Molly Cross-Blanchard is Fully Exposed
The "Exhibitionist" author on post-COVID parties, social faux pas, and the first poet who inspired her.
VANCOUVER – After more than a year stuck indoors, it feels safe to say that socializing has never seemed more stimulating, or more shocking. Meeting strangers. Swapping stories. Exposing yourself outside the confines of the screen. For some it’s a stress-inducing scenario. For writer and poet Molly Cross-Blanchard, however, it’s a serene pleasure. A return to form. A chance to be seen.
Indeed, feelings of being seen sit at the heart of Molly’s work, particularly in her debut poetry collection, Exhibitionist, released earlier this year via Coach House Books. Full of soul and sorrow, Exhibitionist often verges into emotional voyeurism, a peepshow into the psyche of one of CanLit’s finest young voices. When she isn’t bearing it all on the page, Molly can be found writing op-eds for the Tyee, and serving as publisher of Room Magazine. She is also wrapping up a free virtual poetry tour, which “stops” in Ottawa tonight, June 30. Our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, explores the meaning behind the book’s eponymous poem, the trouble with dating apps like Tinder, and Molly’s favourite social faux pas.
ES: I listened to your Page Fright interview… You mentioned you weren’t writing a lot during the pandemic. Where are you at mentally? It seems like the pandemic was creative boon for a lot of people, but I don't know if that’s totally true.
MCB: It wasn’t a creative boon for me, but it wasn’t a time of great distress either. It was just this sort of low boil of anxiety and inactivity. And I still feel that. I still wake up everyday without a “real” day planned.
MCB: I finished school around the same time as the pandemic heated up, so I don’t know whether this is a pandemic thing or whether it’s a not-being-a-student-thing... All of these little student jobs that I was doing that were keeping me so busy. I have a job now, but it’s very even-keeled compared to the hustle thing that I was doing before.
ES: That’s a strange situation to be in.
ES: You mentioned that you’re writing an actual book. Are you comfortable sharing the concept of that or is it too preliminary to even get into that?
MCB: It’s very preliminary, but... I'm really drawn to the idea of romantic love and soulmates. I’ve always sort of had this sense that there’s this one person for me and I just need to wait and fate will drop them in my lap. And at times that idea has made me sad. You’re with someone and you’re really idealizing them and you’re like “Yes, this is my one person, it’s finally happening to me,” and then they turn out to be a real shit bag.
So in my novel, I’d like to play with that idea and sort of set it in a near-future utopia/dystopia where there’s a technology that will tell you who your soulmate is. But then they run into all sorts of issues where maybe two people with very different backgrounds are paired up… Maybe you’re paired up with someone who is dead, like your soulmate already lived a full life. Maybe your soulmate is not born yet. And these will all be things the company is trying to hide.
So, yeah. That’s the idea I’m playing with. I have ten pages written (laughs).
ES: There’s a lot to talk about there, especially in terms of romantic love, being single. Are you single right now?
MCB: I am… Recently single.
ES: I’m sorry.
MCB: I did a whole like pandemic romance and it didn’t work out, but no regrets. He was lovely.
ES: I love that you say he was lovely as opposed to is lovely. Were you living together in the pandemic?
MCB: No. It was it was strange because we started dating in August 2020… Things [in B.C.] were kind of open, we would go get drinks and stuff, but there was this understanding that we were going to be casual until the pandemic ended... It was always sort of riding this one level. Things weren’t changing. We eventually had to have that talk like “OK so when the pandemic does end – is this still viable?” And I think the answer for both of us was no.
But I think we were really great comfort for each other. The winter of 2019, I was in an awful place. I had awful seasonal depression. And this year was about ten million times better and I think that’s mostly from having him around.
ES: You’re very measured about the whole thing.
MCB: That’s new for me, I've never done it that way before.
ES: Did you guys meet on an app? Or did you meet IRL?
MCB: He was my first Tinder date. I had avoided it forever, I really hated the idea of it. And then I went through summer 2020 and I was like, “I just want to talk to people.” It was like this part of my life that was missing, of going to house parties and meeting new people and going to bars and just talking to the servers. I craved that stranger interaction. So I got on the app… I talked to this guy for a week and then we went out and I just deleted the app.
ES: Did your interactions with Tinder influence your perspective in terms of writing?
