“Because I could not speak, because I could not say, when interrogated in that courtroom, We are a family—because women have bodies that can lead to the unraveling of everything—we lost my little brother.”
In Natalie Singer’s memoir, California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, (Hawthorne Books, 2018), the author lays out all manner of forces to evacuate a silenced voice, a self she lost at sixteen years old. California Calling is the remembering of a mosaic of experiences, growing up female in a divided family, within the myths of California—a state that promised becoming and belonging.
California Calling was first runner-up for the Red Hen Press nonfiction prize and a finalist for the Autumn House Press nonfiction prize. Natalie Singer holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington.
Our interview was conducted by phone and email, linking Seattle, Savannah, and New York City.
Christine Sang (Rail)Natalie, your memoir begins with a prologue, the memory of being on a witness stand. You write that the moment called on you not only to speak of adultery, but “to testify about who I am, what I am. Who we have allowed inside of us. I must defend the women in my family, all the way back, and every girl and woman who ever was.”
Natalie SingerAll of this started with that obsessive memory. It would come back to me in dreams. Basically, it haunted me. I’d ask myself for a long time, “what does this memory want me to do with it?” I was on a courtroom witness stand. I remember it not being fun; it was upsetting. Life seemed kind of different after that. The memory wouldn’t go away. What does this memory want from me? I followed that down the track, and started making broader connections. What does society want from us? When are we allowed to speak and when are we silenced? What if we can’t silence ourselves? I did some research into trauma. I came across this idea that you’re not necessarily able to forget trauma until you’ve done testimony about it and born witness to it. It’s not about going public, but you’re looking at it and you’re talking through what happened in the way a witness might do. We can’t process something that’s traumatic that happens to us in the moment. We can only do it later, and there’s an importance to bearing witness to that.
To read the complete interview, go to The Brooklyn Rail.