Skip To Content

Design(ing) The Museum

Installation view of J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
As part of San Francisco Design Week (SFDW), former CJM Design Studio designer (and founder) Brad Aldridge gave a design talk in The Museum on designing The Museum—everything from identity graphics to exhibitions. For The CJM Blog, we asked him to elaborate on his design philosophy, on collaborating with others, and more.

1. What was your approach to creating the identity for exhibitions at The CJM? How did this differ depending on the scale, scope, and content of exhibitions?
The first thing to capture as a designer in a museum is the idea that whole place is a big giant storybook. It’s a lot of different voices trying to guide visitors to have a great journey of discovery, learning, and—on an even more pure level—have a great edifying time. So, as designer, I have to always remember that exhibition content is really leading this process, and every design decision needs to connect back to that material.

If I had to boil down the process, it may be something like answering these questions:

  • What’s the curator or artist trying to do in this exhibition? 
  • What’s the work? —Are they works of art? Found objects? Ephemera from somewhere particular? 
  • What’s the voice of the Museum look like in this exhibit? —Is the artist doing the talking, the curator, or some omnipresent “Great Museum” narrator? 
  • How much “Design” is in the design? —Does the design need to be invisible, or is it a partner to the works on display?
With some answers here, I can start digging deep into what goes on display by finding visual references that surround this material. For an exhibit about photographer Arnold Newman, for example, I got a hold of every book he ever published and did a thorough study of the typography used in the books. (Ultimately, we chose to go with a typeface that was more inspired by the magazines his work was published in.)

I’m working mainly with the curators throughout this process—I like sharing work as it’s getting developed and revealing the visual paths I’m making. This creates a really unique partnership. As I start interpreting curators’ point of view, the exhibit may start to shift around and the design starts to help define or solve problems in space or the layout of works of art. All along the way, there’s the usual budget, timeline, and resources conversation. That’s always a big part of a design process—despite how boring it sounds.

Once you get to the other side of this—with solid visual evidence to support a design direction and the approval of your curator—it does turn into production: the actual sitting down and designing of each item needed in the gallery: wall text, labels, cases, murals, printed matter, apps, etc.

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldrige.

2. How does internal exhibition design both differ and relate to The CJM's external graphic identity?
Early on at The CJM, we tried to make the exhibition design—like the title treatment—match all the external marketing materials, such as advertisements. It seemed like a good idea to have this continuity as guests transitioned from the outside to inside the museum. But in practice, this was a really difficult task: you have the gallery designed specifically for space where a person is standing—say, 4 feet away from a wall. When you take that graphic and put it in a newspaper advertisement or in an Instagram post, it doesn’t work as well—it doesn’t read the same way. Also, when we had different “branded” exhibits on The Museum’s marketing materials, it actually diluted The CJM as a whole: every campaign looked so different, we never built up trust or recognition in our visual brand.

We decided to make a simple rule about how design should work at The CJM. Design exists for two audiences: 1) Those in the gallery and 2) Those outside the gallery. So, what that means is that The CJM’s brand is continuous and aligned at all points up until you walk into one of our galleries. The gallery is then a more intimate and immersive experience that changes with each exhibiton—never is there overlap. 

It’s about voice, too. Imagine it this way: You see an advertisement for The CJM and it’s a very set grouping of typefaces, images, and color. You come to The Museum, and those same fonts and colors are used as you enter, on the ticket you buy, on the wayfinding signage, on the guide you get, and so on. This is the voice of the institution, “The Museum.” But, then you walk to the gallery and it’s a different look—a different voice. I think this is where, as a visitor, you quickly understand: “Oh, here’s the voice of the artist or the curator.” This approach may not always work, but it will most of the time. If The CJM got a “Star Wars” exhibit, it would be imperative to leverage the strength of that very recognizable brand. 

