Objects of Derision: Georgia Bellas
Georgia Bellas, these are the charges levied against you publicly: indiscriminate dissemination of curated literature via social media platforms; possession without permit of exotic wildlife for purposes of viral entertainment; regular inebriation of aforementioned wildlife, also for purposes of viral entertainment; and a frankly wanton savagery in abetting the extirpation of Massachusetts’ population of gray wolves. Tell us, what’s life for you like outside the public record? What details—if indeed there are any—might elicit sympathy from our readers?
So, you want to get personal, eh? My life outside the public record is actually pretty well represented on Twitter. I read a lot. I get excited about literature. I care about people. I’m kind and sappy. Community is important to me. I am part-bear, part-gal, and sometimes those lines are blurred and I forget who is who. I feel safer hiding behind Mr. Bear, I think, because I’m afraid to share my vulnerability. I worry, I’m anxious, I’m sad. I want to do good and be good; I feel I never measure up, but I keep trying to fight the good fight. I keep my innermost self private, but it peeks out on occasion. I’m someone who tries to be always thoughtful and considerate and generous and wants to be seen in a positive light; I don’t want to be weak or let people down. Then I think about how much it helps me when people I admire and love admit their weaknesses and struggles. So, I’ll admit to you: I’m human. I’m part-bear but I’m so human.
How do you reconcile your fear of expressing vulnerability—of “be[ing] weak or let[ting] people down”—with your work? Even brief perusal of your more recent offerings—at Sundog Lit, at Lockjaw Magazine, for example—suggests that vulnerability is the pivot around which everything else is made possible, though we know better than to equate narrator with author.
I remember reading a poem by Sylvia Plath when I was in high school that had a line about wanting to live in the city and in the country at the exact same time and being okay with that paradox. Of course, I can’t seem to track down that poem now, so it may be a misleading memory, but I can find a quote from The Bell Jar that essentially says the same thing: “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell.” That resonates with me. Paradoxes make sense to me. I don’t see a contradiction in contradiction, if that makes any sense. So, I say I’m afraid of expressing vulnerability, but I am also very at home in expressing vulnerability. Partly that is because my writing, like with Mr. Bear, offers me a protective shield; I can show weakness and explore things that scare me or make me sad—and it’s fiction, it’s a teddy bear . . . I don’t have to say this is me. I don’t have to say, I’m afraid, I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I let my poems or characters say that.
Wow, N.G.Q. should think about going into the therapy business—interviews as psychoanalysis.
In lieu of time, we’re billing you by the word. Expect mail later in the week.
This seems understated: “It’s a teddy bear.” Mr. Bear is going into his fifth year of radio. He’s logged countless hours on-air, for which he recently won SCATV’s Boston Free Radio Best Talk Show Award. Thirteen thousand people have listened to him talk with Oprah-league writers and artists. His audience on Twitter is north of 1,200. With his résumé, this stuffed teddy bear could secure any mid-level job on the market.
Well, I certainly hope Mr. Bear starts bringing home the bacon. (Anyone out there want to offer him a job?) Actually, he does have plans in the works to hopefully partner with Joyride and raise some money for the podcast. At some point, there will be a video and a campaign and rewards for supporters, so stay tuned!
Tell us how you met.
Mr. Bear and I met on my first birthday. As you can see in the picture below, I was not all that impressed with him right away (I’m the one in front with a bow on my head, about to eat wrapping paper).
I only found out a couple years ago that my mom purchased Mr. Bear by sending in some proofs of purchase from a cereal—she doesn’t remember which one—along with a few dollars. She must have bought two back then because my little sister, who wasn’t born yet at the time, got the exact same bear at a later date. Her bear’s fur is still plush. I like to say Mr. Bear’s fur has been loved off.
How did he become such a prominent fixture in your life?
I couldn’t tell you, exactly. He was always just there. I had tons of other stuffed animals but he was the one who accompanied me to college and on trips around the world. I don’t remember when I started photographing him on those trips, but I was either flying to or from Budapest, and I remember taking a picture (with a film camera) of him buckled in my suitcase on top of my clothes, in case the airport lost my suitcase and I never saw him again.¹
Mr. Bear is your ride-or-die and you his. That is not open to debate. You two are inseparable, synonymous with one another. Lurking in the periphery of every close relationship, however, is the threat of stagnation. Both of you must grow. For humans, that task is fairly manageable. How did Mr. Bear evolve from plaything to urbane ursine?
