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Hillary Carlip—The Oddballs' Queen Bee
2006-07-19

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BY AMY WOOTEN

Hillary Carlip is a bit of a Renaissance woman. Always searching for a creative outlet, Carlip's resume contains everything from fire-eater and juggler to cult rock star, actress, game-show contestant and screenwriter.

In her new memoir, Queen of the Oddballs, Carlip has gathered the tales of her adventurous life thus far—everything from spending one teenage summer tracking down Carole King to wanting to bitch slap Oprah. Throughout her memoir are photos, letters, movie stills, ticket stubs—just in case the reader doubts any of the crazy things Carlip has experienced.

The author will be in town July 20 at the Bookslut reading series, 7:30 p.m., at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark. Carlip told Windy City Times that the audience will be in for a special treat. She plans on breaking out her juggling skills during the reading.

Windy City Times: I'd love to talk about Queen of the Oddballs. In the title alone, I was attracted to the word 'oddball' because I think so many people in the queer community especially, always feel like they're a little odd. I was wondering how you define the word 'oddball.' It seems to be a term you've really embraced and turned into something positive.

Hillary Carlip: It is. To me the biggest thing that I've really realized is I see it as the sunny side of weird. Because there is definitely weird people that I wouldn't necessarily consider oddballs. [ Laughs. ] To be an oddball is the sunny side of weird. It's someone who is eccentric, a trailblazer; someone mistrustful of the tasteful and the restrained, who has an irresistible impulse to gild lilies at 45 when they're 13 and 13 when they're 45; travels off the beaten path. It's anyone who has even been called an iconoclast or a cockeyed optimist. And to me, it's just like the subtitle of my book, living life unaccording to planned. That's part of it as well. But generally, it's someone who really chooses to be who they are and live their life creatively in all aspects.

WCT: Very true. And you've lived quite a creative life so far. You've experience everything from fire eating and juggling to becoming an author of three books. First of all, what brought you to writing, and how has that been an outlet for you?

HC: To me, I started keeping journals since I was 13. So, it's always been a really important tool for me. You know, my first book 'Girl Power' really came out of feeling like what got me through being a teenage girl through those awkward years was being able to write. It's sort of a tool for survival, just being able to communicate and really let it all out what was going on.

WCT: What inspired you to gather all of it together and tell the tale of your adventurous life?

HC: I started out at these spoken word events in L.A. I started reading at them—they pretty much featured personal essays—and I was so blown away by how much people really respond to these true stories and intimate sharings. That really inspired me. I just thought it was time to tell my story. After so long, also, I've been really encouraging others to tell their stories through my book Girl Power, and my second book, called 'Zine Scene. I also have a Web site called Fresh Yarn.

Through this I realized I was encouraging everyone else and supporting everyone else to tell their stories, and maybe it was time for me to do that, too.

WCT: How has Fresh Yarn [ a Web site for personal essays ] shaped your writing?

HC: Fresh Yarn has been incredible. First of all, reading thousands of submissions—there's no better way to improve your writing than to read tons of it. Just to be inundated with that, and to see what works and what doesn't, ... has been really helpful.

WCT: Throughout the book, you are constantly searching for clarity. Do you think you have completely found that yet?

HC: Part of, besides the clarity, is kind of that search for some acceptance. I think that is always something that sort of comes and goes. At a bigger level, I finally got to a place where, yay, I can celebrate [ where ] I am at being an oddball. But there are always moments where in a certain situation [ you wonder ] , 'Do I fit in? Am I an outcast still?' It's something that is kind of at your core, I think, and stays with you always. I'd say yes and no.

WCT: In the book, you realize at a certain point that at your core is feeling that you're never enough. Do you still feel that way?

HC: I think the core kind of will always be there, but what the big revelation was for me is that's OK. It's OK. Look what it's done for me and my life having that feeling?

WCT: I was just going to say, think of all the adventure you may have missed out on.

HC: Yeah. I think I finally let go of the pursuit of feeling ok and realizing that acceptance is where it's at. I feel that for anyone. Such a part of coming to terms with ourselves is just accepting where we're at.

WCT: You've tackled so much. Is there anything you haven't tried yet that you'd like to do?

HC: The amazing thing about my life that I'm so grateful for is I just kind of do what occurs to me. So, a lot of time I don't have plans. I didn't set out like, 'I want to be a fire-eater.' It just kind of occurred to me. I was like, 'Yeah, why not? Go for it!' I'm sure there are so many things I haven't even thought of yet that. Hopefully when they occur to me I will continue to just go for it and do.

WCT: Is there anything you regret having done, career-wise?

HC: No, not at all.

WCT: Has each experience led you to where you are today?

HC: Absolutely. Certainly during the whole span of my career so far, I've questioned things. Am I on the right path? Do I need one path instead of 40 different paths? But it feels like it all makes sense now.

See www.hillarycarlip.com .


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