I think for The CJM this can be a helpful differentiator in the San Francisco landscape. The consistency helps build up The CJM’s voice. You can see this so successfully executed by our friends in New York: The Jewish Museum New YorkThe Whitney, and MoMA

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
3. Can you tell us about the design process for an exhibition? What type of iterations do you do in terms of layout, typography, etc—and how is the final decision made?
Hardly Strictly Warren Hellman had an interesting course of development because it’s an exhibit with a lot of constraints. The gallery it’s in is a very beautiful room—the interior of the CJM’s shimmering blue Yud Gallery—so any exhibit in there is competing against the architecture. It’s also a rental space, so the exhibit must be movable and storable. Additionally, the exhibit lacks a lot of physical materials—it’s mostly video, audio, and text, with two items from Mr. Hellman. 

I first had to really wrap my head around what to grab onto as a visual reference. After some conversations with our Chief Preparator we struck on the idea of “road cases,” the kinds of boxes that store and transport music instruments for traveling shows. It made a great amount of visual sense to connect the physical space to these visual signifiers for the music industry and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (HSB).

But the graphic identity was a little harder to grasp. The HSB Festival had a strong identity of its own, and I didn’t want to compete with that. The exhibit was about Mr. Hellman first and the festival second. With the idea of the road cases, I went down the path of thinking about live music shows—and ended up thinking about vintage folk, country, bluegrass, and rock poster design. I kept finding photos and reproductions of old country bands, printed black and white with maybe a spot color, with big giant wooden type, hand printed to promote a show at the county fair or at a record store or something. Remembering the work of Hatch Show Print, I realized I could use old block type letters to build a foundation of the visual point of view of the exhibit. After gathering boards of materials and sharing with the Chief Curator, Renny Pritikin, I was able to start pushing forward developing a look and feel for the show’s title, wall text, and an iPad kiosk app we designed.

I did dozens of variations, all directly referencing music posters. I ended up buying some old books of wooden letters and assembled my own typeface from these old printing reference materials. I was able to also find an old banjo engraving, and this ended up being a great focal point.

Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.

Ultimately, the final installation has the feeling of a show that’s just dropped into The CJM, just like a folk group coming into down for the weekend. Even the large title—which is removable for when the room is rented—is made to look like hand painted letters on canvas or paper (it’s really wallpaper material!). 

4. An interesting challenge is keeping a balance between an exhibition’s visual identity and the artwork itself. What is your design philosophy related to this?
In the Museum the art has to be the leader of everything. So, sometimes graphics may be more necessary, sometimes less: ultimately it’s about how to tell the story of the artwork.

For Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, we don’t have a lot of graphic work in the gallery, but we have a pretty awesome title wall and mural installation on Yerba Buena Lane. These were developed to introduce the exhibit and start to lead people into the show’s theme of literally elevating books, making them really important. I worked with Josh Greene on the gallery installation, but the graphics are intentionally minimal inside the gallery—the wall text and labels are all meant to fade away. 

Model for the mural installation in Yerba Buena Lane for Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.

However, for a recently closed exhibit, Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies, there were a lot of graphics. That was simply because each photograph in the exhibit had a lot of content that needed to be presented to fully tell the stories about the people in the photos. 
Graphic concepts for Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies.
Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
5. Exhibition design involves a lot of collaboration—with curators, the exhibition team, and in some cases, the artists themselves. What does the process of working with these different parties entail? 
Experts are really important at getting great work done. A curator comes up with the show idea and maybe even gets an artist in to work the idea through. Then the exhibitions team figures out how the exhibit will install, how it will look, and even the logistic details—like how will the art get delivered and how will the museum keep it safe.  

As the designer, it’s my responsibility to understand everyone’s roles and be able to change the way I communicate to people in different levels during the installation and design of an exhibit. So, that may mean I’m talking with the curators, but I may take some ideas from that discussion and have an off-the-cuff chat with the fabricators or art handlers. If I can better understand their schedule or their concerns over certain parts of the process, I may be able to improve or alter my design to help them out, or vice versa. 

