Date of Interview: May 10, 2018
Name: Danielle Levsky
If you were an underwater creature, what would you be?
Oh, that’s cool. So the first thing that came to mind, which is what I’m going to go with, is one of those underwater horse things… A seahorse! I’d be a seahorse. I think they’re very elegant and beautiful. And on the Earth, on the ground, I have a very strong connection to deer, and I think seahorses are like the deer of the ocean.
How often do you bathe or shower?
Oh, probably too often for someone that claims to be as environmentally conscious as me. I love bathing so much. It’s one of my favorite activities. I definitely shower once a day. I’ve been told by different hair stylists that I should not wash my hair every day, so I’m trying that out… And I really don’t like it [laughter]. So that’s real. When I’m having a particularly stressful day or week, I have to take a bath. And I put all this stuff around me: my soaps, essential oils, salts, rose petals. I also have a sachet full of lavender I like to throw in here. I usually have a candle burning. I have my different rocks and crystals. Sometimes I actually put the rocks in the tub and bathe with them.
Does this support your mental health?
Yeah. I definitely say so, and I feel like that’s—well, it’s kind of a common thing right now in self-care. Treat yourself and all that stuff. But I think it really is very healing to be immersed in warm water, by yourself and to just like hear this… [splashes water around]. Just that… Some people listen to music, sometimes I listen to music when I’m in here, but I prefer to be in silence, because my world is constantly immersed in sound, noise, just a lack of silence in general. I like to be reminded of calming things around me; I like to breathe and just float in the water… like a seahorse [laughter].
What are you passionate about?
Oh, a lot of things. I do too much arguably, but maybe I don’t. Maybe I do just about enough. So I’m very passionate about my identity. I very strongly and proudly identify with my Jewish ethno-religious identity and with my Ukrainian-Jewish heritage. I don’t say Ukrainian heritage, because Ukraine has a very long history of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and a lot of other fucked up shit that I don’t subscribe to. But I do support and understand my people and my ancestors and what they went through… Even if I might not agree with some of their religious practices. I still think that they did everything they could with what they had [laughter].
I’m very passionate about intersectional feminism. While I’m very strongly rooted in my experience as a woman, I think that extends to not just women, but also W-O-M-Y-N, W-O-M-X-N , W-O-M-E-N+, and everyone that falls into the LGBTQIA+ distinctions. A couple of years ago, I applied for this fellowship in Pittsburgh; Creative Nonfiction Magazine was producing their book series called Writing Pittsburgh. They were calling for submissions about different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. I submitted a pitch—not about a neighborhood, but about a community that doesn’t have a neighborhood, the LGBTQIA+ community. I found it fascinating that in Pittsburgh—which has one of the most revolutionary spaces for that history—doesn’t have a defined neighborhood for that community. It’s just in pockets all over Pittsburgh. I really wanted to understand and explore why that was and is. So, I’ve always been very passionate about those topics. And I feel like a lot of people have asked me why I wanted to write about the LGBTQIA+ community, because I don’t identify as LGBTQIA, but I very strongly identify as an ally. I also think I really hate gender distinctions [laughter], so maybe that’s part of it. Whenever I talk with my friends who are having kids, and they’re like, “I’m going to buy little Molly a dress,” and I’m like, “Maybe Molly can pick what she wants to wear. Maybe Molly wants a dress, or maybe Molly wants some pants, I don’t know [laughter]”. And they’re like, “Wow, that’s some feelings!” So… I just think gender needs to die [laughter].
I also love art. I love everything that art does and evokes. And the conversations it sparks. I think it’s very healing and transformative. I think it’s sad that arts education is not getting the funding it deserves in the States. I think it’s sad that artists are undervalued, or that some artists are valued over others based on whether they studied at a certain place or whether they were able to give a stupid amount of money to an institution to become artists. I’m specifically very passionate about investigating the world of clowning in the States. With my family coming from the Soviet Union, that was a hugely respected art form. Clowns, comedians and physical performance artists were and are revered as the smartest people in that part of that world there. Whereas here, the term clown is used as like a derogatory term, which I am very confused by because I think funny people are so much smarter than all of us [laughter].
What else? I’m passionate about the forest and nature and being in nature… and the ocean! Every time we visit my partner’s family in Miami, I say hi to everyone, then I say “Okay, we need to go to the water now [laughter]… NOW.” And they don’t get that, I think maybe because they had the fortune of living there their whole lives. Or maybe they just, I don’t know, like it as much as others do. But I love being in the ocean so much: the vastness of it and the seeming lack of end to it is very calming to me. I think for some that’s very scary, but for me, it’s like, “Wow, everything is just flows on and on forever!” That’s cool [laughter].
What is something you still struggle with?
My anxiety and my temper. I am definitely an extrovert, so I get my energy from other people. But I’m possibly also too empathetic, so I can absorb any bad energy that comes my way. I have been learning to deal with this more and more lately by taking out the people, activities and thoughts in my life that have too much negativity to give me. That kind of energy causes me to have more and more anxiety, and then that translates over to me imposing that anxiety on people in my life that don’t deserve it. It also makes my work and art suffer, which I don’t need either. And then the temper. Well [laughter], I don’t know. I think people say things that I don’t agree with, especially when it affects other… When it’s just about me, I can laugh it off sometimes, but when it’s about people I care about or a people that I think have no right to be attacked—no people should be attacked—I get really mad [laughter]. I have trouble censoring and calming myself down when responding. It actually really helps to have a partner who’s just the most stoic and calm human being on the planet. He’s always like, “All right, that was bad, but we’re not going to respond to that now.” And I’m more like, “I’m going to respond to that now!” He helps calm me down.
What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonic, sexual, familial, otherwise?
I think relationships are the cornerstone of everything we do in life. That’s not necessarily a relationship with another person or persons, it can also be the relationship with yourself. I think different types of relationships work for different people. Personally, monogamy has worked best for me, but that’s because I deal with my own past trauma of sharing intimacy in different forms. To be intimate with someone—not just a physical way but emotional, spiritual, etc.—for me is a big deal. There were many times I wish that wasn’t the case. So, I think whatever works for people and their relationships, solo or otherwise, is great! Everyone needs a different type of care. As long as they’re not hurting others intentionally or unintentionally. Even unintentionally, I think it’s worth making sure you’re never hurting anyone. And if you are… Fucking apologize? I mean… [laughter] Yes.
What do you feel accomplished with?
I feel pretty happy with where I am in my writing career. I didn’t really know where it would go after I left the Tribune. I was like, “I’m not going to work in journalism full-time anymore.” I thought, “Am I not a journalist anymore? Am I not a writer anymore? If I’m not those things, then who am I?” So that was my big, 22-year-old crisis I had back in the day. But I slowly found a way to incorporate writing into my life that worked for me, that worked with my own troubles, anxieties and goals for the future. I had many conversations with people who said, “Well, you could still work as a writer and do it full-time as a freelancer”. And I’m like, “Yeah, if it was only just me… forever.” I don’t mind starving or living in holes in the ground. I’m fine with that, but I do want to have a family someday and I don’t think it’s fair to subject my future children to the way I’m okay with living. So, I’m very pleased with how I was able to keep writing in my life, but also find a day job that I actually enjoy and I can actually see myself doing something meaningful with. I work as an instructional designer right now in a corporate/IT environment/setting. It’s cool, but I know in the future what I can do with it. I could be an instructional designer for kids with learning disabilities, because a lot of them learn so much better with online training. But in order to do that, I need to become really good at what I’m doing now. So, I just feel like I’m on this great path to have a family, provide for my kids, but also continue being a creative person and writer.