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"Impervious to Those Invisible Fact-Checkers": An Interview with Magdalena Waz

Magdalena Waz is a writer currently living in Brooklyn. She used to live in Ohio, and before that, she lived in Chicago. Her writing has appeared in NEAT, Threadcount, Utter, and Rabbit Catastrophe Review. You can find her on Twitter @ThrowBigWords.

Her essay, "Cartography #1," appeared in Issue Thirty-Eight of The Collagist. 

Here, Magdalena Waz talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about relocation, brevity, and Google Maps.

What can you tell us about the origins of your essay “Cartography #1”? What inspired the initial idea and caused you to start writing the first draft?

I’m map-obsessed. I studied atlases and kept a kind of captain’s log on road trips. And it started occurring to me about two years ago that I had relocated either by myself or with my family more times than most people. Much of my life was (and has been) spent figuring out how far I would be from something else, how far it would take me to travel to where I wanted to be. The earliest draft of “Cartography #1” spilled out when I was getting ready to leave Ohio, a place about which I had very mixed emotions.

Obviously this piece is very brief—only four paragraphs long. Do you usually write in such concise forms? Did it require a lot of revision to achieve such an economy of language?

Writing short lets me get angry enough to funnel that emotion into something smaller than my brain. When I write long, it feels as if the impulse gets too distilled, and a few days into writing, I get a chance to reassess that initial feeling and reason it away. To write about something difficult or something painful forces me to re-embody those feelings every time I sit down to work on that particular piece or memory. It doesn’t do me any good as a person or a writer to do that, so I write short non-fiction as a result.

Three out of four paragraphs begin, “Let me draw you a map,” but the first paragraph contains no such use of the second person. What inspired you to make this move to include the reader (or someone else you had in mind, perhaps) in repeated direct address?

This piece was originally written to be performed, and I imagined I would need to set a scene before confronting my audience. I needed a way to show another kind of map, preferably tangible. I needed a way, too, to figure out just what was so important in Poland that I, as a narrator, would want to consider the loss. As you can probably tell from this unfocused ramble, I’m still struggling with what I did in that first paragraph and initially spent most of my time revising those first few sentences.

In the third paragraph, you write about the road from Warsaw to Kraków: “Five hours by car. Don’t know how many by train. I’ve never been. Guess you can Google it now, the distance between two cities, between two homes. Drop a pin anywhere in the world.” Did you use Google Maps at all when writing this essay? How do you feel about the internet’s ability to aid (and maybe also corrode) memory and how that can affect the composition of creative nonfiction?

Oh, there is no doubt that I have had a few paragraphs and a few whole essays completely derailed by a quick glance at Google Maps. When I’m writing about movement across continents, I always feel the need to be impervious to those invisible fact-checkers. I look up what places are called if I never bothered to store that information as a child. But on a larger scale, having Google so close to us might be changing the way we think of truth. The right answer is generally the one at the top of the search results, but when placement at the top of those results is malleable, what am I finding when I type a phrase or question into the search bar?

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m turning away from my essays for a few months to work on a lightly science-fiction inspired novel. It’s still too early to tell what that will look like, but know I want to work with a character who is a sort of rabble-rouser or daredevil.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

I recently read this little book by Maile Meloy called Devotion: A Rat Story. Not only was it a moving story about money and security and home, but I hope it portends the future flexibility of publishing.

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