Expanding the Comfort Zone: An Interview with Sabina Crowley

Sabina Crowley catches up with great weather for MEDIA editor, Thomas Fucaloro. 

Sabina Crowley grew up in Coney Island, NY, and studied philosophy at the New School University. She now lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Her creative non-fiction work "Asshole" is currently grabbing a lot of attention. Find it in our anthology It's Animal but Merciful.

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TF: So it seems like you had an average typical suburban upbringing in terms of setting but, on articles I've read about you, your father had a cocaine problem. Would you care to elaborate on that a little more?

SC: Actually, it wasn't suburban or average. However, I do choose a suburban setting for lots of my writing because it's the most convenient way to establish the American back-drop that serves, in a stereotypical way, the issues I try to tackle with my stories. I guess my fiction fits a bit into that category: creative non-fiction. I actually grew up in Coney Island, where I was raised by a cocaine dealer and addict. I had a life of having to keep other people’s secrets; aware I could be taken away from my parents because of my family's lifestyle. I had to do things like work off my Dad's cocaine debt at a mafia-run restaurant all through high school and I was regularly subjected to his crazy coked up friends' rants and ramblings in their narcissistic cocaine states, 80’s style. I was exposed to and participating in, by default, a scene most kids weren't even aware of.

TF: How do you fuse your past with your present writing?

SC: I am less interested in telling my own life story than using my life experiences to challenge the status quo, challenge cultural norms and mores. I use my autobiographical experiences to write from but I embellish, imagine and change things up, in order to best explore a critical look at our oppressive society and serve my own personal agenda. I have a mission in my work to expand people’s minds, get them more familiar and comfortable with radical ideas like atheism, polyamory, suicide, hedonism, transgender identity, bisexuality, S&M, chemically induced psychedelic states, alternative medical treatment, homebirth and homedeath. I explore the ethical attributes of what is popularly considered unethical and/or irresponsible and through that I examine morality. Basically, I’m trying to change the world.

TF: Has cocaine influenced your writing or life?

SC: I’m sure. Just by the fact that my initial experience was in a cocaine den in the 1980’s. Cocaine informed me by being at the foundation of my experience, unfortunately; but it certainly has provided me with unique material and a perspective that inspired me to be a writer, which I am glad for.

TF: Pornography seems to be an interest of yours, why is watching naked skin fuck other naked skin so satisfying?

SC: We all come from sex! Sex is literally the action that creates us, that’s why it interests us, that's why it’s satisfying. People are lonely creatures and when we willfully and mutually unite in sex acts, the singularity of self communes with another and we’re freed from our isolation momentarily. "The beast with two backs" as Shakespeare calls it, saves us from our loneliness and is great fun to be with or even just watch. People have always been satisfied by sexual images. The world's oldest reproduction of a human is a female torso figurine carved in ivory at least 35,000 years ago. Sculptures of the naked human body and specifically sculptures of the torso with exaggerated sex organs, constitutes a large portion of the earliest art made. Most everyone is drawn towards sexiness, it elicits a response that is electrifying, that brings you into the present- aware of how alive you are. Our culture purports that watching other people have sex is bad, even though it has clearly been an interest of humans forever. There are pornographic elements in my work and this connects to what I was saying before about my desire to challenge popular conceptions of what constitutes morality. Even though pornography is ubiquitous around the world and throughout human history—proving its inherent value to us, society stigmatizes it as being bad. Beloved famous people have been cast out of favor, even blacklisted, if they are found consuming pornography. The sexual repression that plagues our society is exactly the sort of thing I'm committed to challenging and my stories are working to expand people’s minds and comfort zones, so that we can live and express ourselves more fully and get more out of our human experience.

TF:  There’s some speculation as to who your real parents are, can you elaborate more on that?

SC: I discovered the truth of my origin as a mature adult and it changed my understanding of my history, really shaking up my own perception. Exploring that experience inspired me to write the story, "Secret" that is being published in the magazine Hanging Loose, issue #101; so if you're interested in that, you know where to look.

TF: Let’s talk about your new piece "Asshole" from the It’s Animal but Merciful anthology. Where did that idea come from?

SC: Our society holds so many negative conceptions about amazing things and these beliefs are detrimental to us realizing ourselves to our full potential, prohibiting us from discovering so much joy. Popular beliefs are what drive us to judge each other and ourselves. In the interest of the advancement of society, I try to shed new light on old ideas. I want my work to make the reader critical of their own thoughts and reactions. I want to encourage people to not be so convinced of or limited by their own comfort zones. Often, propaganda or habit is informing us more than our own intellect or personal experience. Examine your thoughts and be aware of where they're coming from. The asshole is a perfect example of something people deny themselves the exploration of because of society's attitude toward it. I hope for my work to cultivate a greater diversity in the kinds of relationships we have with people and things, to be inspired to let ourselves experience more, to push the limits, to discover our edges, to break through them, to be unconfined by culture or self. To be free.

TF: Are you writing about yourself in this piece or are you totally fictionalizing this adventure in print?

SC: I am writing about an aspect of myself. I am not totally fictionalizing the adventure but there is definitely fiction.

TF: One of my favorite lines in "Asshole" is "The most foul creations of humanity emanate from mouths, though it is the asshole that has the bad reputation." It really sets a nice tone in your writing of this piece. Was that intentional? Do the words come first, or does the tone of the piece come first?

SC: Tone is something I can't claim as a strategy. Writing, for me, is an impulse. I have the idea for the words first, and then I write them down my best, in a passionate state. The tone reveals itself to me through the words and I support and shape from there. I'm inspired by real events—sometimes embellished and sometimes straight. These tableaux ideas generate the essays and stories that are building my novel.

TF: What’s next for Sabina Crowley?

SC: There is a publisher interested in the manuscript I'm working on, which thrills me! But in order to pull it together, I am publishing my stories individually in beautiful letterpress editions, singularly, in chapbook form. Collect them all!

Read "Asshole" in It's Animal but Merciful.

Sabina will be reading at our events in Berkeleyand San Francisco on November 11th and 15th 2012