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Jolene Siana

by Susan Henderson on April 25, 2007

GO ASK OGRE is the story of a teenager who feels so alone with her pain that she writes her heart out to a stranger, the lead singer of Skinny Puppy. In fact, she sends him 73 letters, 14 postcards, and 5 notebooks filled with her most private thoughts. Remarkably, Ogre saves these letters, and years later, returns them to her.

14 February 1987
Nivek Ogre,
I’m Jolene. I’m 17. I’m a senior at an extremely boring school. It’s packed full of heavy metalers. Do you like heavy metalers? Sorry to say but I don’t get along with them too well. I hate this school…. My mother hates me….
– from GO ASK OGRE

GO ASK OGRE+ is a collection of those letters, including the sometimes blood-stained drawings she sent with them. The memoir is a story of a young girl looking for something to hold on to during a time when life seemed hopeless.

Some people go through hellish times and come out bitter and hard-shelled. Others, and Jolene is one of them, manage to take a bad experience and become loving and wise.

+ You can buy GO ASK OGRE from lots of bookstores like Amazon and Powell’s. But if you’ve been in on LitPark discussions regarding the survival of indie presses, you know, it’s better to buy directly from the publisher, and in this case, it’s Process Media .

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Talk to me about self-loathing – how it takes hold, and the toll it exacts.

Self loathing and negative thoughts”¦Well, I know what generally brings it on and how to deal with it before I’m in too deep. Over the years I’ve had a lot of therapy and have also been lucky to have the influence of my smart and healthy friends. I know that when I’m tired it’s easy for me to slip upon unhealthy thoughts so as soon as that begins to happen I just remind myself that I’m really tired. I try not to overanalyze things when I’m feeling that way and focus on the present. For example, I don’t think about my writing or art or relationships or anything that could upset me. It seems easy enough but it has taken me years to learn this. There is a term for this called “mental slippage” that I learned about in a book called, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, which is about cognitive behavioral therapy.

It’s really fascinating and informative and has helped me tremendously. It’s about how you can change your brain chemistry and thought patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy and how it is possible to do so without drugs, which is what I prefer. That’s why I chose the Anais Nin quote to begin GO ASK OGRE because I’m frustrated with doctors these days and how pushy they are about suggesting drugs as treatment and put psychotherapy as a secondary solution. It’s especially disturbing when they do this to young adults before they even have a chance to fully develop. I know a lot of people benefit from these medications but, I think that those drugs should be secondary to therapy.

I wish I could wake up some morning and be someone else.
– from GO ASK OGRE

In your memoir, the teenage Jolene reaches out to a most unlikely confidante, Skinny Puppy’s lead singer. At the time, what would you have said your reason was for seeking him out?

At the time I had a lot of pen pals. I was very much into correspondence and the mail art scene. I was also being introduced to a lot of new music by way of my pen pals and a show that was on MTV at the time called “120 Minutes,” which is where I first saw a video for Skinny Puppy, which lead me to purchase their album “Mind the Perpetual Intercourse.”

I had reached out before to musicians that I had admired. I can’t explain why my letters to Ogre were so immediately personal. I really don’t know why. It’s still a bit of a mystery even to myself. I guess I could point out the obvious. His look was interesting to me. I liked the black spiky hair and torn jeans and the dark eye make-up. And from what I could tell from his lyrics, he seemed like he was familiar with pain, which I could identify with.

My “mother” just went crazy. She’s throwing things in my room. She ripped my posters and then she pulled my hair.
– from GO ASK OGRE

I have to say, while the subject is often so serious, there’s something so playful and humorous in the letters and in your comments to Ogre acknowledging the weirdness and the frequency of the letters. It has a Morrissey quality to them, kind of dramatic with tongue in cheek. Can you comment on the surprising humor that’s in there?

I was suprised myself when I was going through the letters before I began transcribing them. I did make my own quirky jokes about how much I was writing to him and what I chose to share with him. But I also laughed at some of the 80’s references. Like how devastating it was to me to be out at a show, the night that I met Ogre and to look in the mirror aftwards to see that my hair was flat. And other things that are kind of sweet. Sentiments that come from the heart that are kind of warming.

Then there’s the dark humor… and the humor that you attempt when trying to lighten up situations. For example, when recounting a particularly dramatic fight with my mother, throwing some humor in there to make it less painful.

Now that you have healed some and gained distance, how do you understand that act of reaching out to a stranger?

I still can’t figure that one out! I guess it has a bit to do with the safety of being extremely honest with someone who you are not close to. It’s hard to be so open with friends or family about such personal things sometimes.

I can have my own opinion when I write.
– from GO ASK OGRE

You were seeing a therapist during this time, or part of it, but neglected to mention the letter writing. That fascinates me, though I think I would have done the same. Can you say why you kept that private, and what eventually made you reveal the secret?

I wasn’t seeing a therapist regularly. After my grandparent’s passed away in 1986 I told my mother that I wanted to see a therapist. She wanted to get therapy together, as we were having problems but I didn’t like that. I wanted to speak to someone on my own so I wasn’t happy with our sessions together, which we eventually dropped.