Half of the job of being a designer is being able to sell your clients that your ideas are good; the secret part is that you should also know how to sell the people that build the stuff that your ideas are good. 
L: The CJM Exhibitions Department working closely with artist Josh Greene. Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
R: Exhibitions installing the title wall for Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. 
Photo courtesy of Brad Aldridge.
6. One of the interesting things to consider with exhibition design is space—and here at The CJM, exhibition spaces range from traditional "white cube" galleries to the lobby, and even to a long, narrow case. How do you navigate these spatially?
The CJM is a beautiful building, and everyone working on the exhibitions has to think through the complexities of the architecture. The building has a very strong voice, but we want to give the artists a stronger voice.

Our Chief Preparator, Josh Pieper, and I would coach artists a lot in how to think through the space. We encountered many challenging constraints of the architecture and became experts at making the art speak louder than the building. Dave Lane’s installation Lamp of the Covenant masterfully weaves in and out of the historic sections of the Grand Lobby. Péter Forgács’ recent exhibit [Letters to Afar] also utilized the difficult slanted walls probably better than the Museum has ever seen with big projections cast up onto the large, vertical surfaces.
Like many other museums, we would utilize models and 3D renderings of the galleries to really test out how art would sit in space. We would frequently produce paper mock-ups of works of art or graphics and tape them into place. I remember once we even made a cardboard duplicate of a work of art to see how the lighting would work on the piece. Actually getting into the space and trying to test out an idea was often the greatest thing we could do: ideas that sounded great on paper would quickly be proven to be just disastrous when we’d step into the gallery and try it out.

7. The Design Studio was just awarded the Communications Arts Design Competition award for Environmental Graphics displayed in J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch. Tell us about the design thinking behind the exhibition.
I'm very excited about the honor of being recognized by Communication Arts. The CJM team was really trying to figure out the answer to this: "What would it be like to walk into the Mr. Lunch books?" The design started from Mr. Seibold's text, each book was very oriented to travel; so it was immediately apparent that the gallery would have some kind of destination. The gallery crystalized, though, as J. Otto Seibold had a funny idea about visitors going through a metal detector—which is already a requirement to enter the CJM.  From there, we settled on a boat, a plane, and a giant metal detector—later turned into a "customs" queue.  

About the Author 

Brad Aldridge is a designer, artist, and magician interested in making surprising and indelible visual experiences. He's spent time working in newspapers, museums, and now resides as a lead designer at Butchershop, a SF-based design and branding company.

The "Particular" Significance of Design

Installation view of The Library of Particular Significance. Photo by Johnna Arnold.

Artist Josh Greene's two-part exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show celebrates the relationship between a reader and a book. One part of the exhibition, The Library of Particular Significance (LPS), focuses on instigating social interaction by recasting the gallery as a lending-library of donated "significant" books—a space for dwelling, reading, and connecting.

A series of related public programs called In The Library of Particular Significance enlivens the space with read-ins, book discussions, and literary happenings led by special guests. This Friday from 12:30-1pm, Michael Carabetta
Creative Director at Chronicle Bookswill be speaking on the secrets of book design. Get to know Carabetta before his talk, including which book he donated to The LPS and why.

1. In six words, tell us what you do.
Creative Director at Chronicle Books.

2. What book did you donate to The Library of Particular Significance (LPS)?
Watching Words Move by Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar.

Photo via

3. Describe what makes the book “particularly significant” to you?
This book is particularly significant because in its first guise, as a promotional booklet for the then young firm of Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar, it opened my eyes to the world of graphic design. Years later, as a seasoned designer, I advocated for its republication as a hardcover book, something Chronicle Books agreed to do.

4. What is your opinion on how the book (as an object) has changed with the rise of tablets, e-readers, etc? 
If anything, I believe the advent of e-books has made people appreciate the physical book more. There is no substitute for the tactile experience of holding a bookthe sensation imparted by the paper, printing, and binding, not to mention its design.

5. Tell us about your ideal reading setting.
The ideal reading setting would be by the hearth with a crackling fire, but I take what I can get, namely, the half-hour commute on the Golden Gate ferry.

