On DOGSLEDDING, NORWAY AND investigative memoir

interview with blair braverman

As a way to confront trauma, you put yourself in more harsh conditions and more male dominated arenas (rather than recede to gentler landscapes to heal). This seems ironic. Why do you think you were compelled to do this?


What I needed, I think, was to know that the things that had happened to me once wouldn't happen again. In gentler landscapes, I always felt limited by fear, because I knew that I wouldn't have chosen to be there if I weren't afraid. But by putting myself in similar situations--harsh wilderness and male-dominated communities--I was able to prove to myself that I knew more, that I trusted myself, that I could rewrite my own story.


There seems to be a lot of focus in your book's reviews of categorizing the kind of writing you have done. I have heard "travelogue," "memoir, "coming of age narrative," "adventure writing," and even your most hated "traumoir." If you had to make up a new genre to explain what this book has meant to you, what would it be?


It's not my invention, but I think of the book as an investigative memoir. It's a story that's based on my past but relies on interrogation and adventure in the present.


Can you name a quality about yourself that helps make you a successful musher? 


I'm good at problem-solving and I love dogs.


Can you describe what most fascinates you about the experience of mushing?


Thinking like, and with, my dogs. When we're in the wilderness together, I'm still a human, of course, but I'm also something bigger than that--part of a pack, wordless, caught up in the movements and senses of my team. It's a true interspecies collaboration.


What is something about life in the arctic or dog sled mushing that most people don't know? OR something you learned that you didn't expect.


Arctic folks don't enjoy the cold. We're just better at dressing for it.


What sources of media (books, podcasts, poets, etc.) have you referred to for inspiration or have made an impact on you?


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, is the book that I've read the most times over. I also find myself returning to Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. And I don't know anything about them, but I love music videos! Reading is exciting for me, but not relaxing--I'm thinking too much about every decision the author made--so when I want to relax, I look for genres of art that are unfamiliar to me, like dance and music.

 Can you name a time when you surprised yourself with your own emotional reaction?


Oh, gosh. I think that I surprised myself on every page of the book! And that writing it was a process of better learning my own responses.


You mention that you would never recommend writing as a form of therapy for trauma. "It's hard, it's time-consuming, it doesn't work, you're half likely to make the trauma worse" but you wanted your book to help you let go of the control your experiences had over you. In what ways, other than writing, have you been able to find some closure and/or acceptance of past experiences, good and bad?


Time, therapy, and a good partner.


You mention in another interview (Bitch Magazine) that your manner of style and physical appearance (dress) stood out amongst your peers but when you returned to Norway you realized how it had been shaped by the culture and the women there from previous trips. Did you feel more authentic in your presentation of self when set apart from your peers as "other" or when you were included in your common appearance with other women in Norway? How or does one's physical or external appearance shape your sense of agency as a woman?


Clothes are important; they're how we frame our bodies to be seen by the world. We all adjust to the people around us, but dressing specifically to fit in--with no regard for what feels good or right--is fearful. I feel most comfortable and authentic when I'm dressing out of pleasure rather than fear, whether that means I look the same or different from people around me. Dressing for myself first, however that plays out, is a way of taking ownership over a female body that I did not always feel permission to own.


"Ten years after leaving Lillenhammer, eight years after attending folk school, I made my own North." You said this North was a place where you had your own sled dogs, where you no longer needed someone else to give you permission to be a musher. Can you expand on this and what changed internally for you?


That's a big question--bigger than I can answer right here!--so I'll give you a glimpse. I live in the northwoods, on 35 acres, with 21 sled dogs and a wonderful husband. Every morning I make coffee and head out on the porch and count my huskies' wagging tails. I'm self-employed as a writer, so I adjust my schedule as much as I can so that in the winter I can run my dogs thousands of miles through the wilderness of the upper midwest. What changed is that I'm not looking for anything new anymore; I'm not proving myself to myself or anyone else; I'm at ease. I'm home.

Photo by Lelde Zalkovska