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Talking with Jacob Aiello

Jacob Aiello lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, dog and three cats. In 2018 he received the Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship in Literary Nonfiction. His work has been published in The Sun, Ninth Letter, Big Lucks, and december, among others.

Jacob’s essay “Vacuuming at Night” will appear in the Spring 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe with a discount by March 31.

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"Vacuuming at Night" reveals a wry obsession with order and cleanliness that traces its roots back to painful memories from youth. What was the drafting process like for a piece like this, and how did you deal with writing about memories?

I did find it especially hard to write about myself. Not necessarily the painful memories, which ultimately felt cathartic, but getting past the block that anything about me is worth writing at all, that anyone will find it interesting. It was only after I was able to look at this story as if it was about a fictional character that I think I made the connections and patterns that brought it to life. I think somewhere along the process it came to me that maybe putting down my most embarrassing behavior would actually make for a compelling story, and then tracing that behavior back to its roots.

You submitted this piece to our Prose & Poetry Contest, and it won an honorable mention. It caught our attention not only for its story but for its tone as well. Do you find yourself carrying most stories with a similar tone or eye, or was there something about this one that developed as the writing went along?

I think all my writing has a similar tone—a little wry, a little neurotic—but I leaned on my neuroses especially with this story. OCD is fundamentally neurotic because a part of your brain fully comprehends and acknowledges what you're doing as "crazy" even while another part of your brain compels you to do it, or obsess on it, or whatever. I think it's inherently comic in its mundanity—alphabetizing books or sweeping lint or whatever—but when you zoom out and see how debilitating it can be it becomes a little more serious, and I wanted to communicate that duality.

For writers out there that are just starting out, what books would you suggest, and what did you learn about them as a growing writer?

I'm a huge fan of Perfect Day Publishing, an independent press here in Portland, Oregon that publishes just one memoir/nonfiction book a year. I first started writing essays about four or five years ago while burning through their catalog, and was drawn in particular to the framing of nonfiction as a short story, focusing on character and atmosphere and developing an interiority rather than just hitting biographical milestones, which also restructured how I think about short stories.

I'd highly recommend Martha Grover's The End of My Career from them, as well as Goodbye To the Nervous Apprehension by Michael Heald (who also runs the press) and Get It While You Can by Nick Jaina. Also anything by Amelia Gray, who can do no wrong.