6. What are you reading now? 
Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell was a New Yorker staff writer from 1938 until he died in 1996. This is a collection of his pieces written for The New Yorker.

Michael Carabetta is Creative Director of Chronicle Books, a San Francisco-based publisher. His work has received recognition in the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) 50 Books/50 Covers shows, and in Graphis Books I and II. His projects have appeared in a variety of design publications including Communication Arts, Critique, and I.D. magazines, and have received awards from the San Francisco Ad Club, New York Art Directors Club, and the Western Art Directors Club.

Teen Speaks: A Journey to Read More Books by Women

Installation view of The Library of Particular Significance. Photo by Gary Sexton Photography.

Artist Josh Greene's two-part exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show celebrates the relationship between a reader and a book. One part of the exhibition, The Library of Particular Significance, focuses on instigating social interaction by recasting the gallery as a lending-library of donated "significant" books—a space for dwelling, reading, and connecting

A series of related public programs called In The Library of Particular Significance enlivens the space with read-ins, book discussions, and literary happenings led by special guests, from poets Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy to experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin. This Friday from 12:30-1pm, a unique perspective will be highlighted: the voice of young writers born and raised in San Francisco. Curated by former Teen Art Connections (TAC) intern Molly Bond, the program is entitled Young Voices from the Urban Landscape and features local, emerging talent Frances Saux, Justus Honda, Colin Yap, Isaac Schott-Rosenfield, and Hanne Williams-Baron. 

Below, Molly reflects on books as objects, on reading the work of female writers, and on going from public programs intern to curator.

Photo by Leah Greenberg.

1. What book did you donate to The Library of Particular Significance (LPS)?
On Friday I will be donating Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor to The Library of Particular Significance. This choice would be no surprise to anybody who knows me; O'Connor has been my favorite writer since I stumbled upon her work over two years ago in my Creative Writing class, and my love for her work has always been intense. In fact, my love for her work has grown to shape my identity as a reader and a writer: her signature is even tattooed on my hip! Having just finished my first chapbook—a collection of nine short stories—I identify more than ever with young O'Connor's first novel. A novel which in many ways is experimental and far from "perfect," but which holds in it O'Connor's unmistakably mysterious voice, and which drips with her potential to become one of the most piercing and obstinate writers of the twentieth-century.

2. From your TAC experience, what is it like to go from interning in public programs to creating your own?
I never thought I would create my own CJM public program. The very thought of managing all the moving parts of a public program is overwhelming, and somewhat nerve-wracking. However, as a teen intern at The CJM I had the opportunity to watch the public programs process unfold. My responsibilities began small, but over the course of the internship, my mentors Gravity [Goldberg] and Natalia [Miller] entrusted me with larger duties, and less supervision, until I felt confident enough to tackle a program of my own. After working at many of The Museum's events, and after seeing the way Gravity and Natalia were able to create programs that fit with the themes of current exhibitions, I was given the opportunity to curate my own program that fits in with The CJM's Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. I would never have been able to organize this kind of event without both the guidance and modeling of my mentors, and my hands-on experience as a public programs intern.

3. Describe what makes a book “particularly significant” to you?

I see a book as "particularly significant" when it has an impressive impact on one or many of its readers. A book's impact can be seen in the way it changes the mindset of the reader, or any previously held beliefs the reader had before coming in contact with the book in question. For example, O'Connor's books swept away the biases I had obtained from growing up in a largely atheist environment; before reading her work, I hadn't comprehended the intricate ways in which art and religion can inform one another. Coincidentally, this lesson from O'Connor led me to apply to The CJM's TAC program so I could learn some of the ways in which Judaism and art interact. Her words changed the path of my life; what could be more significant than that?

All the books in the LPS have one thing in common: they are somehow significant to the person who donated them to the library. Thus, when looking through the shelves, the onlooker can be assured that every book present has made a big impact on at least one of its readers.

Poet and Writer Kevin Killian On Books, Reading, and Facebook

Installation view of The Library of Particular Significance within the exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show. Installation photo by Johnna Arnold.

