“But it just—like a lot of the writing that I do—is just pages and pages and pages of lyrics. And maybe one percent is any good. So with the pages of lyrics that I was writing in 2009, where I was kind of trying to mine my own personal experience for songwriting stuff, the ratio of good to bad was very, very low. It took me a little longer to kind of get into that world of knowing how to write songs like that. Do you know what I mean?”
“I became fascinated by this idea of a cisgender man passing as a trans man, especially because we were working on this story about a trans man trying to pass as a cis man. And so I was like, Oh, I should write a novel about this, but the more I thought about it I was like, this guy is disgusting. He should know better. He’s gross, and it just didn’t seem, the motivation to get fodder for your lesbian TV show just seemed ridiculous. It was too bizarre. The more I thought about it I was like, No, it should obviously be a teenager because a teenager is clueless and their motivation should be love—because it did occur to me that all these lesbians I knew were fawning over trans men who looked like teenage boys, and I thought a teenage boy could clean up if he got in there. And so that was how the actual novel evolved, and I was really interested in trying to write this in a way that you could be sympathetic to the character. That was sort of the goal.”

Rumpus: Why did you leave the church?

Cheshire: It’s definitely the fault of books. You know how in the back of a Bible there’s a large appendix with commentaries—the word in Greek is this, in Hebrew is this. And I found myself pouring over that in church. It was more interesting to me somehow, because nobody was paying attention to it. It looked more exotic and strange. And that led me to commentaries on the Bible, and then histories, and I kept rising higher and higher, and my perspective shifted, and then all of a sudden I’m reading Moby Dick.

“I like to go back and read poems that I wrote fifty years ago, twenty years ago, and sometimes they surprise me—I didn’t know I knew that then. Or maybe I didn’t know it then, and I know more now. You know that old song about the young person who at ten knew that his dad and mom knew everything, then at fifteen he couldn’t believe they knew nothing, and then at twenty he was amazed that they learned so much in the last five years? I like that because that’s the way learning is. So I enjoy going back to see some of the old poetry. I also know that I write more slowly now, and I don’t use as much rhyme anymore. That may be because I’m not walking as much as I used to. At my age I’m doing well to get around at all so maybe that’s what has got me in a long meter. [Laughs.]”
“The subject of the poem usually dictates the rhythm or the rhyme and its form. Sometimes, when you finish the poem and you think the poem is finished, the poem says, “You’re not finished with me yet,” and you have to go back and revise, and you may have another poem altogether. It has its own life to live.”

It would never have occurred to me before I had the opportunity to work on the Nazi-era cases to file claims on behalf of comfort women who had been forced into sex slavery in WWII. I wouldn’t have seen the possibilities, but, after the Swiss case, I saw the possibilities, and I pursued other categories of large-scale litigation, including other human rights cases, on behalf of worldwide groups. I had learned to think big.

At the same time, the litigation humbled me. No matter how hard I worked on behalf of my clients, I could never truly make them whole. The best my colleagues and I could do for them was to provide an imperfect, incomplete and long-delayed justice. Litigation is a powerful tool for social justice, but it has its limits.

One of the things is my process requires a lot of repetition. I can probably drive people crazy because I’m interested in playing a song twenty times in a row. Then I’ll write all the lyrics down on the page, turn the page in the notebook, write them again, and see if I stumble across a word I want to change. It’s slow improvements. Everything is getting worked on up until it gets recorded and then you’re kind of stuck with it. I keep chiseling away at things, especially lyrically.
The Rumpus Interview With Craig Finn
“I’m not sure what I’m after besides writing the best book I think I can write and having a feeling inside me that I’m taking a risk or trying new things from book to book. Style equals personality and you have to strip away the bulk of your influences to dig out the you and place it on the page. And that includes your flaws too. I think I’ve made so many mistakes in my books, but that makes me proud. It feels real and human. The style and logic and images don’t have to always be clean and flawless because clean and flawless can also put you to bed. A lot of the old books I love—and even old music—are full of imperfections or a certain kind of raw quality, and that’s what makes it.”
“Unfortunately, casinos have introduced gross amounts of social injustice in the form of tribal disenrollment. That’s when a tribe changes its criteria for membership and subsequently kicks people out of the tribe. Can you imagine? You spend your whole life on a reservation, and one day someone comes and tells you that you have to leave because you’re not a member of the tribe anymore? And it’s more than just being kicked out: you’re stripped of your identity, what makes you you. In California, a tribe kicked out an old woman, a tribal elder, who was one of the few people left who still spoke the language! It’s a big problem in many tribal communities, especially the smaller ones, which are essentially clans. What’s to stop someone who presides over the tribal council that your family had a beef with a decade ago from kicking you out? Sadly, very little. In the story of scarcity versus surplus, surplus almost always leads to corruption. It’s no different on the rez than it is in the rest of the world.”
“When I was starting out there was no Internet, there wasn’t this sense that you could be connected to other writers around the world. And that created a kind of innocence, or parochial quality, even in NYC. The literary world felt small and insular. I mean, are you aware of this Binder of Women Writers group on Facebook that just formed? Something like 20,000 writers leapt in, there was such hunger for community for connection. There is a water cooler now—and there are a lot of wonderful things about that, though it does create a hell of a lot of distraction and noise.”