It’s taken Mr. Bear, like myself, years to come into his own. He actually didn’t have his own voice until he started at Boston Free Radio. I met my bestie, Jenny Magee, in 2005? 2006? Neither of us can recall precisely because we can’t imagine a time when we didn’t know each other. One of the things we bonded over was our stuffed animals. She had a midget marsupial (pocket-in-the-back) tiger with his own backstory and voice. Naturally, Stumpy and Mr. Bear became fast friends, partners in crime,² and, eventually, co-hosts of The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals. I was involved in classes at SCATV and learned that Boston Free Radio was starting up. I wanted to come up with an idea for a show we could do together, so The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals was born. The one catch was that only Stumpy had a voice; Mr. Bear had always been silent. When we both (frequently) talked in our “stuffed animal voices,” we used the same Stumpy voice, but now Mr. Bear had to come up with his own version of it. He found his own voice just in time for that first show in February of 2011. The rest is history.
We feel that speaking about somebody when that somebody is there with you is the height of bad manners. Mr. Bear, we welcome you now to Objects of Derision, where the sky isn’t described as a matter of principle, the drinks only bottom out when you do, and the cocktail nuts—the less said about those, the better.
For more than one hundred episodes of The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals, you partnered on-air with Stumpy. What dirt do you have on him?
The dirt on Stumpy? Oh boy, there’s not enough time or space, even on the infinite internet. The stories I could tell . . . but I won’t, in part because that’s bad manners, and in part because when you’re so close to someone for so long, close enough to get all the good stories, well, they’re close enough to have equal amounts of dirt on you. So, let’s just say—and he’s admitted all of this publicly on the show, so it’s no secret—that he’s a ladies’ tiger, a party animal fond of beer and good times. And if his pupils are always dilated? You’ll have to ask him about that . . .
When a partnership that prolific comes to an end, voluntarily or otherwise, what often follows is a sense that you’re rudderless. What convinced you to go on, solo?
In all seriousness, I was devastated when Stumpy followed his owner, who followed her husband, to New Haven. We made a big deal of our last show to celebrate our two-and-a-half years of laughs and hijinks on the air, inviting people to join us in the studio, call in, and meet for drinks after. I thought that was it. I had no real plan to move forward on my own; the magic of The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals was Mr. Bear and Stumpy together, not just me. I knew there was no way I would continue the show on my own or find a replacement host. But during our long run, there had been a number of occasions when I had to steer the ship solo, like when Stumpy was off gallivanting in Germany or being a doula for his owner when she had a baby. Usually I ended up reading stories during those episodes to pass the hour. So, in the months after The Secret Lives ended, I started thinking, what if I did a show where I just read?
Writers work in solitude. Then, once their pieces are out in the world, they’re still often in solitude. They don’t know if their words have touched someone or made a difference in someone’s life. I’ve often been moved by something I’ve read and wanted to let the writer know, hey, this meant something to me. I felt I had an opportunity to build off the audience and following Stumpy and I had developed to create a new platform on which I could shine a tiny spotlight on writers and other artists and their work. Maybe the writers themselves would hear and know their words mattered, or maybe I’d just share these words with people who might not have come across them otherwise. It was a very scary decision for me to go on without Stumpy by my side, but I took a deep breath, said One for the penny, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go! and jumped. And Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon opened its doors February 4, 2014, and has been in business ever since.
I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the support I’ve received this entire time. It’s been tremendous. Whenever it gets hard, or I think what’s the point, this doesn’t matter, I’m wasting my time, someone reaches out and tells me it does matter. It has made a difference. And that keeps me going.
Let’s briefly discuss your owner, Georgia Bellas. You’re a bear of refined taste; you’re in-the-know. Her reputation as a literary citizen, as a reader, is enormous. Aside from that—and keep this phrasing in mind—she’s a deft writer, published in many journals. She’s also—again, consider this phrasing—the fiction editor at Atticus Review. She said earlier in this interview that she would be loath to let others down, which explains her community-first service. Those second-place words, though, aside, also . . . What do they mean to her? Is there some selfish stripe in her character that yearns to reorder the public perception of Georgia Bellas?
Are you asking if she would prefer to be known as an amazing writer rather than a reader or literary citizen? I think the answer is no, that she’s pretty happy with the public perception of her (or at least with her perception of the public’s perception of her). Of course, she’d love to be a famous writer, to be published more and more, and to have people reading and admiring her work and buying her books (that she hasn’t written yet)—who wouldn’t want that? But she loves being a reader and editor. She has real strengths in those areas. She believes she can make a difference in both promoting and refining other writers’ words; she doesn’t believe it’s second-place work to be behind the camera, so to speak. She shines best helping others shine. At the same time, she does appreciate accolades for that, so, maybe there’s her selfish stripe?
