The title of Aspen Matis’ poignant new memoir Your Blue is not My Blue (Little A, 2020) comes straight from a conversation Matis had with her husband Justin about there being no proof that people see the same color or shade—or anything in the world—in the same way. Now, 30 and divorced, the New York-based Matis’ emotional second book is filled with tumultuous uncertainty. Over a recent Zoom interview, she opened up about the breakup, the book, and how writing is a way to turn your worst experiences into the most beautiful.
You broke into the New York Times Modern Love column when you were 21 and jumped into the publishing scene at 25, with your debut memoir about date rape, Girl in the Woods (Harpercollins, 2015). When did you begin writing?
When I was young, I wanted to be a novelist. Around age nine, I started writing stories about animals in the forest and their adventures.
How do you turn terrible heartbreak into beautiful writing?
I was encouraged by writing teachers, one in particular, to see the beauty in truth. It can be scary to expose yourself and painful memories, but as Dr. Seuss said, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Girl in the Woods was about how, after a date rape, you dropped out of college and walked the Pacific Trail where you met Justin, who you married. Your Blue is Not My Blue is about your divorce. Is it hard to be so public about your private life?
So often in society, we’re told how to present ourselves as successful and happy on the surface. Writing probes deeper than appearances. When you speak the truth, the truth becomes something outside of you and loses its power over you.
How do you balance what you want to reveal versus what you have to re-experience to get the story written?
This question makes me think of the quote, “Her wounds came from the same source as her power,” by Adrienne Rich. When I communicate with readers who have experienced some of the same struggles, it’s rewarding. This is healing for me.
Sometimes parents and in-laws have a rigid view, give you advice, and speak judgmentally.
Exactly, if each side understood that their perspective is subjective, there would be more room for connection. Your Blue is not My Blue is a very visual book where I hope you can see the world the way I do. And then see the other blues—they way Justin saw his blue, my parents and his parents saw their blue, all equally valid.
Who is your favorite author?
John Steinbeck. He always reveals something interesting about human nature and the state of our society, our tendencies as people, I think he’s brilliant and my greatest influence. When I read, I am most interested in what’s possible in terms of language. My favorite books are East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath.
The Grapes of Wrath is my all-time favorite book. I read it in high school and reread it as an adult, and so much of the imagery stayed with me. You’re much younger than I am; I would never have guessed that we would share the same favorite author/favorite book.
He’s a genius and I think it speaks to his genius that he could appeal widely to different readers, many ages, genders, and through the years.
What are you currently working on?
I’m actually working on a new memoir called Magic After Life about the sudden mysterious death of a friend at age 25. I took a road trip in her memory to Pescadero, on the California coast, with her boyfriend at the time, and we never said goodbye. Now, about 2 ½ years later, we are still together. And the memoir tells our story of love and heartbreak, of processing grief, and life after tragedy.
It feels like by sharing your story, you have a bond with readers even if you’ve never spoken to them face to face.
I wrote the book for the those who will be touched by it, not for the people who will forget about it tomorrow, and there will be both.