Artist Josh Greene's two-part exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show celebrates the relationship between a reader and a book. One part of the exhibition, The Library of Particular Significance, focuses on instigating social interaction by recasting the gallery as a lending-library of donated "significant" books—a space for dwelling, reading, and connecting. 

A series of related public programs called In The Library of Particular Significance enlivens the space with read-ins, book discussions, and literary happenings led by special guests. Last week, writers and poets Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy collaboratively covered a lot of bookish ground: on books they first read and bought, on writers they met, on books (and book deals) that got away, and more. Below, Killian answers a few more of our bookish questionsdivulging his favorite reading spot, his book fetish, and how much time he spends on Facebook.

Writers and poets Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian with artist Josh Greene in The Library of Particular Significance. Photo by Gravity Goldberg.

1. In six words, tell us what you do.
I work for a janitorial company.

2. What book did you donate to The Library of Particular Significance (LPS)?
The catalogue raisonne of artist John Currin, signed by him with an inscription to my wife.

3. Describe what makes a book “particularly significant” to you?

I have a fetish for autographed books, or books given me by the dead loved ones I have known, beginning with my late mother and father.

4. What is your opinion on how the book (as an object) has changed with the rise of tablets, e-readers, etc?
I am reading fewer books than I once did, due to having to spend so much time liking people Facebook status updates. Maybe that's just me, but this weakness is shared by at least a few other friends I know.

5. Tell us about your ideal reading setting.
When I'm giving a reading there's no place like the upstairs poetry room at City Lights Books in San Francisco.

6. What are you reading now?
I am reading a beautiful book of poetry, HOUSES by Nikki Wallschlager (Horse Less Press).

About the Author

One of the original “New Narrative” writers of the 1980s, Kevin Killian lives and works in San Francisco. Recent books include an edition of Jack Spicer’s Collected Poems, a book of stories from City Lights Books (Impossible Princess), and a second volume of his Selected Amazon Reviews. 2013 brought a new novel (Spreadeagle) from Publication Studio, and a book of intimate photographs of poets, musicians, artists and filmmakers, called Tagged. His poems, many of which deal with the AIDS epidemic, its aftermath and its desolation, are gathered in three volumes, Argento Series, Action Kylie, and Tweaky Village.

Stranger Than Fiction

LISTEN: Michelle Tea, Eileen Myles, and Jill Soloway discuss "writing their lives."

Award winning writers Michelle Tea (Valencia, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek), Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), and Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway (Six-Feet Under, Transparent) all pull from personal narrative in their work—albeit in different ways and to varying degrees. Listen in as they discuss "writing their lives"—and in particular, their female lives and voices—and creating work between memoir and fiction.

Artist Josh Greene's current exhibition at The CJM, Bound to Be Held: A Book Show, also includes Greene's project Read by Famous—which seeks donated books from famous or well-established individuals. Tea, Myles, and Soloway all donated to Read by Famous. In a talk on Thursday, May 7, the three writers came full circle to discuss literature, making it in Hollywood, and more.

Want more? Listen to the full podcast here

Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Show with the Read by Famous submissions by Jill Soloway, Michelle Tea, and Eileen Myles. 

READ: Below is the transcript of the recording.

Matt Sussman (MS): Since all of you have pulled from your lives for your writing in various ways—whether through memoir or with Transparent—I wanted to hear more about what's it like writing your life, and how you go about doing that... and if you start feeling like "The Michelle" that's in the book is sort of another character, or what's that like to see that play out in another form.

Jill Soloway (JS): Well it's funny because, for me, I think the question is what's it like to not write your life. Because that's what's hard—I would never how to do that. Everybody I write is some version on me, even on Transparent, everybody, they're all sort of... I have to be enough inside the voice I'm writing to feel it, to feel something. But the funny part is in Hollywood, you know you turn in a script and then you get feedback or whatever, and I used to get the thing all the time like "Your protagonist is so unlikable!" (Audience laughs.) And the weird thing I got a lot, which is so weird for realizing and finding out my parent was trans all this time, was I used to constantly be told all the time that I had castrating protagonists... isn't that crazy? That all my women are castrating—that's just how gross Hollywood is... like a woman who actually speaks is told that she's castrating. But I guess all my protagonists were going around and making it hard for men to stay the subject their own lives perhaps, by maybe seeing them or something...

