl ... she will appear at certain times and in certain places, and at other times she will recede into a disinterested dark." She's talking quietly but with great concentration about elephants, which she says are her spirit animals.
The next day, we sit in a quiet restaurant on the Upper West Side. One-on-one, in bright light, she solidifies, densifies, and even becomes a little bit loud. When she laughs, it has the force of an unleashing — harsh, wild, almost a cackle.
We have come from a media lunch, at one of those restaurants where, when you order ravioli, they give you exactly four pieces arranged tastefully on a plate. Anthony Weiner walked by, face set and nostrils flared. ("That," Oyeyemi said later, "was not a good omen.")
She lives in Prague, but her publisher has flown her to New York for a three-day publicity blitz, which has left her looking drained and a little bit hunted. Her fifth novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, is coming out in March. She consents to pose with a cardboard mockup of the book cover, but she holds it up so it covers everything except her eyes.
Oyeyemi was something of a child literary star, having written her first book at 18 "instead of studying for A-levels." But now that she's almost 30 and on her 5th book, the label is beginning to chafe. "It's getting embarrassing because I'm getting older and older. I'm 29. I just have to brush it off now," she says. "Otherwise it's going to stop me from doing what I want to do. I want to get better. I want to write things. I'm seeing this as a long game — I want to write as many books as I'm allowed to publish."
Elephants are just one aspect of her intricate personal symbology. She keeps talismans — keys that don't open anything, teapots, certain scents. And she's a spiritual magpie as well. She is Catholic but "in it for the mysticism," and she says she's afraid of cats because she can't account for their intentions. Monsters are real. Magic is real. "The way that people feel changes everything," she says. "Feelings are forces. They cause us to time travel. And to leave ourselves, to leave our bodies." She adds, "I would be that kind of psychologist who says 'You're absolutely right — there are monsters under the bed."
"And," she smiles nervously, "sometimes I feel weird about time. Sometimes I feel that it doesn't go in the order we perceive it. There are ... repetitions that maybe we decide not to notice because it is simpler. I like to pick up on those moments."
Born in Nigeria, Oyeyemi grew up in Lewisham, South London. Her father is a substitute teacher and her mother works for the London Underground. "I was always at the library," she says, "since we didn't have many fiction books at home." Reading Little Women as a child "turned me into a writer," she says. "I had so many problems with it. I was so upset with Beth dying, with Jo and Laurie not getting married. So I just crossed out all those things and wrote new endings. Then I went from there to writing my own things and never really looked back."
In her latest book, Boy, Snow, Bird, three women with strange names reenact the Snow White myth in 1950s New England. Boy, a runaway from New York City, marries Arturo, and they have a child Bird. But Bird's dark skin reveals reveals Arturo's secret: his family is a light-skinned black family "passing" as white. Boy grows to resent Snow, Arturo's beautiful blond daughter from a previous marriage, and sends her away to keep her away from her dark-skinned little sister.
In Boy, Snow, Bird, beauty is treacherous; one character stops going to school because of the overwhelming attention from her classmates. Another is raped. Another's father tries to disfigure her to protect her from the curse of beauty. Oyeyemi says that in stories and in real life, beauty is a power that "is used against its holder."
She was struck by the story of Snow White, she says, because, "I found it so strange how she could be so mild and so sweet after everything she's gone through. She's thrown out of her house by her wicked stepmother. She has to live with these dwarves. There's so much front to it. And it started to scare me because I thought that beneath that front there must be so much suffering. Snow, in all her unexposed beauty, and being in a way public property of everyone who looks at her, goes through that. I find something so terrible about suffering in the open in public, with nobody seeing what's happening to you."
Oyeyemi says that she thinks of herself as "ugly but interesting," and she's happy with that. "It helps me to think more clearly, if that makes sense."
I ask why she thinks she 's ugly.
"Boys would come up and tell me," she says, matter-of-factly. "I'd be on the bus home, and they would say, "You're so ugly, do you know that?" And after a while, I would just say, "Yes, thank you." At first I would cry. But I after a while you just think 'Why does it matter so much?'"
Oyeyemi clearly still carries wounds from her teenage years: "I was suicidal for a long time in my teens and I was so unhappy," she says. "It was the kind of unhappiness that you know everyone else is feeling, but you don't care because you've dehumanized them, because they're all monsters and demons and beasts who are out to kill you, so you become a beast and a monster yourself. I regret so much."
