elle nash he writes as if he had just come out of a black hole, simply to invent the knife. She is the Author of animals eat each other and collection of stories naked – but no blade is as sharp as its recent release, gag reflex. Comprised of a series of LiveJournal diary entries and set in the shrill throes of 2005, gag reflex follows Lucy, on the verge of finishing high school, and on the verge of her own body, compulsively sharing her life online. In a comprehensive exploration of eating disorders, teen pain, and the Internet, gag reflex he puts the blade against his skin, and casts an unflinching gaze at the obsession.
Another unexpected emotion (those that may not be due to Elle being a proven powerhouse) is that gag reflex is a quiet and unannounced sequel. In the final act, the protagonist, Lucy, identifies herself as Animals eat each other Lilith, merging the two worlds and connecting the bodily brutality contained within each book. The pairing works wonderfully, allowing more feedback on how pain evolves in our aging bodies.
Did you know that you were writing a prequel from the beginning? or did you find gag reflex connection to animals eat each other by the way?
I don’t think I intentionally set out when I started making a prequel, it just came out perfect. When animals a lot of people came out speculating that, oh, one day I might be like Anaïs Nin writing her diaries and just admit, ‘these are all true things’. I just thought, what if I publish a Livejournal and connect it to that world? Something like ‘fuck off, stop speculating’.
The other thing, too – in gag reflex, there are all these seeds. Like, little germinating seeds of obsession. And obsession with masochism and sadism that are really just beginning to manifest in this character. So I felt like he provided a really good background to explain where the previous characters came from.
Has the internet changed / do you miss the old internet?
Yes, I absolutely miss the old internet. I hate that we all visit the same website every day and sit on it, scrolling. It’s like walking down the same street every day, but then you see the same faces. It’s nice to see the same faces all the time, but the buildings are always the same and the weather is always the same. The weather in particular is never different, and the time of day is never different. That’s what it feels like to visit social networks. It just gets old after a while.
But, that’s where all your friends are. That’s where all the familiar faces are. So if you deviate from that, let’s say you go down an alley and you say, yeah, I’m going to go to this different nightclub. Well, no one else is fucking there. No one. There are not even people there. Maybe there’s one person, and they’re kind of gross and you’re like I really don’t want to talk to this person.. Or, they all go to the nightclub for a while, but then forget about it and never come back. You know?
So I definitely miss the old internet. I think there was this level of anonymity where you could exist and not build a reputation. I think there are young people who do use Twitter and Instagram that way now. No influence chase, which is good. So maybe it’s wrong of me to say that the internet sucks now, because I think that world still exists, but because I chose to have a public persona as a writer, it’s changed for me. Because now my name is attached and maybe I feel like there’s something at stake in that.
Now I feel more observed and I don’t like that so much. Maybe that’s all.
Obviously, eating disorders can be a trigger topic for both writing and reading. Did you have to set any limits for yourself or your audience when you were writing? gag reflex?
I definitely didn’t put weights in the book because I didn’t feel like it was necessary for the reader to have them. I think there is a tendency to judge oneself by weights in general. For someone to say, ‘oh, maybe that’s not so low.’ That’s the eating disorder voice in my head saying, ‘if you put this weight on, someone is going to sit there and say, oh, that’s not low enough.’ That the suffering is not deep enough. I also think it could potentially make someone else say, ‘I think I could make it to that weight and I want to make it to that weight.’ So, I didn’t put them on purpose.
But as for the experience of everything else, I didn’t think about the borderline aspect.
Do you feel that writing about eating disorders sometimes feels more taboo than other offending topics, like drug addiction? Because of the hierarchical nature and competitive culture involved in eating disorders?
I guess it seems like a little taboo, because it’s like a different kind of addiction than doing something like coke. I mean, having a coke or drinking habit is certainly dangerous and it’s hard to abstain, but also, eating disorders are very specifically hard because you need to interact with one of the main triggers of your addiction every day in order to survive. Exposure therapy is not an option. It is a requirement. It can be a little taboo in that sense.
I had to go through a lot of old diaries and old photos, and it’s unleashing. It’s easy for me to just sit back and fall into that world. I could sit and obsessively examine photographs or go through my old journals and read them for hours, and I know they are interesting to me because they are about me and my illness. So, you could say it’s a trigger because it obsesses me.
I didn’t relapse or anything while writing the book, and I think it was because the very act of writing became obsessive for me. I think I was editing and writing different manuscripts eight to ten hours a day for weeks and weeks at a time. I’d sit at my computer and work until my body was like, I’m physically too tired. I am hungry now. Then he’d eat and come back and do it again, you know.
