Essayist T Kira Madden finds comfort in everything from childhood Nickelodeon shows to cooking soup

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T Kira Madden cooks instead of meditates and isn’t really sure how much she’ll like eating out on her upcoming book tour for her memoir Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. (Bookstores, find the best soup near your location and let her know.)

Throughout the pieces in her debut memoir, she talks about trying to fit in and seeking comfort anyway she can. While cooking is a big source of release for her now, television and the internet were sanctuaries for her growing up as a queer misfit in a posh school with a complicated home life.

Instead of asking her about everything in the stellar Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (which you should 100% rush out to buy at your local indie right now), I wanted to figure out the stories that didn’t make the cut. We talked about everything from Babysitters Club to Xanga websites to her dream of being a guest judge of Top Chef.

I saw on one of your Instagram stories you mentioned how it’s weird being an introvert but now have to talk so much about your book, which means you’re talking about your entire childhood to the world. 

It is weird.

I want to start with a simple: how have you been doing since the release of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls?

That is very kind to ask No one has really asked that. I’m a wreck, to be honest. I’m so grateful and so excited. There is so much relief after releasing it after years and years. I’m just an emotional wreck this week. I feel very vulnerable. 

What I want to talk about is not the book at all. But just your life outside of the memoir. You and I are basically the same age. What’re your earliest memories of pop culture fandom?

I really loved television. I loved Nickelodeon: Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Shelby Woo, Alex Mack, and Hey Dude. I loved The Saddle Club; that book series was really special to me. The Babysitters Club, Boxcar Children, and Encyclopedia Brown as well.

I really loved Moon Shoes. Do you remember those?

Yes, the big shoes that go over your shoes so you can bounce!

I wanted to wear them everywhere. Anywhere I could and I would always hurt myself.

I never personally owned a pair and I hadn’t thought about them in ages, but as soon as you said Moon Shoes, I flashed back to a friend’s house who did have them. Which was a memory I haven’t thought of in forever. Also, Encyclopedia Brown. Do you remember a movie that was based on the books?

Encyclopedia Brown? I don’t remember a movie.

It had to been a made for television movie. I don’t remember much, and this is such a weird thing to remember, but his best friend was a girl and she tucked her shirt into her underwear and that was commented on. So for the rest of the movie, she wore her shirts untucked.

I don’t remember that.

It’s weird how memory works. Like Babysitters Club, I don’t really remember other than the movie. Animorphs was my 50+ long series.

Oh, I loved Animorphs.

About four years ago, I spent around $200 to buy and read the whole series.

Now that’s cool.

It was… something else. Now, with these shows and books, were you pretending to be in their world to escape? Was that your type of imagination?

I think I was always living in fantasy worlds and other worlds because of my home life, family life, and school. I always have been very attached to other worlds. I haven’t had TV in a very long time and it is a resurgence in my life. I’m very pleased with it. I’ve been attached to films, TV, books; any forms of story consumption has been very important to me. Back then, I certainly lived within those stories.

I wanted to be a Boxcar child, I wanted to be Little Orphan Annie, I wanted to be Harriet the Spy. There’s actually a part of the book that didn’t make it in. There was Adventures in Wonderland on Disney [1992-1994]. Alice walks through her mirror and I tried over and over to walk through my mirror. I actually ran into it and shattered my mirror and got pretty banged up. That’s how desperately I wanted to be a part of these worlds and stories.

Looking back now, did you see a pattern in the types of worlds you escaped to?

I loved anything magical. Anybody who possessed magic. I loved Matilda, I loved Alice, I loved The Little Mermaid because she had a secret. I actually wore a red wig for over a year of my life. It was my Ariel wig. 

I was into any sort of magic like ouija boards and spell books. Obviously, I still am.

That’s funny about the red wig. I had a plain black Batman shirt that my mom sewed a cape onto that I wore every day.

That’s amazing.

I was so obsessed with Peter Pan that I had to get green pumpkins for Halloween. Ones that weren’t ripe.

Oh my – that’s incredible

It’s like we wanted to put any parts of our magical worlds into the real world in any way possible.

Completely. Oh, and Alex Mack. I loved her because she had those powers. I always wanted them so I could become liquid and go through doors.

Would that still be the superpower you would want now or has that changed as you’ve grown?

That actually sounds appealing right now. If I could be a mirrored liquid at any time so I could escape a room. That sounds great.

