profile: Mira Gonzalez
Nue Studio’s storefront sits inside a grandiose block-long building called the Hollywood Historic Hotel. The exterior is composed of old brick, and the ground floor is lined with large windows that open up to the hotel lobby and to Nue. Arched divots above house shining, golden gargoyle statues that look down at the patrons below.
By day, Nue Studio functions as a café and hair salon; by night, it is a bar and arts venue, which is when my friend and I arrive. Inside, the space appears red-hued and dim. From the sidewalk, I can see a woman lying on the ground, wearing a hoodie that is vertically divided into black and white halves. She is setting up a projector. It seems too early to go in, so we kill thirty minutes at the bar next door. When we finally enter, we walk into a room that’s about the size of a tennis court. A red light strikes the drywall and moves down to the tile floor. In the center, there is a square of upside-down CDs covered by a clear surface, so that people can walk on them. When the light hits them, it reflects like a laser, darting around the room.
Mira Gonzalez sits on a bench against the wall, directly across from me. She looks almost royal in her black long-sleeved dress, her forearms coated with gold bangles. She wears her hair halfway up, its tips tinged with pink and green. I recall one of her recent Tweets: “i’m in the midst of dyeing my hair to look like a watermelon.” With her left hand, she interlaces fingers with her boyfriend, Tyler; with her right, she cradles a glass of white wine. Everyone is either beside her, glancing over at her, or actively inching toward her. The crowd is cozy and intimate, made up of performers and close friends. It is the kickoff event of a new series called NO READINGS, in which writers are allowed to do anything but read their own work.
Each writer does something different. One author shows a slideshow of screenshots from The Hills and narrates an imaginary plotline in which Heidi Montag is almost indoctrinated into her boyfriend Spencer Pratt’s cult. Sorry House publisher Spencer Madsen breaks the rules by reading his stand-up routine, but everyone loves it and nobody cares. A duo performs an improv skit, and an intermission follows.
After about fifteen minutes of cigarettes, bathroom breaks, and trips to the bar, Gonzalez finally stands at the front of the room. She asks for three pre-selected volunteers to join her. She has them stand, spaced out, in front of the windows. She then picks six random volunteers from the crowd, two to accompany each of the aforementioned three. By pure luck, I am chosen as one of the crowd participants. Gonzalez gestures toward a wall of toilet paper behind her and then dumps out a bag of Halloween decorations: plastic spiders, green finger-wraps topped with witch nails, a pot leaf lei, vampire fangs, fake mustaches, and a creepy clear mask with painted eyelids. She tells the six of us to wrap the first three volunteers in toilet paper and then decorate them with this assortment of cheap costume goodies. We are told that “whoever has the best mummy will get a prize.”
Once Gonzalez tells us to begin, we swoop at the goodies as if they are the contents of a broken piñata. Toilet paper tears as it winds up the legs of our mummies, the wrappers rushing, worried time is running out. My partner and I wrap our mummy’s head so that she can’t see anything. She giggles as we stick a creepy clear mask over her toilet-papered face, then adhere a fake mustache. We adorn her neck with the weed lei. At the end of our five minutes, we are told to stop. Each mummy is voted on by the volume of the cheering crowd. When the voting is finished, Gonzalez comes over and crowns our mummy with a little plastic tiara.
Mira Gonzalez is a 23-year-old poet, columnist, essayist, Twitter celebrity, and self-proclaimed “fake DJ.” Her first book, i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together, was the first book published by Sorry House Press, and it was released when Gonzalez was only 20.
Gonzalez’s poetry and Tweets have received a great deal of attention. i will never be beautiful enough was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award as well as The Believer Poetry Award. She has received praise from a wide variety of media outlets, including The Quietus, VICE, The Rumpus, The Guardian, and Publisher’s Weekly. Emma-Lee Moss at The Guardian described Gonzalez best: she is “both punk and disinterested, both promiscuous and not particularly sexual.” Gonzalez’s poetry, she argued, sums up the confusion of existing in our modern, Internet-ubiquitous age.
The poems in Gonzalez’s collection are written in all lowercase letters. They do not draw from an excessive vocabulary, nor is there anything superfluous about her work. However, the titles of her poems are often quite long and they sometimes seem only loosely connected to the content that follows. When asked why she does this, Gonzalez confidently explains, “There’s no length limit to your title; it can express an idea unto itself. The space is not utilized enough.”
