danielle zaccagnino | woman braces herself

an excerpt & interview


Edibles: a primer


iv. On Assertion

My neighbor is hosting a party. He divvies up the responsibilities. I’m on haunted house supplies, minus the worms. Park Slope’s pet stores are all sold out. My boyfriend bikes around Brooklyn looking for dry ice. A friend makes popcorn balls, each kernel stuck to another by weed-infused caramel. Someone comes through with the worms last minute. All the ingredients for a perfect night. I practice sign language with my boyfriend, for when hands work better than vocal cords. I close all the fingertips of my right hand together, the way my family does to prove a point, and move my hand from chin to cheek. This means home. He mimics the gesture. When I do this, you walk me back.

v. On Communion

Alone, his hands are ocean. Us and a song, twenty-five minutes long. Don’t be distracted. Two people can balloon. Can rise. Can spill like paint, thick, indiscriminate. Console crannies. It’s not so impossible.

vi. On Depersonalization

I’m in a kitchen. As I look at the person across the table, the room keeps shifting. Danielle. Some new reality is created every second, and the scene falls like a set of Polaroids. Danielle. The man puts water in front of me. I ask him if my face is moving. I think of asking: Is this body mine? Who am I? He looks concerned. My boyfriend comes. I move my hand from chin to cheek.




In your personal writing you’re very open about your struggles with clinical anxiety and depression. Why is exploring these subjects important to you? Do you ever have anxiety about exposing these parts of yourself in your writing?  

It actually makes me more anxious not to talk about these things. I come from an Italian-American family that's bubbling over with emotion. I've seen people try to stifle it and isolate themselves, and I've seen it go unprocessed and turn to anger, and I'm very invested in dealing with my emotions the right way. For me that means being open about what I'm struggling with. The essays protect me in a way; once I've written fully about a worry that's weighing on me, I can leave it behind.

Do your anxiety and depression ever block you creatively? How do you transform these feelings into productive ones?  

Almost every day, I start out feeling like writing is impossible or I'm just not good enough to do it. The way forward, for me, is to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and then dump them out in a freewrite. It's always a balance -- listening to myself, but not dwelling in the negative for too long. As soon as I feel my mood start to shift, I read poetry or listen to craft talks, something that will get me moving in a more productive direction.

How did you come up with the title Woman Braces Herself for your chapbook?

I came up with the title while I was writing "Touch, and a Fracturing," while I was dwelling on how a lack of physical touch can lead me to an anxious place and make my mind slowly disconnect from my body. I was kneading my muscles, hugging my legs, trying to feel present again, and I wrote "woman embraces herself."

Once I had that line, "Woman Braces Herself" clicked as a title for the chapbook. The collection is about trying to get a foothold in the midst of anxiety, while facing a world that warrants it.

I liked the depersonalization of “woman” as well. Though it’s all autobiographical, a lot of women face similar issues -- bracing for motherhood, grappling with their relationships with their own mothers, navigating situations with aggressive strangers.

As someone who often writes creative non-fiction, how do you feel about memoir as a genre? Do you read them often and if so, what was the last great memoir you read?

I do. I love a good memoir. I love spending time in someone else’s mind and getting carried away by their digressions and obsessions. I read essay collections a lot (Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby, Ander Monson’s Neck Deep and Other Predicaments) and poetry/prose hybrids whenever I find them (Bhanu Kapil's Ban en Banlieue, Sun Yung Shin's Unbearable Splendor). As for more traditional memoir, Joanne Beard's The Boys of My Youth and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life are standouts. 


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Danielle Zaccagnino has an MFA from Texas State University. She was the winner of the Rita Dove Prize in Poetry (2017) and the Sonora Review's Essay Prize (2016). Her writing appears in journals such as Day One, Word Riot, The Pinch, and Puerto del Sol. Danielle is from Queens, New York.