We understand that you need to tend to the Violet Hour Saloon, where, as mentioned, you often sit down with writers and artists. Before you leave us, be honestâ€”do you think Timothy Treadwell spoiled your opportunity to ever work with Werner Herzog?
Not at all. I think my chances are exactly the same as they’ve always been. I’m sure that if Werner Herzog knew about me, he’d be pretty keen to work together, or at least come be a guest on the show. Given that his films, to quote Wikipedia, “often feature heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature,” I’m pretty much the perfect candidate. Impossible dream? Teddy bear with a radio show. Unique talents in obscure fields? Teddy bear with a radio show. Individuals in conflict with nature? Teddy bear living in the city (with a radio show).³
Also, I’m no stranger to the film world (or the art world: I used to be a nude model, bearing it all; see attached (NSFW) evidence).⁴
Maybe you’ve heard of Mr. Bear Gets Drunk? or the exciting sequel, Mr. Bear Googles How To Make Pancakes . . . But Gets Drunk Instead? I’ve also played a serial killer in a past production, and am currently taking a pocket filmmaking class. This bear is set to blow the lid off the internet world.
Mr. Herzog, if you’re reading this, I’m available. And you’re welcome on the Violet Hour Saloon anytime.
Georgia, your bear has corrupted our innocence. We seek neither reparation nor apology. Instead, we ask that you do what you set out to do upon agreeing to this interview: one-up Michael Schmeltzer: We think it’s time you say something nice about us. It’s this or tireless promotion of Issue 202.2.
It’s true that I had hoped to one-up Michael Schmeltzer . . . once you planted the idea in my head.⁵ Initially I was terrified to follow in his footsteps (why would you ask to interview me after him?). He’s a fabulous poet and human being and tweeter. I admire and respect him and am always learning from him. Then I decided, based upon your goading, to “crush him.”⁶ Then, as the questions began and you suddenly revealed the looming deadline, I knew there was no way I could beat Michael and the best I could hope for would be to simply make it to the end of the interview . . . oh, wait, you wanted me to say nice things about you, didn’t you?
Well, for starters, you published Michael Schmeltzer. You also put out an amazing, kick-ass first issue: the writing, the design, the art all lived up to the hype and blew my socks off (and I wear very cool socks). And now, all the time, thoughtfulness, and energy you’ve put into doing this interview with me and Mr. Bear—and the fact that you’re actually going to publish it and share our voices with the world (you are going to publish it, right? that’s what we agreed to)—is truly astounding. Any writer would be lucky to appear in your virtual pages with that level of dedication and support. I know I’m certainly honored to be your Object of Derision.
But I don’t know why I even bothered to answer this question—you know I’m going to go ahead and tirelessly promote Issue 202.2, anyway (just like I did for Issue 202.1), especially since you tricked me into reading the whole thing ahead of time and I already know exactly how stellar it is!⁷
The answer to Georgia’s question—“Why would you ask to interview me . . . ?”—is this interview. No stated rationale on our part could be clearer than this.
She is one of the most well-liked and respectable figures in the online literary community she cherishes, which you should learn without surprise. Glancing at her Twitter feed, it would be understandable if you said, Oh, she tweets a lot of writers. She excerpts a lot of publications. What she does is thread a sprawling subculture together tightly; she makes it a collective. She is the one ingredient in a recipe of disparate ingredients that makes a meal a meal. Part of that is due to her work ethic, daily—what feels like hourly at times—drawing eyes to pieces that may have gone unread or read by too few; part of that is due to her attitude, which is buoyant, in every sense of the word, congenial, and, as one of Mr. Bear’s answers suggested, nearly selfless.
Ladies and gentlemen, Georgia Bellas is a heartbeat. We rest easy knowing she beats steady in our community’s chest.
On Tuesdays, from 8–9PM EST, she and Mr. Bear and her guests chat at Boston Free Radio. Sit in with her sometime—she is tremendous company.
¹ Mr. Bear now flies only in carry-on; occasionally, he gets his own seat.
² This is not a joke. The rap sheets for Stumpy and Mr. Bear are grisly, horrifying in length and detail.
³ We can verify that Mr. Bear is, indeed, a teddy bear with a radio show. His points are valid.
⁴ We apologize for this.
⁵ This does not sound like us. We are a scrupulous publication.
⁶ So, we suggested that Ms. Bellas channel her inner Ivan Drago. “If he dies, he dies,” she agreed.
⁷ This does not sound like us. We are a scrupulous publication.