Michelle Tea (MT): Can you imagine, producers are like, "These characters are too misogynistic?"

JS: Well... we're slowly but surely turning the planet, but it hasn't happened yetwe're like a year into the revolution. It's just barely happening, it's only starting. That's, I think, the weird thing and it happens with Transparent all the time too—where the three kids on Transparent seem like people I would love and I'm constantly told that they are horrible people and who would like these people. 

MT: Wow. 

JS: Yeah, it's weird and I think, especially when you write women, if anybody other than a woman is reading it they arelike I had someone tell me about Afternoon Delight that it got some bad reviews from some guys. And this writer from The New York Times, Karina Chicano, told me that a lot of male critics review whether they would want to date the protagonist.

Eileen Myles (EM): Ew.

MT: Gross.

JS: They don't even realize it but they are trying to figure out if they are attracted to her and what she's doing. And they can't help but review her attractiveness to them. I know it's sickening. It's so sickening. I'm sorry to get so upset. I really do feel like it's changing.

EM: You just like sexually abused the room. 

JS: I'm sorry guys, it's so gross. That's why they really have to do something about the ratio of male reviewers in so many newspapers. Something you wrote about Chris Kraus' work and just this feeling ofI don't know if you wrote it or if it was in Kraus' book I Love Dickusing your own life, using your real name, it's feminist. There's something about that that's feminist. I don't know what, maybe you can explain. (Audience laughs.) But it's so despised by people. It's so like if you didn't create it, then you didn't actually work hard, and if you didn't fictionalize you didn't do the work.

EM: But it's still about a woman. I mean, it's like if a guy did it, it's really kind of slacker and cool. 

MT: They're like nominated for the Pulitzer Prize or something. Quite literally.

EM: Yeah! I mean like Mike Kelly and all those guys doing kind of weird emo work.

JS: What is it, like misogyny or something? 

MT: Or what about My Struggle? Like, "Hi I'm a dude and I'm going to write an eight volume memoir." Oh my God! I mean I think I actually like his writing very much, but just the entitlement! Can you imagine if I wrote eight memoirs and called it My Struggle?

ALL: Please do!

EM: It's an amazing thought that a human being can think about their existence in great detail and talk about it for hundreds of pagesI'm like we've been doing that for twenty or thirty years!

MT: Everyone around me has been doing that for like...

EM: Part of it is that we're not still not human.

MT: It really is that, yeah.

EM: I mean, when I published Chelsea Girls, I remember some dude reviewing it in a San Francisco paper, and he said "I don't know, I'm having a hard time just reading about her lesbian daily life." I was like how is that different than David Wojnarowicz' gay daily life? 

JS: Because there are dicks in it!

EM: Right! You know. And the thing that's so weird is that I'm lying too. It's like I've been writing about Eileen Myles for thirty or forty years. But it's not exactly Eileen. I just think why do I have to make up a character's name, like I have a character, I'll use her. (Audience laughs.) But it's always a little off, she's a little smarter than Eileen or a little stupider, or has a little worse sex or a little better sex. I feel like its been kind of blended, like all these years. I think it's true, and then you start to leave her a little bit. Like you've written fiction, you wrote A Rose of No Man's Land.

MT: Yeah.

JS: But that felt so much like it was real though. I remember reading that on the airplane and falling in love with you. I think I emailed you from the airplane. Sometimes when you read a book on the airplane, you fall in love with the writer even more.

MT: It's such a special place to read.

JS: I was crying and I was like "I'm in love with Michelle Tea! I need to tell her when the plane lands." (Laughs.)

EM: Yeah, that book twinkles. It just twinkles with life, because it's everything you do but it's like a little jeweled version of it. I love that book so much.

