with Michelle Marie Jacquot:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Michelle: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember— I have no memory of a moment when I distinctly started “doing” it. It’s just an instinct, or even a compulsion, I’ve always had. My first influences were all songwriters. I always paid close attention to lyrics. I was a dancer from age 3 to 14, we were always told to get into the emotion of the song, the story. I think that might be how I became so interested in storytelling, and I’m sure in large part why I became a writer. So many songs and artists stick with me from that time. Anything Imogen Heap or Tori Amos, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega, Red Football by Sinéad O’Connor, Mad World by Gary Jules. Unfortunately I don’t have a very good memory of when I was younger, but one of the most vivid flashbacks I have is from a dance class. Our instructor turned off all the lights, had us lay on the ground in the dark, and told us to close our eyes. She played “Let It Be” by The Beatles. It was the first time I had ever heard that song, and possibly ever The Beatles (consciously, at least). That moment changed my life.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Michelle: I don’t know if influence is the right word, but I’m really into Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the moment. Joan Didion is my favorite writer. As for poets, Charles Bukowski might be that. There have been certain poems from him that I’ve found in the exact moments when I’ve needed them. Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Mary Oliver. All of the Beats. I would say the way people live their lives inspires and influences me more than their work, at times.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art?
Michelle: I grew up in Southern California— Temecula, but I spent a lot of time all over. I was always going to concerts and running away to LA, San Diego, Orange County. Where and how I grew up influenced my work more than I ever realized it did until recently. There’s a very California way of living or thinking that I didn’t know I had— kind of like how your house has a certain smell, but only other people can smell it. You don’t even know it exists until you leave and come back. I found out that way of living existed when I discovered Joan Didion. Every lived experience or thought she had, I took in as my own. As if we shared the same childhood, down to the street signs. Somehow she knew it was specific all along, but I didn’t until her work told me it was. Something about growing up in a desert cultivates a toughness, but equally, a need for freedom. I actually went back a few weeks ago, I was walking outside for about 30 seconds, it was 100 degrees. I thought to myself, “no wonder I am the way I am, having to learn to grow up in the middle of this and survive it, and no wonder I had to get out as soon as I could.” I drove three hours to get there, I left almost immediately.
Q4: Have any travels away from home influence your work?
Michelle: Travels have been the most influential force on my work by a long shot, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from anything I’ve released yet. None of it has outwardly been about travel, I suppose that’s been my little secret until now. That’s actually what many of my future skeletons of books are all based around. I have lots of upcoming travels and I’m excited to see where they’ll take the work and where everything will land. I think it’s better not to plan, to leave room for life to happen, to be surprised. You’ll suffocate the ideas and kill them before they even get off the ground if you don’t. Ideas come to you, you don’t chase them down and tell them what to be, they tell you— the good ones, at least. They say you have to live in order to write, I think that’s true. Half of my writing experience means not writing at all, filling the well, followed by obsessively doing only that. I do write most and am constantly inspired when I’m traveling though, to the point where it’s almost annoying. It’s like I can’t sit down and enjoy one meal without having to pull out a pen. I’ve actually found myself recently making an effort to write less, not treating every thought as life or death to get down. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. You might lose some really important ideas that way, and come to terms with never getting them back. But at what point does that obsession to note everything become worth not being able to enjoy your dinner? I don’t know. I suppose it’s about choosing which one is more worth it at whatever point in your life you’re at in that moment. But anyway— travel. When I was 20, after half-quitting music school, I didn’t go to a proper college, I went to London instead, and Europe. I quit my job and just left. That trip and everything that followed was what made me rearrange my life and start taking writing seriously (but wasn’t aware of it at the time).
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?
Michelle: No. I think being an artist is just a way of being, not a title someone can give you. You either are or you aren’t, it’s not a job description. I didn’t even know I was a poet by the time I put my first poetry book out. I probably never even said the word out loud until the following year. It was all an accident, something I never even thought of or gave names to.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Michelle: I laughed out loud at the word “relax.” I enjoy lots of things, I don’t know if I can ever relax. I really love stand-up comedy, maybe that’s because it forces you to relax. You can’t laugh and be (too) stressed out at the same time. I wrote a few scripts last year in lockdown, that was fun, but also doesn’t fall into the category of “not writing.” I really can’t seem to stop, in whatever form it takes. I love film, reading. Reading is another thing that forces your own inner monologue to shut off, you don’t have a choice but to listen to someone else’s for a while— next to comedy, it might be the only break I get from that, and I don’t take it for granted. I just realized none of these are considered activities, and I’ve described them all as “forced.” Like I said, I’m a really relaxed person. I’ve been living in the mountains for the last six months, and that’s been a beautiful break. I’ve always enjoyed going on long walks, I make sure to do that every day and have for years now. Let’s pretend walking and sitting on the porch are activities. I actually relax most when I’m doing absolutely nothing. I’m anti-activities.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
I just released my second poetry book, a chapbook called DETERIORATE. It’s all about my disdain for the digital age— contemplating how our modern world has changed humanity, changed how we produce art, how we live. Mostly for worse, but my hope is that we might be able to change that if we’d all just look up and turn off (or on, rather). It’s available wherever you get books.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Michelle: I can’t pick a favorite. I’m one of those weird people that really likes their own work and listens to/reads it. I have a whole album of songs I haven’t recorded yet— I’m really proud of all those lyrics. I worked for so long to become the songwriter I wanted to be, and I finally started to get there right before the world shut down. I’ve yet to start again, we’ll see what happens with that.
The first good song I wrote (after six or seven years of trying) has a chorus that ends with this lyric— “I spend all my time stuck in a car in the past, you’ll forget about me and I’ll drive me mad.”
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Michelle: Honestly, it’s been a very solitary journey for me. I was about to say I wish I could say otherwise, but I suppose I don’t. I enjoy being and working alone. I’ve always helped myself in writing, if anything I’ve looked to other artists that came before me and found their help along the way through their work and lives, and through other moments of inspiration from the greater world. Paying close attention has helped me most.
Also from Michelle: