About Nathan Hansen
Nathan Douglas Hansen began his writing career in the Southwest penning a weekly column in a regional entertainment rag, before moving on to larger newspapers and magazines where his feature articles covered such notables as Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan, as well as celebrities Joey Pantoliano, Nick Nolte, and Mariel Hemingway.
SS: Can you tell me a little bit about the title, Forget You Must Remember (Jaded Ibis Press, 2015)?
NH: I was workshopping the book my last year of graduate school at Antioch University Los Angeles, and I think I submitted it under the title “Numb.” Steve Heller, the chair of the Creative Writing Department, led discussion on the book, and he jotted “Forget You Must Remember” on the cover of his copy of the manuscript. I immediately adopted the title, though couldn’t help but wonder if Steve didn’t simply modify the title of his own nonfiction collection, “What We Choose to Remember,” and pass it on. Either way, the cleverness, or passing of the torch, if you will, stuck. I took the recommendation and ran with it.
Coincidentally, it’s exactly how I felt, and still feel. When a person shares such a revealing story about mental illness as my book does, it leaves them quite vulnerable. Judged. Granted, there’s courage in admitting a struggle, however there’s also an immense stigma. I can’t tell you how many strained relationships I’ve had with people that I’ve shared my diagnosis. More often than not, I’ve lost a lot of close friendships because they feel the need to distance themselves from the crazy. Ironically, nowadays I’m no crazier than the person reading the book. We all have our demons.
As of late, I’ve become more active within my community. I’m involved with a regional organization to promote mental health. I’m working with a veterans group, and I mentor at-risk youth at a boarding school. In a short while I’ll begin a program for licensure in counseling. When I think of the title I’m often at odds, wondering if it’s best to repeatedly mull over the past, or erase it from the mind. Remembering horrors of one’s life can do one of two things; decimate or motivate. For me, I don’t want to relive what I’ve experienced by making the same mistakes, so I feel the need to recall such emotional events. My memory serves me passively, so I don’t downward spiral actively. Remembering helps as it allows me a context to relate to other, whether it’s a troubled teen, adult struggling with depression, or a veteran with PTSD. I think it’s why memoirists tend to stick with autobiography. Not only are they working on themselves, their stories tend to heal others who are able to find a familiar thread and not feel so alienated. The thing is, whereas many writers are able to promote their work as a part of themselves, I feel indifferent. People read the book and ask me questions, and I feel so fucking naked. I feel so judged. Here I am with an inspiring job, a loving family, a bright future, and I can’t help but think this person just read my diary of sorts. I get embarrassed. But that’s ego, I suppose. So, I guess as I explore the question about the title, my best answer would be, I hope to forget. My past is an obvious part of me that’s formed me to be who I am today. It was necessary. It was designed. But it isn’t me now. I’d rather live in the present.
SS: What drove you to write this book?
NH: I’d been a writer for a few years, writing feature articles and columns for newspapers and magazines throughout the Southwest and Iowa. My girlfriend at the time – wife now – passed me a Post It note attached to an article I had written. It said, “This is why you should write a novel.” As I do with many things, I took it and ran with it, enrolling in graduate school to surround myself with people who immersed themselves in the craft. I struggled my first year. I tried too hard telling the stories of half-assed fictional characters that weren’t quite developed yet. I pushed too hard. Rushed it.
I took this problem to Leonard Chang, a mentor and friend. He recognized my struggle and asked me to quit the blatant fiction, and rather fabricate something from reality. He asked that I make a list of various life events. The next day I returned to him with a list of bullet pointed moments, ranging from being a teenage father to trying out for Major League Baseball at age 30 to becoming institutionalized while on active duty for the Army. It became quite apparent I had other stories to tell before I could pull something from my imagination. For both of us, it seemed as if I needed to exorcise the nonfiction before entering fiction. To kill two birds with one stone, and because I had a difficult time confessing myself, I decided to write autobiographical fiction, which is essentially a chicken shit memoir. It leaves people guessing at what’s real and what isn’t. It certainly doesn’t help my cause with people who really want to get to know me.
I eventually realized I needed to get this experience off my chest. It’s a story people want to hear about, then wish they never knew. I’d told it enough to people I felt close to, but later realized it created a deeper chasm between us. For me, it became a standup routine of self-deprecation and sadness, and I was exhausted telling it to people and never knowing what their reaction may be. In the end, I wrote the book so I didn’t have to tell the story anymore. It doesn’t make the idea of a book tour and lecture circuit feel very promising, that’s for sure.
SS: What was the hardest part of writing FYMR?