Her fairy tales are not of the happily-ever-after variety: "Sometimes people ask me what I write and I say that I retell fairy tales, and they say, 'Oh, children's books!' And that makes me laugh. People say things like 'I want a fairy tale existence.' The Brothers Grimm would be looking at them in this astonished way, like 'So you would like your whole family to be murdered and then eaten in a pie?'" She laughs delightedly.
"People think they're soft because they're these perfect examples of narrative order. There is an ending that is usually happy, and a beginning, middle, and end ... In this era where everyone is kind of postmodern and meta, we dissociate in a lot of ways from our circumstance. So I think there's that sense that they're so ordered, and therefore orderly, but actually, they're just completely chaotic."
And fairy tales teach lessons, she says. Lessons like "Everything that you see is not necessarily what it is. You have to find another way to know things. You have to find another way to know things. There is inner vision. And then there's exterior vision. There are levels of seeing."
They reveal "some of the hardest and harshest truths about the ways that we live and the ways that we've always lived." She cites a story she found in a book of Czech fairy tales. A princess is being courted by a magician, but she refuses him. In punishment, the magician turns her into a black woman. As Oyeyemi read it, she started crying. "It was awful ... The worst thing that the teller of this tale can imagine is being black." In Boy, Snow, Bird, she writes, "it's not whiteness that sets Them against Us, but the worship of whiteness." She tells me, "I feel as if we're still in that era. There are still lots of ways in which it is horrific not to be the norm."
Boy, Snow, Bird is her "quiet book," Oyeyemi says. All of her books have personalities: Her first book, The Icarus Girl, which she wrote at age 18 instead of studying for those A-levels, is "startled, wide-eyed."
"I was a baby," she says. "I had no idea what I was doing. I was just 18 and writing this novel instead of doing my homework. I don't think I understood that it was going to be read. So that has a kind of — not innocence — but a kind of unworldliness to it. I don't think I could ever write like that again."
Her second novel is, (and here her voice deepens, and she does a little regimental arm swing) "look at me! I can write sentences!" She laughs. Her third, White Is for Witching, "has a sharp personality, and I think it's in a way an unlikeable book, because it talks about racism and eating disorders and hauntings. It's a book that doesn't want to be read, in some way."
"Mr. Fox is a kind of playful, romping around one." (Her idea of play clearly involves a lot of beheadings).
She talks about her books as though they are people, and as if she isn't particularly responsible for what they're like. She doesn't write: writing "comes upon" her. Plots run away from her, though she tries to contain them. She's a kind of beleaguered shepherd, trying to rein in her characters as they incline, inevitably, towards chaos. She says, "When I feel like my characters are staring to disobey is when I feel like they're alive and something is starting to happen."
When I point out that she talks as though she's just a vessel for her stories, she laughs. "It's a great way of abdicating responsibility."
Critics like to call Oyeyemi's books "magical realism," but she hates that tag. "It's not what I write," she says, flinging her hands up in exasperation. "I don't have a style. I just try to write what the story demands."
She does have a style, a kind of jolly gruesomeness, though it isn't easy to categorize. In the way that a child might, without any real malice, pluck the legs off an insect and watch it squirm, Oyeyemi pins her subjects to the wall and makes them wriggle. It's a little wry, a little earnest, a little dangerous — weird and familiar at the same time.
Over the years, she's bounced around between Paris, Toronto, London, Prague, Berlin, Budapest, and Prague again. "I feel a need to choose a city, or have a feeling that it chooses me," she explains.
"I hit something in eastern Europe. There's something so strange about it that ties in with my psychology. There's a kind of volatility. When the changes happen they're fantastical changes, like in Prague just recently, the festival of light. There's a tower on a hill, and they transformed it into a lighthouse and the hill into waves. So when the city changes it's a big shift. Cities like New York and London change in increments. Places open and close. Places like Prague and Budapest, they change. Nights in Budapest are so dark, maybe because the street lighting is so terrible, but the nights seems darker and full of shadows."
"Don't you get lonely, moving alone?" I ask. "I have enough friends," she says. "I don't need any more, unless one dies and then I can replace them." She laughs her abrupt laugh.
The hardest thing about moving, Oyeyemi says, is moving her books. "And my teapots. I have eleven teapots now. I think I need to stop. They're fragile. I always get so nervous, like, My god, am I going to make it through with my teapots? My most recent one I got in Moscow with a firebird on it, a creature from Russian mythology.
"The way I live now is that I only write, which means that I'm very poor but very happy," she says. "Everything in my life is the way I want it to be."