Part II of my interview with Toronto writer and new book author Sarah Kurchak. I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder releases in the U.S. September 22, and October 8 in the U.K To order or read a sample, see link at the end. By mutual agreement, Sarah and I corresponded by e-mail.
Part I is available here:
This is why I enjoy interviews (it was the best part of Journalism school as well as my volunteer radio years!)
LOA: Other than the Toronto setting and snapshots of urban life at the turn of the century, is there something that makes your writing typically Canadian?
SK: I wasn’t entirely sure what made writing — or any art, really — Canadian, back when I mostly bought the whitewashed stories I was taught in history class, and I’m even less sure of it now that I’m learning to see Canada as a colonial settler state. But I can’t deny that I am a product of where I have grown up and the stories I loved there.
I don’t know if someone who obviously shows signs of having mainlined Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg films as a teen, and found the purest expression of her hormones in the music of Carole Pope* counts as uniquely Canadian or not. But those influences and a thousand more are all in there somewhere.
LOA: Your dad is probably just a little older than me (I’m 60). The Redpath Centre in Toronto is one place that assesses people into their 70s. Would he ever go now?
SK: It’s his business, but I think my father would be okay with me saying he has been assessed elsewhere, and briefly saw someone there. As for going now, well, the same financial barriers that prevented me from getting assessed for so long still exist for my family, and the price of assessment has only become less accessible since then.
LOA: Why is it some autistics like Temple Grandin don’t want us to specialize in our autistic identity, “how to foster [intense enthusiasms] as part of a healthy, rewarding life…[p. 199]
Someday I want a shirt that says “Not like Rain Man—Not like Temple Grandin either!”
SK: I won’t presume to know what their argument is. I definitely don’t understand it or agree with it, but don’t feel qualified enough to make any bigger judgments or statements about it. I’m not even sure that I do specialize in my autistic identity, personally. I support people who do! And I realize that, for a number of people who have been following my work, it probably looks like that’s my main focus. And I’m genuinely thankful for the interest in that work and the support for it. But it’s really not what takes up most of my thought or time, or what pays the rent. At this point, I’m probably more of an expert in martial arts gear than I am in myself or my own identity.
My favourite T-shirt has cartoon boobs on it.
LOA: You touch on making money by being openly autistic, and the suspicion that creates. Why are we not allowed to be the experts on ourselves? I blame the whole Theory of Mind debate…
SK: I think it’s a pretty common criticism that’s levelled against any’ non-cishet white male’ creative whose work involves their identity in some way. If I were to write about more about bisexuality, people would probably be similarly suspicious of that.
LOA: You’re one generation behind me (almost could be my daughter) and also grew up not knowing about autism. Do you think ASD/C belongs in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)?
SK: I’m not sure that a sad sack freelance writer is the right person to ask about this. All I can say is that it doesn’t really bother me to think of autism as an identity and a disorder. It has always been both for me. I know other people feel differently, and I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. It’s simply beyond my expertise.
LOA: How many tabs are open in your browser right now?
SK: Only two! Don’t ask me how many Pages files I have open…
*And this just happened (LOL off down a rabbit hole): http://www.cshf.ca/2020-induction-highschool-confidential-rough-trade-carole-pope-kevan-staples/
LOA: How does it suit you to BE interviewed rather than be the interviewer?
SK: I loved being interviewed when I was in the PFL [Pillow Fight League] and I’m having some fun with it now, too. There’s always the risk of being misquoted or having people ask weird and invasive questions, but it’s still less stressful than being the interviewer. At least for me.
LOA: My turn to go all fan girl on you, Sarah: Jan Brady was the one I identified with most on the sitcom The Brady Bunch. What was it like meeting and beating up Maureen McCormick (Marcia)? Whenever I look at the Gallery view of a Zoom call, I always see the opening credits of that show and hear the theme song. Either that or The Hollywood Squares.
SK: I was obsessed with Hollywood Squares as a kid. I thought being a square was the highest honour one could achieve in life.
The whole Marcia Brady experience was surreal. Even though it was one small segment, it really opened my eyes to how bizarre the entire reality show experience is for the people in front of the camera.
Maureen McCormick was nice. I was loopy, sleep deprived, and extremely dehydrated. I wish they’d let me fight without a shirt on. My abs looked amazing that day. I’m still Team Jan.
LOA: Glad we finally had this interview, Sarah. Hope the book does well internationally. If you enjoyed this interview please buy me a tea or coffee (look for the cup logo). Here’s a link to her memoir: Plus, read my review and the rest of our conversation at https://www.medecoded.com/sarah-kurchak/ .
Sarah Kurchak’s writings have been published in (alphabetically) The A.V. Club, Electric Literature, The Establishment, Fusion, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Refinery 29, The Toronto Star, and most recently Time magazine.
Wrestling and martial arts fans can check out her posts on Vice Fightland. On Twitter she is @fodderfigure