Then I do not know. I think I learned about myself. That I have these obsessive tendencies and that the obsession is always going to be there, but maybe where I focus is something that I can change and make work for me in a productive way.
I read gag reflex twice, and both times I got over it in the space of a day. How was your pace as a writer? Similar to Lucy’s emotional chaos or more meditative?
I feel like obsession and meditation go hand in hand in a way. Obsession is like the chronic disease version of meditation. It is a sick type of crop. Meditation also has to do with cultivation. One hand is about avoiding and increasing momentum and intensity and the other is about acceptance, equanimity and space.
I honestly don’t remember how long it took me to write this book because it was during COVID, which wasn’t a good mental time for me or a lot of people, so I think time got compressed. I find it hard to believe that two years have passed. I think in 2020 I wrote something like 300,000 words.
When the new year rolled around, I was so exhausted that it was impossible for me to try to pick up a regular writing habit the way I had been. And I don’t think he’s been able to pick up that same momentum since then.
Reading gag reflexWhat stands out the most, above the brutality involved in eating disorder communities, is the seriousness of your characters. It is clear that you, as an author, have a real respect for adolescent pain. What do you think we can learn from the particular way adolescents process emotions and express themselves?
I still remember what it’s like to be a teenager. I think people are quick to write off teenage girls a lot. They feel so deeply and openly, and there’s a lot of vulnerability. But there’s a lot of fear in that vulnerability because they’ve just reached the point where their childhood trauma starts to take hold and starts to express itself in the way we relate to other people. That’s what makes it so hard to deal with, because you have all the effects of what happened in your childhood, but you don’t have the self-awareness per se to understand the context. So, you’re like caught in the storm.
I explicitly remember having a hard time with that and with my feelings. When I was thirteen, really before my self-harm habits started to take hold, I expressed in my journals that I wanted to have these habits. I wanted to be complex and in pain. I wanted to hurt myself and I did the first couple of attempts where you’re like ‘I’ll scratch myself with a safety pin’ or whatever, and then everyone at school calls you an attention whore or a phony.
When you look at that behavior from the perspective of an adult, well, an empathetic adult, you would see a person who actually it is asking for help but you don’t know how, maybe you don’t know which way to ask for help. So obviously I clearly had some issues, but it’s just that I didn’t know the right way to get that help. . On the one hand, people would say, ‘he’s just faking it, he doesn’t really need help, he’s just looking for attention’; well, needing attention is still a problem in real life. So why did he need that? What was I not getting at home or from my parents or from my interpersonal life, that I felt I needed to do that? I definitely have a lot of respect and reverence for that experience. I think about that a lot now that I’m a parent, and how I can do it differently to break cycles of parental trauma.
The book has a particular relationship with music. How did music influence the writing process? What is your favorite song that appears on gag reflex?
I really love nu metal and I love that specific period of time. I think for a while it seemed really out of style, but then it hit this new level of cool again for being so out of style. Where people ironically use Limp Bizkit t-shirts, but the first CDs I bought were actually Limp Bizkit CDs. My dad bought them for me for Christmas when he was twelve, and then he heard me listening to them and then he took them from me! He said the lyrics weren’t appropriate because it was misogynistic, which is really funny because my dad is a fucking asshole with women.
I think the most fundamental song for me is Otep’s ‘Blood Pigs’. I think it’s very important. Otep sings a lot about sexual trauma and CSA, and the pain he expresses really comes through. The lyrics, specifically from ‘Blood Pigs’ are like poetry. For me there was nothing like his anger and frustration. They really are a step above any lyricism of the time, in my opinion.
Two Frankenstein the quotes appear at the beginning of the book. what relationship does gag reflex I have to go to Mary Shelley’s house Frankenstein?
Frankenstein It is probably one of the best books I have ever read. It’s so good. It is a book about despair and the pain of existence. I guess that’s how I feel about having an eating disorder. How I feel about having a body and being a person. When you suffer with that, you feel like that monster. You pray to be abandoned, right? Which is more or less what Frankenstein’s monster does: he tries. He tries to have a life. Try to interact. He tries to convince the doctor to make him a wife. he runs away. It’s like, ‘why am I here?’ Like, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ I think that’s kind of the experience of having an eating disorder. You’re in this sense of despair where you’re not going to end your existence, but you don’t really want to exist either, and you feel so horrible about who you are and how people interact with you and see you, that there’s no way out. The body is a terrible, terrible cage. The body is a vessel for pain.