In her debut book of personal essays, Tonight I'm Someone Else, Chelsea Hodson catalogs and explores all the weird kinks you develop while looking for love in your 20s: excessive longing, self-sabotage, self-delusion, self-obsession, self-deletion, and lying all the time.
The self Hodson summons to write so beautifully (if a bit hazily at times) comes off like a Lana Del Rey type. "Bad boys" pull her in, and she doesn't mind the tug. Baseless confidence, the pageantry of machismo, and a touch of lawlessness seem to do it for the narrator of these essays, no matter who's exhibiting these qualities. She identifies as "bad," too, fully embracing the powers of dissociation, romanticization, and transforming into "someone else" to slip through moral loopholes in relationships.
"I want to be good but I think I was born bad. I did an ugly thing but it was in a beautiful room. I was pretending to be someone but you were believing it," she writes in "Artist Statement," one of the many essays in this book that could convincingly end on an image of the narrator or the muse/boyfriend in question riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle. Toward the end of "Red Letters from a Red Planet," she writes: "Some men never loved me. I didn't care. Their names sounded like an answer, and I used them as such." Vroom vroom.
While discussing her stint as a photo caption writer for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Mission, Hodson obliquely compares her ex-boyfriend to the red planet and herself to the lander. NASA designed the lander to scrape the surface of Mars in order to find potentially life-sustaining water trapped as ice beneath the dirt. Likewise, Hodson digs deep beneath the surface of her loves to draw out life-sustaining truths trapped as stray thoughts, poignant details, and well-wrought memories. She binds these together in collage essays or braided essays, usually employing "dream logic," as she calls it, a literary organizational strategy that uses metaphorical associations instead of thesis-driven prose to march down the page.
Though these lyric essays feel cloudier than ones written by masters of the genre (Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, David Shields, David Rakoff, Sarah Manguso), it's only because she's working with the cloudiest muse of all: romantic love. These essays gush with impossible paradoxes: We don't know what we want, and we don't like it when we get it; we want love to make us whole, but its whole job is to ruin us; we're looking for the one, but we all contain multitudes.
Hodson, who reads at Elliott Bay Book Company on July 2, is at her best when she's projecting courage in the face of bleak prospects. In "Simple Woman," which is a must-read (along with "Pity the Animal," which was originally released as a chapbook by Portland's Future Tense Books), she imagines the physical manifestation of love as a kind of Charon escorting her, boyfriend by boyfriend, to the ultimate nothingness: "At the end of my life, I won't see a figure cloaked in black velvet or a swirling void waiting to take me—I will see the face of love. It will be a recognizable light, the one that lived behind all those other faces I knew up close, the light I suspected but could never prove."