I sent Rachel Bell a bunch of questions via Google Docs and FB Messenger after reading her new book, “Welcome To Your New Life With You Being Happy” which I bought from Pioneers Press.
I guess it’s a “book” she calls it a book, it feels more like a thoughtful zine with no illustrations, but it was worth the price of admission, and so you should get it. I really liked her stories, she’ll have you laughing right before throwing emotional heart daggers into your center soul. So watch out.
Rachel lives in Chicago and does stuff there.
Do you consider yourself a ‘writer’? like is that what you identify as?
yeah definitely. my dad wishes i would go to college. i love him. i went to visit him recently and he like, he does this thing that he’s done for i think my entire life, where he keeps blue bic ballpoint pens in his pocket and a few index cards. and he writes down things that are important or like to-do lists on them. and i saw that he had one with all the names of his kids on there and underneath mine it said ‘COLLEGE. DENTIST’ as the two things he wanted to discuss with me.
He wants you to go to the dentist or he wanted you to be a dentist?
he wants me to go to the dentist, lmao. he even told a precautionary tale. like ‘so and so didn’t go to the dentist for just two years and guess what she had to do? when you’re young it’s easy to think you can put off the teeth stuff until later, but you need your teeth for your whole life.’ that kind of talk.
Do you feel like you put off a lot of things, or just teeth and college?
not to an extreme extent. I think I used to spend a lot of time not getting things done because it was hard to find motivation via depression and recently I’ve been busy being happy and have gotten much better about that. going to the gym every day, taking the time to cook at home instead of going thru a drive thru on the way to wherever. I don’t think of college as being ‘put off’ as much as I don’t think it’s an important thing for me to pursue just yet. i really value the freedom of being able to move around and do readings in different cities. on July 31 im reading with Sophia Katz and molly soda in Detroit and I’ll be reading in Cincinnati at the end of August. that’s mobility I wouldn’t have if i were in school.
I didn’t know all that stuff about you and north carolina and michael jordan. i mean, i knew you liked michael jordan, but i figured that was just from chicago.
that part was fun for me to write because it’s really different than what i usually do. but yeah, i’m the only person in my family born in the midwest. my immediate family was all born in north carolina. i say y’all but not with a southern accent. actually i went back to indiana recently and my boyfriend made fun of me because when we’d go out drinking he said i slipped into a drawl.
True story: I lived in Wilmington, NC for awhile, which is where Michael Jordan was raised and went to high school. There’s no jordan stuff there anywhere, it’s like he didn’t exist. You’d think there’d be a huge statue of him downtown, but no.
you spelled my name wrong in the document name of this interview. or maybe you’re just trying to call me ‘rach’? which i guess, according to the rules of pronunciation, should be spelled with an ‘e’ at the end like you did here. a woman just walked into this cafe also wearing a denim jacket but she’s doing it because she’s a yuppie and i’m doing it because it was 70% off at the gap outlet.
Did you go to an outlet mall in the middle of nowhere and buy the jacket?
when i was in florida with my parents we went to an outlet mall, last week. it was shitting down rain and all the stores were really, really air conditioned. so you’re outside in this like 100 degree monsoon and then you walk in the store and you’re so wet and cold you feel like you’re gonna pee. the jacket was supposed to be like $70 but it was only twenty-something. my dad bought it. nice of him. the lady asked if i wanted a bag and i said i’d wear it out and she was like, ‘okay, it might get wet…’ and i was like, ‘isn’t that what jackets are for?’ but i didn’t say that.
Trying to figure out if everything in your book is true or if it’s partially true. I don’t know–please advise.
everything in my book is true. trying to think if i embellished anything and i can’t think of anything. pulling out a physical copy of my book from my backpack (which i carry around with 5 copies in at all times in case i need to sell it to someone at the club) and thumbing through the copy and can’t find anything i exaggerated.
I kinda want to sell books at music festivals only and just book tables there. I think you should try to get on Warped Tour or something.
that would be cool but probably expensive? id love that. I’ve done a lot of readings between bands at shows. i toured with a band for awhile which was sick. I read at an alex g show and sold a lot of books to people who would probably never have interacted with a poetry reading otherwise. I like interdisciplinary shit. there are so many scenes with amazingly talented people in Chicago and they don’t overlap nearly as much as they should. I’m gonna start organizing multi media things, with bands and visual art and poetry.
A lot of these feels like your Facebook posts, but maybe two or three were smashed together? Did any of these originally appear on Facebook or somewhere else?
sometimes i write stuff in facebook posts to like, remember that i want to flesh the experience out into a story later. like when i saw the dude walking with gelled hair and a pitbull in one hand on a leash and a python wrapped around his other hand and wearing ankle weights? that was amazing. that was an experience. i posted it on facebook because it was funny but there wasn’t a whole lot of plot so i didn’t put it in my book. i wish i had talked to him.
Some of these pieces in the first ‘karaoke’ section are in 2nd person and others are in first person. Should i still assume that all of these are written to the same person, like you’re just kinda filling them in on some other stuff you did?
yes. the last one is about my ex but it seems like. when you read it, you can tell it’s about a love that is way more doomed than the other one i’m talking about. that seems apparent to me at least. the lady in the jean jacket is sitting in a way where i can see her underwear and i felt shame for noticing it but it wasn’t on purpose. she’s like, asking her friend for medical advice. they have a small baby with them and the small baby is throwing chicken all over the table. dumb baby.
I’ve called writing like yours “status update lit,” some people think that’s a good term, other people do not. What do you think about that term, if you have any thoughts about that term at all.
i don’t even care what you call it josh spilker. i just made myself laugh by googling ‘use feather in a sentence.’ i think status update lit is a valid term because i write impulsively and i want to write things that are accessible and engaging. those are all characteristics of the facebook posts i enjoy the most. i’m sorry i haven’t’ gone back to college dad.
You mention going to an Against Me! show in Nashville in one of your pieces, which i think is the same night i made Austin eat tacos and tour Woodbine. Anyway, i can’t find that piece right now—but everyone should still read it. Is that the one where you almost light a guy’s truck on fire?
yeah, that is my favorite part of the book to read aloud because the ending really slaps. that guy was so mad. i was just trying to make cute small talk. that is like…the definitive rachel bell experience i feel. like just trying to be endearing and funny to make a stranger smile and then being accused of arson. against me! was good tho. i left before gaslight anthem played. i wouldn’t have gone if i hadn’t won the tickets.
One of your more provocative stories is one about forgiving a rapist. How’d you come to that decision and do you overall think it’s important to forgive people, like are you one to hold grudges or to let things go and move on.
forgiveness is more powerful than holding a grudge could ever be. i understand that for a lot of people forgiving a rapist isn’t an option, and I would never encourage someone to do something that could potentially endanger themselves. but i feel peace having forgiven. it’s like exercise for your heart to forgive. it is extremely hard and it can hurt but it ultimately makes you stronger imo.
okay, that’s all the questions, but here’s a video Rachel sent me of some guy making her tacos.