Interview with Megan Russo, author of A Daughter for Mr. Spider

Interviewed by Marie A Bailey

I’m fascinated by the format of your memoir, A Daughter for Mr. Spider. You combine flash narrative, poetry, photos and collage. How did you decide on this format?

I started with everything fragmented and slowly wove it all together. I was working on poetry and really trying to find my footing with that medium when I came across some old photos of my grandfather and me. I had been put in charge of making a photo montage for my grandfather’s funeral, and I sort of took all of the physical copies of the two of us once the event was done. My family was one of those 90’s families that documented EVERYTHING. So, I’m very lucky to have those memories captured in a way that I can preserve. As I looked through the photos, I began to get so emotional as I thought about the people in my life who never really got to meet him, and I  think that was what kicked off the idea of bringing my memories together into a chapbook. I studied printmaking in college and had done a lot of work with artist books. So, I knew I wanted to do something out of the box and blend all the media that I’m passionate about into a single work of art.

When I read memoirs, I often look for connections, commonalities between the author’s life and my own. Some parts of your memoir were painful to read so I imagine they must have been painful to write about. How was it for you to write about this pain?

It was honestly pretty difficult to explore. I’ve always carried around a lot of guilt when it comes to my mother. I have felt for so long that I robbed her of a future and people will say, “No, it’s not your fault” or things of that nature, but I keep some very negative thoughts inside of me and just let them haunt me. I have let this phantom crime eat away at me for years. I’ve always been very aloof on the subject, but when I was younger, and I lived with her as well as my grandparents, I had so much anxiety from just being worried that I was a burden. I just have always been afraid and kept myself guarded. I would spend as much time as I could working and struggling to be outgoing, because I was running away from my family. As I was writing, I would just stare at the page and think, “Wow, why did I let myself be so unhappy? Why didn’t I say anything?” but I don’t think I could have. I just wanted my mom to be happy, and I had no way of knowing if she truly was, but I wanted her to be even if that meant I was unhappy.

I had been very lucky in life to have never lost someone very close to me, until I lost my grandfather. He was someone who was very charismatic and witty in the public eye, but like me was very reserved with his own issues and thoughts. There was a kinship that I felt with him that I’ve never felt with another person, and when he passed, I almost felt betrayed at first. During his final hospital stay everything had been so secretive, his doctors weren’t sharing information, and I was just getting enraged, because I thought he would never keep something from me. And in this moment he was, but I didn’t know how to address it. However, now I knew he just didn’t want to be a burden to me. The one thing I had always feared, was his fear as well. And then I found it hard to be mad anymore. We were quite the pair. Writing about the whole situation gave me time to reflect on that and realize that my anger and betrayal were rooted in something so like the baggage I’ve chosen to carry. We shared a pain that we couldn’t share with each other.

In relatively few pages, your memoir spans three generations—your father and mother, yourself, and your grandfather—and a bounty of emotions—confusion, fear, anger, love and grief. How did you distill the years and emotions covered in your memoir to less than fifty pages? How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?

This was hard for me. I struggle so much with editing in many aspects of my life. I am one of those people that wants to throw everything out there and really make sure that I don’t miss an opportunity to inject another detail to help my readers fully visualize. I actually spent a lot of time talking with my husband about it and he helped me to streamline and finesse pieces to fit in the proper places so that there would be a smooth flow to the collection. I explained to him what I was hoping people would feel or get out of it, and he was the one who really encouraged me to blend more of the images in, which I feel helped give moments of breathing room between the poetry and prose. He also was very encouraging when it came time to submit the collection and I almost didn’t. I was nervous in a way that I had never really felt before, but I’m glad I took the leap and sent the chapbook in for review [Editor’s Note: we’re glad you did, too, Megan!].

I really wanted to include a section about my grandmother or my great-grandmother, because my great-grandmother, especially, is a foil to my grandfather. But I wanted to keep the section of my family tree tighter and trimmer so that the characters included could be more defined and there wouldn’t be confusion about who was who. Also, there honestly wasn’t a good spot to inject another person into the narrative in my opinion. We have two explorations of relationships between four different people and adding a fifth person would throw everything off balance. But if I was going to add more, it would have been grandma content.

Your memoir reads like a path to self-healing. You write, “Learn to forgive and then dress the wounds of self-harm.” Learning to forgive is possibly one of the hardest things to do. Could you elaborate on how or what methods you used to heal, to “learn to forgive”?

I’ve done a lot of things to start my healing process. I’ve written, which has been a wonderful way of getting my thoughts out and letting the negativity leave me. Putting words on a page can be so liberating and I get a rush of energy when I finish a piece of poetry or prose. Like, “Yes! This thing is out of me!” But the biggest thing I’ve done is seeking professional help. I recognized that there are some things that you cannot tackle alone or expect your loved ones to solve for you, and that is why counselors and therapists exist! Having a neutral party to help you navigate your thoughts can be life
changing and I have learned skills that work to help me with combating my wavering emotions. But I still think I have a long way to go. I make time each day to be thankful for myself, taking a few moments to reflect on something positive that happened or just something funny that might have come out of a bad situation. Taking a step back from the world around you, and just giving your body a chance to breathe can make a huge difference in your mental health.

Did you have an audience in mind while you worked on your memoir?

I didn’t have an audience in mind, but I did have an emotion. I wanted the collection to be relatable in some way to the reader. Loss is something that many people struggle to navigate, and it is something that most people have felt at some point in their lives. So, I started with the concept of loss, but wanted to go beyond that and come out on the other side in a beyond the darkness resolution. I wanted the reader to see that they are not alone and that finding their way through their emotions is a process we create ourselves.

If you were invited to read from A Daughter for Mr. Spider, what part of your memoir would you read from, and why?

I would read from the Mr. Spider section. I wrote this chapbook to primarily capture the relationship I had with my grandfather. I also feel like the beginning of that section embodies the joy I want people to feel. My grandfather is a cherished memory, and I’d love to share any bit of happiness that I can with those around me as it relates to  him.

I struggle with titles. How did you come up with A Daughter for Mr. Spider?

I used to say that, “I was the fifth daughter that my grandfather never wanted”, and it would make him so mad that I would say things like that, because he wanted me in his life. He wanted to keep me close to him and devoted a lot of time into making sure I knew that he cared for me. I was a daughter to him more than a granddaughter. The one time I really noticed the difference in the way I was stationed within the family was when we were planning my grandfather’s funeral. I was included in all the meetings with the funeral director and voiced my opinions about how things should be done. I was the one who wrote his obituary, even. I was the only person out of my generation of the family to be part of this circle, and it really made me think about my position within the family.

I chose the spider as my creature focus in this collection, because they are very aloof and reserved creatures. Yet, they make such elegant webs and sort of put on a display for those around them. My grandfather and I were like that as well, very cautious yet always trying to keep those around us impressed. Spiders are often portrayed as tricksters in literature and that imagery suits my grandfather well. He was very quick with his wit and always ready with some sort of practical joke or prank. There are so many stories I could have added that would have injected humor into the collection, but those are maybe for another time.

What are you working on now? Do you have any more publications planned or hoped for?

I am currently working on a second collection called, The one who makes all the sacrifices, exploring the different jobs I’ve had over the years and some of the interesting people I’ve had a chance to work with. I hope to have it done by the end of this year; fingers crossed!

A Daughter for Mr. Spider

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