My definite superpower would definitely have to be telekinesis for numerous reasons but one being I hate traffic and would need to move cars out of my way.

That would be a good one.

Another place I feel we could run to so we could escape was AOL and AIM. Do you remember your most used or longest screen name?

I had many, but sweetandtart143 was my first screen name that I had for a very long time. I had the basic cutie pie type names. When I thought I was more mature I had loveisunDfined with a capital ‘d.’ That was my deep one.

Was LiveJournal a part of your life?

I wasn’t huge on LiveJournal. I used Xanga. I had my AOL Homepage had a lot. I put a lot into that and learned HTML coding so it would be colorful and flashy.

I made a lot of those sites as well. I had my last name on one at some point and my dad freaked. Which is funny because now all of my social media handles are just my last name.

Oh, I bet— Oh! I also had the Palace. Do you remember that?

What? No!

Do you remember the 1990s cartoon dolls that looked like you, but they all looked the same? Google “cartoon dolls of the ‘90s.” You basically had a cartoon doll that was your avatar. They had JNCO pants, colorful hair, and the girls had big boobs. You would choose them and you had a program called The Palace and go interact with other users. Basically, it was just for cybersex. You could talk to other dolls and act out scenes and fantasies. I lived on the Palace.

Image result for cartoon dolls the palace

What was your avatar like?

My avatar looked nothing like me. I had a couple of different ones. I was always pretending to be different girls on the internet; as within the field of love. I had different personas. I really liked the hot goth girl. I loved that avatar. Other than her, I always wanted to be the white girl. I chose the girl who looked like Christina Aguilera. I chose the blonde with big tits. They all had different names.

It’s so interesting how the internet has shifted through the years where it was really anonymous – and it still is now – but now it’s harder to be anonymous if you’re a writer and your name is your brand. How have you been handling social media now that the book is out?

It’s tough. I haven’t found my balance. I want to be up to date and stay engaged and having dialogue. It’s also really bad for me to be too engaged with social media and not present in my life. I have really bad anxiety and the more I’m on my phone, the more I’m on social media. It’s hard leading up to pub week and pub week. There are all these excerpts coming out and I am hearing from so many people. People are sharing their stories with me and it is important for me to respond and not shut them down. That’s why I wrote the pieces I wrote.

When do you remember people beginning to reach out?

Other than people I already knew, a lot of it began with “The Feels of Love” in Guernica [December 12, 2016]. A lot of people began sharing their stories with me and I began engaging with people about intimate stories they shared.

A lot of people are reaching out to you because they finally see representation in a book. Going back to those characters you mentioned – other than being magical – they are also mostly white, straight characters. Did you ever feel represented?

I really love Moana and I know that’s really recent. But I remember seeing her and thinking, Oh, island girl. Powerful island girl, too. Moana was a big one. Some would say Lilo and Stitch but never felt connected to that. Definitely recent.

Very recent. I was thinking about the shows or books I loved growing up and wanted to be inserted into. Nearly all of them, I could just be plucked out of reality and into it the world because they were about exactly me. I realize how there is a lack of representation of diversity there is in Hollywood, but it took me a long time.

Like how are Friends or Girls, which are set in New York City the whitest shows on television?

I don’t even think representation was something I was conscious of or even seeking. I don’t think I realized it was a possibility. What you’re talking about was just what we were inundated with and used to. Now, as an adult, I can speak about how we need more diversity and representation in media. As a kid, all I wanted was to be the Alex Mack – the white girl. It didn’t even occur to me, really.

You mentioned people are sharing intimate stories more and more. What helps you cope when things get overwhelming for you?

I eat a lot. Usually, it’s cooking that is my meditative time. I haven’t had time, which is why I feel thrown off, to be honest. I’m moving my center of gravity because I haven’t been in the kitchen and able to make food for myself. People meditate, but that doesn’t work for me. I have my steps and process. It’s weird eating out and going from place to place and not have that grounding at home.

My partner, Hannah, is my stability. She snaps me out of a funk and helps to remind me of where I am and to be present. My dogs keep me laughing. 

Do you follow cooking shows at all?

I’m obsessed with Food Network. Guy Fieri doing anything. My comfort show is Chopped or Top Chef.

If you were a judge on Top Chef, what would be the ideal food for the cooks to make for you?

A soup challenge. I would want a three-course soup meal. 

Soup is the best.

Soup is the best. Soup is love, as my brother says.

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