Currents, an Interview Series with Brian Alan Ellis (Episode 4: Charlene Elsby)

Charlene Elsby has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from McMaster University and was recently a tenure-track professor. Her first and second novels, Hexis (Clash) and Affect (The Porcupine’s Quill), were published in 2020.

My current favorite book is: I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom, the creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I read books by comedians for fun, and everything else when I want to suffer a little bit for some greater purpose.

My current favorite actor is: Anya Taylor-Joy (Beth Harmon from The Queen’s Gambit). I read somewhere that her eyes are actually too far apart for her to engage in some normal activities (like, she has difficulty reading), but as a philosopher I know it’s just because she has a daemonic soul ill-fitted to this puny human flesh-form we call physical existence.

My current favorite television show is: …not too fucking much. I used to stay up late into the night watching terrible television, but I can’t do that anymore since I joined the public service. I’m looking forward to the new season of Masterchef.

My current favorite album is: Nobody’s Daughter, Hole. When Kurt died in 1994, I was nine, and Nirvana was the only band I would listen to. Then everyone blamed Courtney for his death, and I wouldn’t listen to any of her music for years. But she’s actually great.

My current state of mind is: fine, I guess. A little worried that I won’t be able to finish my rage novel now that I’m out of the rage-inducing circumstances that inspired it. But I reassure myself pretty often when I find myself thinking about it and just cursing aloud. Thank goodness for the lasting effects of trauma.

My current chemical romance involves: …I got off the sleeping pills and benzos pretty recently. Now that the holiday liqueurs are in stores, I’m giving all of the novelty flavours a shot (HAHA). Facebook knows this and showed me a Nanaimo bar whiskey that still escapes me. It’s not in stock at the liquor store. (In Ontario, you can only get liquor at the liquor store, which is run by the provincial government.)

My current favorite word is: “Phenomenological.” It’s fun to say, and it means something. People use it wrongly all the time, and then you get to call them out on it. “Phenomenology” is a method for reducing lived experience to its essence in order to establish an ontology of human reality. It’s a discipline within philosophy in which I happen to specialize. People use it just to mean “experience of.” Just throw it out there because it’s fun to say, when they don’t actually mean anything by it, or if they do mean something, it’s something totally backwards. Like they use it to mean someone’s experience of something, as opposed to what is real, as if experience is opposed to reality, subject is opposed to object, i.e., the opposite of what phenomenology actually says. They take our word and fuck it up, and they should feel bad.

My current mode of transportation is: walking, mostly. I have a car, but back in Fort Wayne you couldn’t walk anywhere. Everything was just too far from everything else. Now that I’m in Ottawa, I prefer to walk, and there’s actually shit nearby to walk to, so I can.

My current favorite fast food establishment is: Burger King, because that comes standard in the pre-fab road stops on the main highway in Ontario. When I was working in a tattoo shop during my Ph.D., Whopper Wednesday was a thing, where they were $2. I’d take everyone’s orders and go across the parking lot to get a dozen Whoppers with pocket change. Good times. Flame-grilled.

My current workout routine consists of: walking around the neighbourhood [and] listening to Spotify until I reach a high enough step count that I know my sacroiliac joint isn’t going to hurt tomorrow. It hurts a lot. I broke my tailbone bouncing down three stairs at a New Year’s party in 1998, and it’s hurt ever since, but more so recently.

My current regrettable decision involves: …I don’t think I regret it, but it seemed pretty normal in Indiana to have four cats, and now in Canada it seems like a lot. My boss called me a cat lady. She also called me “Captain” one time. I like “Captain.”

My current hopes and dreams are: to work in a job that isn’t soul-crushing so I can pursue my independent endeavours and also pay rent/eat food. So far it’s working out. I’m working for the government and, at the end of the day, I stop. I don’t do any work on the weekends. I still worry that something’s going to come up that they need me to do off-hours and that if I don’t do it, and I’m the only one who can do it, someone will suffer, probably someone I like. But that’s just a holdover from my time in academia. I assume I’ll get over it.

My current projects/hobbies include: writing two manuscripts, one about a philosophy professor whose expulsion from academia leads her to engage in all sorts of fucked up human experimentation (to prove philosophy’s worth as a legitimate science). The other one is my pen name’s second novel, a fictionalized retelling of some formative events—regular old literature. Oh, and I just figured out how to fix this novel I wrote way back in the day, which I rewrote a couple years ago and which I think is pretty fucking great, except it hasn’t aged well, thanks to society progressing.


Learn more about Charlene Elsby‘s book Affect at Porcupine’s Quill.

Brian Alan Ellis runs House of Vlad Press, and is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Fanzine, Monkeybicycle, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Funhouse, Heavy Feather Review, and Yes Poetry, among other places. He lives in Florida.

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