NH: The most difficult part of writing “Forget You Must Remember” was the revision process. I’d written the book over a long weekend, separated from my partner and youngest son after a series of stupid decisions and subsequent stint in a psychiatric ward. I was staying at a friend’s trailer, sleeping on a deflated air mattress, when I did sleep. In a manic haze, I bellied up to his kitchen counter within arm’s reach of a gallon of Ernest & Julio wine and a microwave where I nuked the occasional Hot Pocket, and I wrote a book. Aside from the physical strain of staying up for extended hours, I deteriorated mentally, culminating multiple psychiatric visits into one story, remembering horrid details that I’d noted on papers and brought back home upon each return. I was re-reading medical records I’d kept, using those accounts for the third-person footnotes in the story to add another perspective. Granted, it was a wonderful feeling coming into the last chapter, but the end was only a reminder of the present which I wasn’t awfully proud of. But the revisions. Fuck. When you write about things you’d rather not remember and have to relive it over and over again, making sure to articulate it in the best way. Damn. After a while, I had to stop the revision. I bought into the lie that my book needed to have an authentic feel of when I originally wrote the book. In reality, I tired of reading about me. I only wish I could have added a preface that explained I was in a drunken manic stupor while I did so. It might explain any disconnect.
SS: What were you reading while working on FYMR?
NH: I’ve always been drawn to social commentary, which is why I chose to attend AULA. I wanted to surround myself with conscious people who felt compelled to tell inspirational and socially relevant stories. At the same time, I was attracted to fiction that challenged the traditional idea of what a book could be aesthetically as well as emotionally. I read David Foster Wallace, Mark Z. Danielewski, Georges Perec, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Allison, Rob Roberge. In the end, I felt I’d understood the way I wanted to convey my message which was to combine memoir with experimental fiction. I wanted to write in second person to create an instant impact, but include a third person perspective that narrated a different truth. The only way to write is to read, and I felt the writers I consumed pointed me in the right direction. If anything, they informed me, and I’ve used their voices to tell my own story.
SS: What are five adjectives you would use to sum up the work?
NH: Relevant. Consuming. Revealing. Honest. Sad.
SS: What drink would you say best characterizes the work? You don’t have to name a specific brand (unless you want to).
NH: As much as I hate the (mis)conception that writing and drinking go hand-in-hand, I love this question. As much as I preach against the apocryphal Hemingway, “Write drunk. Edit sober,” method, that’s pretty much how this book was birthed. It grew out of recklessness. My roommate and I drank Ernest & Julio Gallo by the gallon while I wrote this, but I wouldn’t recommend that rot unless you hated your body. I wouldn’t recommend any beer, probably because I connect beer with a fleeting good time. Beer and fish tacos, not beer and a mental collapse memoir. I might suggest wine, but it would have to be a chardonnay. For some reason, in the deep recesses of my mind I feel white wine drinkers are overly sentimental and morose, perfect for this book. But the go-to drink, despite what I drank during it’s conception and my imagination, has to be something hard. I imbibe on scotch on occasion. Rum. But there have been a handful of gin moments that relate very much to this book. Gin moments that start off comforting and fun, only to wake with a scolding headache wondering what the hell happened the night before. That’s the book in a nutshell, the experience of living and writing it. A crazy rollercoaster that leaves people offended in its wake. Others in awe, seemingly perplexed in an awkward manner only they can explain. Others, nodding, relating, but quiet. Others yet, unassuming. The sip, slam, and sudden catapult into ultimate inebriation, followed by remorse, knowing you really can’t erase anything. No purging this away. Of course, I’m not that drinker anymore. Art is my high.
SS: What are you working on now?
NH: I’ve been writing a nonfiction series for Entropy Magazine this past year called “Sans Meds,” but I’m beginning to feel that I’ve either exhausted the possibilities of what I want to write about that’s actually pertinent to people or I’m simply exhausted. What’s inspired me as of late are the tiny details of novels, primarily the minor characters, or characters that have little to no role at all. What I’ve been interested in doing is bringing to life the subtleties of those minor characters in major works. For some reason, I’m drawn to these people, and am amazed how when so little is written about them how well they stand out. With that said, I’m still intrigued with the human condition, in particular breaking points. What I’ve decided to do is research a number of fictional characters that have committed suicide. I’ve read the numerous works that contain select characters and focused on those minor roles, and I’m trying to tap into that state of mind, that character’s condition on the brink, and write their suicide note. I’ve written a few so far, and it’s been trying attempting to coordinate a complimentary voice from varied time periods and regional dialects, not to mention consider each complex plot that drove them to death. But there’s something about having the final words that keep me going. I’m intrigued, probably because I understand suicide. I understand the inability to see a way out, and writing that note. There isn’t foresight, and if there is it’s all doom and gloom. Mostly it’s a haunting past and nightmarish present. I get it, and this project will allow me to explain those feelings of finality to readers. I suppose, to me, it’s not just having the last word, it’s also providing closure. I plan on releasing these “notes” regularly as another series, and then turning them into a book. Shuffling things out with modest deadlines is a great way to produce. The topic I’ve chosen just goes to show you I’m not quite done healing. The thought is always lingering in the back of my mind. I’d just prefer not to write my own any time soon.
Inspiration: A take on the prohibition-era cocktail, The Last Word, this adds a little extra for a little more of a “rollercoaster” ride.
- 1.5 oz gin
- 1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- 1 oz Creme De Violette
- 1 oz Maraschino liqueur
Method: Shake all ingredients but Maraschino with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Float Maraschino on top.