Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jen Hazen and What It Feels Like for a Girl and Madonna and Me

photo by derek van gieson
Leading up to my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival, I will be interviewing my fellow contributors.Today it's Jen Hazen. Jen's essay 'Ciccone Youth' talks about her coming to identify with Madonna even as Jen grows up in an all male household where she is exposed to alternative music. My favorite bit from Jen's  essay: 'When she (Mom) told Dad to get out of the house because she wanted a divorce, he refused to give her one, but he did move out. Mom had no idea that he would cut her off financially during their separation-- no assistance with the mortgage, the bills, the expenses of raising two kids. How would she raise us on her meager secretary's salary? Mom called her parents in California to ask if she could move us to the West Coast, but they told her to 'stick our her marriage'. She didn't last a week after that. She committed suicide instead......I thought of how she felt so trapped that death seemed like the only way out. I didn't know what they felt like. But I did know how it felt to be loved by her. The eight years that I shared with her taught me that I can do whatever I want. I can be whomever I want. Just like Madonna. Who lost her mom, too, and she turned out okay, right?' 

And here's Jen herself.

Favorite Madonna song and why?

I love so many of them, but “What It Feels Like for a Girl” is definitely my favorite song. My mom died when I was very young and my father and brother raised me. Because of this, I really wasn’t aware of gender differences—how I was “supposed to be” as a girl. But as I got older, it became so obvious that it wasn’t proper to be outspoken, wasn’t proper to take credit for my accomplishments, wasn’t proper to strive beyond marriage and kids. That was so bizarre to me. Anyway, this song is the most blatant affirmation of my supposedly bad attitude—doing what’s right for me and not apologizing for it.

Favorite video and look?
Once again, I have to say “What it Feels Like for a Girl.” First, Madonna looks hot as hell wearing a jumpsuit and stilettos with that blond bob and tattoos. She’s such a badass and so unapologetically femme. Love that. Second, the video is brilliant for so many reasons—a kamikaze crime spree, the Camaro, the acknowledgment of an elderly woman (for once) and breaking her out of the nursing home! Of course, there’s the ending, which is so Thelma & Louise.
Madonna with Nickie Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate?
I have to say neither. As a woman, Madonna paved a road for those two that previously consisted of a million land mines. Feminism, whether you choose to call it that or not, has made some strides since the 1980s and Madonna personifies that I think. Of course, there is always more room for progress. Really, there is. Let’s keep that going.


 Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for 'Ciccone Youth'?
When I wrote the piece, I lived in Chicago with my (then) husband Dave, a graphic designer. He had this slight obsession with looking at design books in bed at night. It was really comforting to me because, as a child, I used to sit in my parent’s bed with my mom at night when she read mystery novels. Anyway, I remember sitting next to him one night in bed and writing “Ciccone Youth” pretty quickly as he pored over some book about street art. For the first time in my life, I felt safe enough to write about my mom’s suicide without guilt, shame or embarrassment. Maybe I was finally at peace with it because he truly accepted me for who I was? I can’t be certain. But writing about it before then felt like such a huge risk. I’ve struggled with it my entire life. I think he taught me how to accept my feelings instead of playing tough all of the time. I owe him one for that.

What are you working on now?
I’m a writer & content manager for a design firm in NYC. I’ve also been doing a lot of art, design and fashion writing for Design Bureau magazine, as well as music writing for Vice and Bust. Otherwise, I’m enjoying New York, walking my two dachsies, or working out. Life is good.


Jen's Bio:

Jen Hazen is a NYC-based writer/editor who loves bikes, black licorice and all things Danish. Previously the music editor for BUST, her work has appeared in Vice, Design Bureau, Time Out Chicago, JANE Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicagoist and Thought Catalog, among others. Other credits include a piece in Madonna & Me, as well as the St. Martins book, Cassette From My Ex. Jen has also been quoted in the books Girl Power: The '90s Revolution in Music, and How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time.

Thanks Jen!

Buy Madonna and Me

Tomorrow Q & A with Erin Bradley

Read Q & A with Maria Raha
Read Q & A with Sarah Sweeney
Read Q & A with Joshunda Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with editor of the anthology Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga  


Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.


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