The pages of Abandon Me, a collection of essays by Melissa Febos, are filled with extraordinary and honest details of the author's traumatic past. Febos, who will read from and discuss her work at The Wild Detectives on Thursday, takes us on her journey to find her birth father and also self love.
Febos' first memoir, 2010's Whip Smart, recounts her time as a student at The New School in New York City, when she was also working as a dominatrix and addicted to heroin. Abandon Me comes seven years later and challenges popular ideas of love and relationships.
The concept of abandonment, at the core of Febos' second book, has more than one meaning.
“I think that I knew from the beginning of writing this book that in order to address my fear of being abandoned, I had to abandon myself to an experience that threatened that, and I also had to abandon myself to writing about it,” Febos tells the Observer.
Febos grew up on Cape Cod and left her family for Boston at age 16. She describes her experiences as an adolescent as “awakening to the reality of modern patriarchy” and says that awareness has continued to evolve into adulthood.
“I think that the basis of sort of bigotry and discrimination and sexism is a lumping of all people together and ascribing negative qualities to a whole group,” Febos says. “For me, any woman writing a book or essay or short story about her own specific experience is a feminist action.”
For Febos, writing requires patience, gentleness and generosity, all virtues that fit her model of recovery from heroin addiction.
“I don’t think you can save your own life if you are not at least willing to learn to love yourself,” Febos says. “I can reinhabit those experiences without the need to survive because I already have survived.”
The narrative structure has become a way for Febos to look at herself as a human character and explore why she made certain decisions.
“The takeaway about having written about any profound or traumatic or troubling experience has always been that I understand it better and that I empathize with it more and that I hold myself more accountable.
Early on in Abandon Me, she recounts how she looks for and leaves herself in books and how people in general use stories to make sense of the world. This longing for control of the narrative translates into her writing.
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“I get to build a to-scale model of these things that happened,” Febos says. “I can pause, zoom, rewind at any moment, and it creates a theater of my own experiences that I can inhabit in a more comfortable way.”
In moving forward as a writer, Febos says she hopes to write the stories of different types of relationships that are not based in fantasy or pornography. She explains this as moving away from eroticism to find genuine passion that is not often apparent in popular culture.
“When the cultural narrative about love ends is where actual love has a chance to begin."
Melissa Febos, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, Wild Detectives, 314 W. Eighth St., free, see Facebook.