The Back Two Legs of the Co-Chair
By Mark Feigenbutz Photos by Amanda Tyler
I interviewed Dana Levin. I did not know what I was doing. I asked her some questions. I asked her more questions and she gave me more answers than I will relate here. Where will those unrelated questions and answers go? I do not know. I imagine they will continually question and answer themselves in an infinite loop in some journalism lost world, where the bones of questions and their respective answers wither in the weather of inexperienced journalism.
Dana Levin would have appreciated that introductory paragraph. Not to use the phrase “would have” as if she were dead, because she wasn’t and she’s not. Indeed, she’s very much alive, more than your average living being. Does that mean she possesses superhuman abilities? Kind of. She’s the co-chair of the Creative Writing department and she’s co-chair because I assume that half of her baddassnes is all the Creative Writing department could handle.
I did my best to take on the other half.
I started out with a surefire bombshell of an inquiry. (If I, in fact, invented the following strategy, then I should be waived from Journalistic Collaborations with some sort of letter from the Greek alphabet that is above A.)
Question 1: What question do you like to be asked most in interviews?
I know. Brilliant. Dana laughed and hesitated and then laughed some more. It was interesting the level of self-consciousness that such a question surely elicits and how one could measure the quality of a person’s character based on whether or not they actually gave you a revealing response. Dana did, so I let the interview continue.
She said that something that people never ask her is, “Talk to me about the unconscious.”
I did not light her desk on fire, beat my chest and scream, “That no question!”
She continued, “I think that from a teaching perspective, engaging in exercises with students that are meant to bypass the rational mind are hugely effective… So there’s different ways of employing that in a writing exercise where you have a finite structure but you’re using the operations of chance, and for some reason that paradox of chance operation inside of a finite structure yields really interesting material and useable material that can bypass the rational, intentional mind.”
What she said sounded intriguing, so I decided to give it a try. Here is every fifth word of her answer composed in a sentence: “Dana is smart.”
I went on to ask her a few more questions which I shall never tell, so don’t even ask. After those questions that I asked that I’ll never relate to you – ever – I asked her one that I presently will.
Question 2: How do you see feminism evolving in the 21st century, and where would you like it to go?
Her immediate response was, “Woah,” further testimony to my journalistic excellence. She continued, “That’s such an interesting question…” (Stop, you’re embarrassing me!) “…because there isn’t one kind of feminism at play these days, I mean, you have some women coming forward and talking about their engagement with traditional femininity; it’s almost like the female version of drag, except you’re a female who’s in female drag, this idea of your high heels and your makeup and you’re shaving your armpits and shaving your vagina and you’re just totally presenting yourself as the traditional, conventional idea of femininity is, in itself, a feminine act – if you’re doing it in some way that’s conscious.”
So, turns out, that one time I was little and put my mom’s high heels on makes me a feminist. Phew, that’s a relief. But seriously, this was, in addition to matters of the unconscious, one of the topics for which Dana has palpable passion, and of which she presents forward-thinking conundrums – which encapsulated Dana’s attitude as a whole. She seems to enjoy balancing on the back two legs of her life’s chair and has a definite need to search for satisfy an insatiable curiosity.