MCB: I really hate Tinder. I hate it. I tried to get back on it last week. I swiped through seven people and then I deleted it again. It’s just so phoney-baloney. Even when you’re looking at someone who you think you would click with… like, “OK, I like the way that you're crafting yourself,” but it’s still not them you know? It’s still something that they’re performing.
ES: It takes the natural performative-ness of dating… [and pushes] it to an extreme degree.
MCB: Yeah. And it makes me feel like an asshole. I know they can’t see me swiping left on them.
ES: But you know you did.
MCB: I know I did. And I do believe that you put energy out into the universe and that something you say about someone in private can affect them still. I feel like people can feel that. I just feel icky, I don’t like it.
ES: I do have some questions about Exhibitionist. You’re on the virtual book tour right now – how’s it going?
MCB: It’s as good as a virtual book tour can be. It’s a string of of Zoom readings. I’m really happy to be on it with Selina Boan and Dallas Hunt who are two other Indigenous poets who are just absolute rock stars… But it is a huge loss to not be able to do the big cross Canada drive that I had planned to do. There would have been two or three times the events, I would have sold way more books. I would have been able to see friends and family across Canada. Even in the fall… my publisher would have flown me to some of these literary festivals… It would have been just like vacationing and promoting my book, and that’s just gone.
ES: [Book tours] seem remarkably similar to music in that sense. All you’re missing is tour T-shirts.
MCB: [My publisher] Coach House asked me what kind of merch I thought Exhibitionist would have and I couldn’t come up with anything. Or nothing that would be appropriate.
ES: I feel like there are a lot of things you can do with that.
MCB: Edible underwear or something like that
ES: What does it mean to be an exhibitionist, in your mind?
MCB: I think it means to display without curating… Which kind of goes along with what we're talking about with Tinder… It’s like a need to be seen for for who you really are… Most of most of my life I’ve felt kind of misunderstood, like people are really forming an idea of me that I don’t have of myself. So I’m trying to to really leave no doubts here: this is this is who I am.
ES: If you had to pick one social faux pas to describe yourself as what would you be?
MCB: I swear a lot… in business meetings and stuff. I think it comes from growing up in a house with a lot of uncles with dirty mouths. My roommate in my undergraduate degree, every other word was fuck. I took that on.
ES: Is fuck your favourite curse word?
MCB: It’s the one I use the most.
ES: Who is the first writer or poet that you read, who made you want to write?
MCB: That’s a really good question. The first one was Mary Harelkin Bishop. She wrote this series of novels about the Moosejaw tunnels, and she’s from Saskatchewan. I think I was just very excited that there was a writer I knew, whose books I loved, that was from my area. They were just so cool. It was like historical fiction for kids.
The first poet who really got me excited… was Hannah Green, who is a friend of mine. We met at the University of Winnipeg in a creative writing class. Her work is just so great. It’s really gritty. It was the first poetry I’d seen that was not trying to be pretty. I really appreciated that because, until that point, at least, the [poetry] that I had read seemed like it was posturing or putting on an act… trying to manipulate you or something. Hannah just laid it all out there… I was like, “OK, I fuck with that poetry.”
ES: It feels like you are pretty good at being yourself. How do you do it?
MCB: By carrying it through your life is your biggest insecurity (laughs). I always feel like I’m lying to people and I don’t know why. I’m obsessed with feeling like I’m tricking people or I’m being fake… It is one of my biggest worries. That when I’m interacting with people they know that I’m acting.
ES: Why do you feel that way?
MCB: I am pretty sensitive to when people are being dishonest or when they’re putting on airs, so maybe that’s why? Like I'm pretty hyper aware of of when people are bullshitting and how they’re really feeling and what sort of emotions are bubbling under the surface. If someone doesn't like me, I can tell. Even if their words are saying differently.
ES: Before the interview we were talking about parties… if you could choose three guests of honour for a “COVID is over party” who would it be – and why?
MCB: Oh, my God. Britney Spears, so that we could free her. I would keep her here with me and nurse her back to health. My dead Jack Russell terrier, Macy, because I miss her. And my friend Ashtyn, who is currently living in Scotland. Not Scotland. Oh, my God. Ireland. She’s going to give me shit for that. But yeah, Britney… Britney is the number one priority.
Molly Cross-Blanchard is a white and Métis writer and editor born on Treaty 3 territory (Fort Frances, ON), raised on Treaty 6 territory (Prince Albert, SK), and living on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples (Vancouver, BC). You can purchase her debut poetry book, Exhibitionist, here.