In some poems, she simply narrates personal experiences without directly expressing their emotional effects. For example, in “untitled 6,” she writes
last night you told me that everything in your life is a shade of light green I touched your leg under the table you spilled wine on my shoe the next morning we woke up thirsty and alone in our respective beds we allowed tenuously beautiful memories to momentarily occupy our minds
Often through intimate descriptions of life experiences, Gonzalez’s work explores themes such as dissociation, sex, and drugs. Her poetry also responds to a deep loneliness. Gonzalez repeatedly expresses frustration with boundaries, as manifested in skulls, atoms, or miles between bodies. “Your molecules are never mixing,” she tells me, creating a space between her hands. “There’s always an emotional and physical gap.” She informs me that her ideal form of communication would be telepathy. “You can express with your hands, your words, with your body, with smells. You know, anything,” she says. “But each one is imperfect in its own way, and you can’t really do all of them at once.”
Gonzalez’s most recent book, Selected Tweets, looks like a Bible. With its 1” x 4.2” x 6” dimensions, it is short and thick. The cover is black and resembles leather. On one side it reads MIRA GONZALEZ in small, gold letters, and on the other side it reads TAO LIN.
Many people know Tao Lin as the father of the alt lit community. The term “alt lit” was coined in 2011 to describe the kind of writing that was being published by places such as Muumuu House, a website and independent press that Lin founded in 2008, as well as at websites like HTMLGIANT and Pop Serial. Alt lit was heavily influenced by the Internet, often utilizing different social media such as Twitter or Facebook for both the creation of texts and to maintain the Internet presences that these writers utilize for self-promotion and online networking. Its texts incorporated many forms of expression, including but not limited to Tweets, Facebook statuses, and Gchats. As a genre, alt lit was usually self-deprecating, its content impulsive and sincere; it encompassed the immediacy and brevity of a Tweet.
In 2014, alt lit “died” due to multiple rape and sexual assault charges against men in the community. Some literary blogs and publishers shut down, and some of the accused men completely abandoned their public lives as writers, but most of its members have continued writing while still attending to similar styles. Though they now renounce the label “alt lit,” many of these writers continue to work together for the purposes of publishing and promotion.
Although alt lit has willed itself out of existence, Gonzalez’s work fits snugly into the Twitter-logo-shaped void it left behind, and it is no coincidence that Lin was the first person to publish her writing, in 2012. He found her Tweets to be “insanely funny,” and after receiving an appreciation e-mail from Gonzalez, he asked to post a selection of her Tweets on the Muumuu House website. He subsequently published some of her poems, most of which appeared later in her debut collection.
Both Lin and Gonzalez wanted Selected Tweets to be viewed as literature, rather than “just random thoughts on a website,” Gonzalez explains. The goal was to have a plotline for those who wanted to read something more like a novel, and to have a lot of Tweets that were funny on their own. They wanted the book to be something that “somebody who wants to read a novel-type thing could enjoy, and also somebody who has a Twitter-length attention span could enjoy, too.”
Gonzalez’s part of the collection includes amusing Tweets like “screamed and knocked over a glass of water because I thought my left foot was a rat” and “if you’re happy and you know it what the fuck.” There are silly drawings scattered about, which Gonzalez and Lin drew; the best one is a camel with human eyes and long eyelashes. And at the back of her side there are two “extras.” The first reads like a journal entry but is a review of sorts of the movie Blue Is the Warmest Color. In the essay, she explains that it was originally supposed to be a review of Blue, but she took too long to do it and didn’t want to tell other people how to feel about something so subjective. She then goes on to describe a bad breakup and an off-and-on relationship with another guy. She tells the story of how she and Lin got high and live-Tweeted Gravity (and how they were unable to live-Tweet 12 Years a Slave because of its serious and difficult content). It ends with the off-and-on boyfriend breaking up with her, but forgetting about it later when sober. “Luckily I have enough Xanax to kill a small army,” she writes. “I’m ready to face the world.”
The second “extra” reads like a story. In it, she and a guy named Peter do lots of drugs, drink a lot, go to a party, and have sex in a construction site, where they’re caught by cops. It ends when the cops leave, deciding they “have better things to do.”
Contained within a loose narrative, Selected Tweets supplies a palatable juxtaposition of extremely depressing and laugh-out-loud Tweets. Gonzalez and Lin work together to showcase a full qualitative spectrum of 140-character thoughts, staying true to the tenets of alt lit by making full use of the Internet as a platform for literary creation.