MT: Thank you guys. I was so terrified, it was the first time I wasn't writing memoir. And I was so scared that I was creating a world that wouldn't be believable, which is something that I never had to think about before. Because I was like well, it's what happened, and if you think it's not believable, I don't know what to say because that's what happened. But this, I was like "Oh, God." I was so aware of what would the light look like, what would the air smell like...I got really obsessive with it, you know, I probably didn't need to get that obsessive, but maybe it's good I did.

MS: That's an interesting problem to have it seems. If you've already been doing it, right, when you've been working on a memoir, or it comes more naturally when you're working on a memoir, but when you switch over into fiction and you start second guessing your decisions more, or there's maybe different stakes involved... I'm wondering if you could talk about that more. 
MT: I think that a big impetus for me writing a memoir was that I wanted to tell the truth, like I want it to be authentic, I want it to tell the truth. Because I felt like my particular experience, I hadn't been published a lot—it felt very political, it felt very meaningful. And so I had this sort of reality fetish and so then moving into fiction, I kind of brought that with me a little bit. And since then, I've realized—I mean, you still need to make things believable but I actually don't need to—I'm also creating this world because I'm saying its like it and I'm the writer. I don't have to
someone's not going to read it and be like "I don't know, the quality of light seems weird in that scene. I'm having a hard time believing that this would actually happen." (Audience laughs.) I mean, it's fiction! You can actually have ridiculous things happen. And, ideally, if it's compelling in some way, the reader will follow you. So, I've kind of loosened up a little bit with that.

EM: See, I just never—people always review my books and say it's memoir. And I have never written a memoir. I write fiction! It's absolutely not—maybe part of it is how I feel about life—like it's a dream. And so I feel like I don't remember, I mean I sort of remember that night when this happened or that happened, but I don't entirely remember; but also, I was drunk. (Audience laughs.) So at a certain point I stop making up what could have happened and maybe I'm remembering. But I just feel as a person I'm an unreliable narrator. (Audience laughs.) 

MT: That's so great!

EM: So as a writer, I'm absolutely that. And my new book is about my pit bull Rosie, who died in 2006. And so, it's really not that much of a stretch to go over here and be my dog, you know. Because I feel I was always a bit out of my own borders, my own boundaries. So suddenly, it's sort of like somebody that I looked at for a long time—instead of that being me that I looked at—it's my dog that I looked at, or my dog that looked at me. It's like the camera just moved to a whole other character, but it doesn't feel that different at all. And she remembers the world differently, so, it's great.

And for course, she is my dead alcoholic father. You know, you have an animal—(audience laughs)—and they're never just your cat, you know, it's Napolean or... And my pitbull, when I got Rosie, I just looked in her eyes—and my dad died when I was 11, and he's kind of a fetish in my whole dream story—and when I looked in the dog's eyes, I was like "It's dad!" And he would totally come back as my dog and hang out for twenty years or whatever. So it was just so easy to then write a chapter "My Father came again as a dog," and then start talking about how people come back as dogs, and who dogs are, and what creation is, and suddenly, you're just in this whole...

MT: Woah!

EM: I mean you've writtenI just finished your book that goes into fantasy. 

MT: Yeah.

EM: Because that's what we do! I mean, pajama parties were the beginning of writing! You'd stay up all night, the first drug was like sleeplessness. And all those kind of weird things you would do—you would hold each other's chests in and hyperventilate, and all those weird ways... and then you'd tell storiesweird stories, and make stuff up and everything. And I feel like, that's what writing is, and after doing it for a long time, you start to have permission to get really weird.

MT: Yeah, it's really true.

EM: I've earned it now.

MT: Yeah, totally.

EM: It was always there, it just never really opened the door. 

MT: That's so exciting. And you just finished that book? I'm so excited to read that.

EM: Yeah, I just finished that book so I feel very high on it. And I call it a memoir.


MT: Yes, finally! Eileen finally wrote a memoir! (Audience laughs.) Yeah!