Emily Flake // The Cagibi Express Interview

Emily Flake is a cartoonist, writer, illustrator, and performer living in Brooklyn. She is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, and the author of a book of essays and cartoons about parenting called Mama Tried.

Update 2019-11: Emily Flake is a guest judge in the Macaron Prize 2020.

: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Emily Flake: I don’t particularly draw a distinction between distraction and fulfillment—I think one can lead to (or bleed into) the other easily. I’ll admit to rolling my eyes a little at these kind of pronouncements—Belloc’s BFF G. K. Chesterton was given to these as well, and it’s my least favorite thing about his writing—it’s one of those kinds of statements that sounds deep when you first hear it, but, to my mind at least, kind of dissipates upon inspection. If he wrote these words today, I can all too easily imagine him putting them up on Facebook set against a picture of a sunset or some shit and being disappointed with the number of likes it got. At any rate, as far as Belloc quotes go, I’m partial to “Wherever the Catholic sun does shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine.” That I have found to be true.

: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.

Flake: Anything I can put in my food hole. Including liquor. I like to drink and talk, two activities I usually conflate into “making friends.”

: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe.

Flake: I am a horrific slob, so anyplace given to be would immediately become disgusting. But I tend to like little spaces, with a variety of sitting options—I’d like a treehouse with a window seat and a hammock and unlimited coffee, please.

: Please explain your choice in previous question—we are dying to understand your creative process.

Flake: Coffee makes my brain work, or at least gets it closer; I prefer to feel sort of cozily contained while I work but do enjoy being able to look out. A cocoon with a view, so to speak. But my process, such as it is, really involves a lot of staring into space and trying to wrestle myself into a position where I have to focus, so maybe a better work situation would be if I were in, like, traction for a week or so.

: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?

Flake: On the one hand, there’re the external things—the people I meet, things I see, food I eat, etc., that leave an impression and constitute an experience about which one might theoretically write, but if we’re being honest, I’d say I’m probably more apt to write about or from the internal changes that come with being in a new place—especially if I don’t speak the language and thus have to spend a lot of time in my own stupid head with my dumb thoughts and personality, which, ugh.

: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel?

Flake: You bet I do!

: Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?

Flake: Absolutely!

: Did you ever have to hide in order to write? Where, and how long did you stay in there?

Flake: I like to hole up in a coffee place sometimes; it’s helpful to get out of the house and away from potential distractions like chores (though considering I have a smartphone, distractions live in my pocket at all times). I have a young child, so I can’t take myself away for too long. When she’s older I might, but I also miss my family when I’m not around them. I basically always pine for whatever it is I’m not doing in a given moment—feeing guilty for not working if I’m doing family stuff or anything that’s not work; missing my kid and feeling sad that I’m not more present when I’m working; feeling like I’m not really taking a place in if I work while traveling, feeling lazy if I’m traveling and not working. I’m never quite anywhere! It’s like magic, except terrible!

About Emily Flake’s Mama Tried

Emily Flake’s book of essays and cartoons, Mama Tried, was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2015. From the publisher:

Emily Flake Book Cover Mama Tried.jpgNew Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake relates the hilarious horrors of pregnancy, birth, and early parenting in this funny, poignant, and beautifully illustrated book.

For most people, having a child doesn’t go exactly as planned. Not many are willing to admit that not only did they dislike the early days of parenting, they sometimes hated it. Mama Tried is a relatable collection of cartoons and essays pertaining to the good, bad, and (very) ugly parenting experiences we all face. Subjects range from “are you ready for children?” to “baby gear class-warfare.” With incredible honesty, Flake tackles everything from morning sickness to sleep training, shedding much needed light on the gnarly realities of breastfeeding, child proofing, mommy groups, and every unrealistic expectation in between. Mama Tried will be an indispensable companion for sleepless parents and a fond reminder for those already out of the woods.

Appears In

Issue 2.1

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