Gonzalez was born at home in Venice Beach, California, via midwife. She was raised in her mother’s childhood home, which her mother purchased from Gonzalez’s grandmother. She comes from a family of artists: her mother is a successful painter and collagist, her grandfather is a director, her great-grandfather was a screenwriter, her great-grandmother was a poet, and her stepfather is Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag. Her mother, brother, and Dukowski were in a band together, The Chuck Dukowski Sextet, while Gonzalez was growing up. Although she acknowledges that being surrounded by music and lyrics has greatly informed her writing, she laughs when I ask if she can play instruments or sing. “To this day, if you ask my mom she’d be like, ‘Mira has a beautiful voice, but she refuses to sing!’”
Gonzalez went to school in LA for psychology, but once she began getting published by Muumuu House and literary magazines such as Illuminati Girl Gang and The Quietus, she decided to focus on writing her book and then dropped out of school to move to New York. In most families, this might be a cause for concern, but not hers. “In my family, going into the arts is very much viewed as a viable career path,” she says, “and it’s something that’s okay to do and encouraged to do.
“Chuck, specifically, was a huge influence on me leaving school and pursuing writing. He would talk about how he was in school for neuroscience when Black Flag was becoming popular, and he was like, ‘Okay, well this band is becoming popular, and if I want to do this I’ve got to dedicate myself 100 percent,’ so he left school and started touring with Black Flag.” She is amazed when people go on to pursue careers in the arts without family support. “To grow up in a family of non-artists and then decide to become an artist must take so much determination, a lot of stubbornness, and a lot of believing in your own skill.”
Though she published her first book in New York, she quickly grew tired of the weather, the social pressure, and being away from her family. She lived there for only about a year before returning to LA. “I’m a real homebody,” she says with sincerity. “I like being at home. I like being able to isolate myself from people to be able to get things done or not get things done or whatever. It’s really hard to do that in New York.”
Gonzalez now writes a comedic bi-monthly column for VICE’s feminist channel, Broadly, where she fantasizes about New York parties from her apartment in LA. She has been working on a collection of personal essays for a long time, but does not expect it to come out any time soon. She says that she won’t ever quit writing poetry, but that her next project will likely be prose. She tells me that the prose she likes to read contains individual lines that can stand on their own as beautiful. The ability to put that into a longer prose piece is her ideal. She mentions how much she adores Chloe Caldwell’s Women.
When she isn’t traveling for readings or book tours, Gonzalez spends most of her time in LA. She often goes to Koreatown to babysit her little sister, Matilda, and she listens to a lot of One Direction and Taylor Swift. “Growing up in the family I grew up in,” she tells me, “you don’t get to like pop music. Chuck and my mom are very much punk rock.” She laughs. ”I think it must be some form of latent rebellion.”
Gonzalez repeatedly expresses frustration with boundaries, as manifested in skulls, atoms, or miles between bodies. “Your molecules are never mixing,” she tells me, creating a space between her hands. “There’s always an emotional and physical gap.”
Gonzalez, like many other writers in her cohort, is trying to move away from and beyond the limited confines of alt lit.
“It’s hard,” she explains. “I feel aversion to that term at this point. I think that I consider myself a part of the writing community and that I have found people through the alt lit community that I love and cherish and that have helped me so much, and whose writing I respect. And, mostly, I think that I wouldn’t have any kind of following if it weren’t for the alt lit community. But…”
Her voice trails off as she glances down, carefully considering her words. ”It’s weird, because writing in general and the literary world is something that is very old and tends to be kind of run by people of a different generation. I think that it’s really easy for people from big presses or people who’ve been in literature for a long time to view alt lit as something that isn’t valid or not worthy. Like, ‘Oh, you’re just another alt lit writer,’ like it’s just some person on the Internet who Tweets or whatever. It’s really easy for those type of people to dismiss you as being another alt lit whatever.” For that reason, she feels averse to any labeling at all.
But Gonzalez needs no label; her voice is a label in itself. Whether it be a fictional account of an absurd party in New York, a witty Tweet, or a gut-wrenching poem, her cadence and sense of humor are easily identifiable and uniquely hers. Her work reminds us that, although literary values are always evolving, insightful, honest writing will always stay in style.
Profile by Shy Watson. Photography by Jade Cruz Quinn and Shy Watson.