Creating A Functional Family in a Dysfunctional World with Taylor García
We are all born into a Grand New World. It's called our family. But then, over time, we must leave, and find our own new world. Taylor encourages writers to investigate the journey from old world to new world, and how, and why, it is important to incorporate into their work.
As writers, it seems our parents (read: our moms) are our biggest fans. They're the ones that encourage us to keep at our little "hobby". But what happens when our own loved ones make it into our pages? Whether we are writing our gut-wrenching memoir where we parse out our daddy issues, or simply tucking them into a short story or poem, our kin will seep in whether we like them or not (Freudian slip intended). Taylor shares how he tackled this complex issue in his recent short story collection, Functional Families, and how it influenced his future work, both fiction and memoir.
Taylor García (he/him/his) is the author of the novel, Slip Soul (Touchpoint Press, 2021), and the short story collection, Functional Families (Unsolicited Press, 2021). In addition to his books, García has published several short stories and essays in numerous journals, and is a weekly columnist at the Good Men Project. He holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University Oregon. García is a multi-generational Neomexicano originally from Santa Fé, New Mexico now living in Southern California with his family.
AJ: How has writing about your family helped you create this new world you speak about?
TG: For me, writing about family and family archetypes has provided a double benefit. First, I can take a step back to observe, examine, and respond to the people in my life in a way that is comfortable and right for me. This leads to the second benefit, which is the ability to therapeutically process those people, situations, and feelings that have been imprinted upon me. The gift of distance and coming to terms in a creative way has allowed me to forge ahead to create my own new worlds, both my daily human life, and the creative worlds I create on the page.
AJ: Why should one embrace the dysfunction in their families? How does it contribute to growth?
TG: Each of us has a date with acceptance. Whether your favorite ice cream flavor was discontinued or your pet died, or something in between, we each have to accept certain realities. And we do this over and over throughout our lives. We first experience it within the context of families. We learn early on who we feel more or less connected to, even in our nuclear families. We learn the quirks and oddities, and the secrets and truths, and we eventually accept them. When we accept them for what they are--normal human things--we develop a sense of relief, even though it may be uncomfortable. It's that classic idea of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. That's the very essence of growth.
AJ: Why do you feel many stay in dysfunction, and how has writing helped you overcome your own shortcomings?
TG: One of my early mentors, the short story writer and novelist Steve Almond said, we must write about what we cannot dispose of by any other means. With any area of our lives that is dysfunctional, we have to process it in some way, and that is what writing is for me. Looking at a challenge or problem or dysfunction from different creative angles derives opportunities, wins, and new methods. Through creative writing and storytelling, I've learned to dance with my shortcomings instead of battling them. Don't get me wrong, I'm still just as conflicted as the next artist, but that's how we work: We're always trying to dance, paint, sing, write, draw--you name it--out of those dysfunctions we carry.
AJ: In what ways have you seen yourself in some of the kin people you talk about in your writings?
TG: I see myself in almost all of my characters, because I believe as humans, we were given the most beautiful gift: empathy. We can truly feel what other people feel and experience, which might be the closest thing to magic that we have on this earth. This is how I approach my characters and subject matter in my stories and essays. I want readers to believe in what they are reading, and so I go deep into my empathy mine to tell the story of the boy whose girlfriend is on the verge of an abortion, or the man who is coming to terms with his transgender daugther's identity, or the borderline delusion woman who thinks Bill Clinton is her baby daddy. I go into those experiences as thought experiments and blend them with my own experiences, some of which are limited, but some of which are deeply personal. That's how I see myself in the kin I write about.
AJ: What additional advice would you give to those who find themselves navigating through dysfunction to create a functional family?
TG: I would say that nothing is perfect. Nothing. Except maybe rain or snow or the beach. There's no such thing as a functional family. Or I should say that the closest thing to a functional family is when each member is confident to trust themselves and to feel that they are enough, not only for themselves, but for their families. We spend a lot of time thinking we're not enough, or trying to live up to other people's standards. Unfortunately, this starts when we are very young and it's passed down generation after generation. I'm guilty of it too with my own children. But this is where it goes back to acceptance and looking past the idea that all can or should be functional. Because in the end, what actually is functional? To me, it's anything that works in any which way. That's it. Have mercy and empathy for that, and it will all work out.
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