There were times throughout the book when I would see a therapist for a session or two but it wasn’t long term.

I’m such a loser. All I want to do anymore is write you and sleep.
– from GO ASK OGRE

How old were you when Ogre sent the letters and notebooks back to you? And can you tell me what it was like to receive that package?

I was 31, I guess. I had known that he still had the letters. He was living in LA and the letters were in Calgary with a friend of his so it took about a year to get them back. I was really anxious about it. Ogre told me that some of the letters were unopened (which, I was thankful for) so it was really strange to open a letter from myself from 17 years ago. I was engrossed. There were so many letters that, days later I was still opening letters”¦ I was surprised by my sense of humor at the time which I don’t remember having and of course, the dark things”¦ the suicide attempt. I had blocked a lot of things out of my mind so reading them opened a few wounds. I fell into a mind depression but I think it was good for me to re-live that. I think it allowed me to fully heal to re-read and transcribe those letters.

I’m not afraid of dying, I’m just afraid of how I will die. The kind, the ways of death. I’m terrified of being murdered. I have a fear that when I’m driving, if I pass a car the people in the car are going to shoot me in the head. I don’t want anyone to slice my body up. I’m afraid of being stabbed to death. I don’t want my body thrown in a river or put into a trunk of a car. I have a fear of having my head cut off. I don’t want anyone to cut off my fingers and make me eat them.
– from GO ASK OGRE

The book is full of some hateful episodes between you and your mother; and yet the epilogue is so awfully forgiving. What changed, and how?

Well, getting out of that environment was the first step. My mother and I have always had a love/hate relationship due to our mood disorders. We’ve never seemed to be able to communicate properly during any sort of crisis. We were both very emotional and immature. I went away to art school and became a little more aware. I learned that most relationships were not like this.

In my early 20’s my mother and I had an argument and she told me that she hated me. I learned to detach a bit and though it was painful, I told her that I found it very sad that she hated her daughter. That was the first time I was able to successfully detach. She didn’t respond well when I put up my boundaries but over the years I continued to do so, cutting her off when her behavior was unhealthy. In my late 20’s I began to get regular therapy after an unhealthy romantic relationship. I found a therapist who I really connected with and I learned a lot from. I began to understand a little about my mother’s behavior with her alcoholism and mood disorders and her abuse history. I encouraged her to get therapy as well, which she did and she’s grown a lot.

When I first began working on the book she was concerned about how she would be portrayed. I didn’t want to hurt her. I told her this. The process of putting the book together took a couple of years, which, gave her some time to digest it all and she asked me to use a pseudonym for my last name, which I did. But something really beautiful has happened with the release of this book. My mother completely supports it. She came to my book signing in Toledo, Ohio, my hometown and invited all of our relatives to come. She has finally forgiven herself for the past and sees the book as a way for her to close that chapter. It’s had an amazing effect on our relationship.

Despite our past, I would never want to hurt my mother. Although what is documented in GO ASK OGRE does not portray her in the best light, she was wonderful in a lot of ways.

My mom said, “It’s over!” once again. Once again, it’s over.
– from GO ASK OGRE

What kind of feedback have you heard from your readers?

People usually thank me for being so honest in the book and I appreciate that because as excited I was about having a book published, I was also terrified about exposing myself. Because these were letters that I had never thought I would ever see again, let alone share”¦ you know if I had written this book with the intention to share it with the public it would be less “stream of consciousness” style. But people seem to like that. It makes them feel that they are reading thoughts directly transcribed and I guess that’s interesting.

Hear one R.E.M. song, you’ve heard them all! I’m going to have nightmares about too loud R.E.M.
– from GO ASK OGRE

If you received a letter from a teenage girl who hated herself like you did, what would you say to her? How does a kid go from self-loathing to healing?

I do get a lot of letters from people who are going through a tough time and I feel for them. I try to encourage them to reach out to counselors or family members whom they trust. I tell them not to feel so alone because a lot of people feel this way and that things can get better but that it takes time. I tell them to focus on the little things that make them happy. That’s what I do and it seems to work!

Jolene, thank you for your book and for taking the time to do this!

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If you’re on MySpace, you can “friend” Jolene and Go Ask Ogre.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

amy April 25, 2007 at 8:36 am

fascinating interview.

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billie April 25, 2007 at 8:48 am

Wonderful interview – I know there are many adolescents who will love this book!

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Paula April 25, 2007 at 9:27 am

That is WOW on a lot of levels.

I can see clearly why the theme this week is hope. What an original and brilliant and teenage way to just sort of make up some hope and hang on it.

It struck me as a particular kind of clever only a creative teenager surrounded by bleak could invent and maintain.

It made me wish I had thought of it first. And that I had an ironically benevolent rock and roller pen pal named Ogre.

And it not only worked, it should inspire others to find some hope. I feel like saying “Bravo!”

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Betsy April 25, 2007 at 10:26 am

Fascinating story. Thanks Sue and Jolene.

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Karen Dionne April 25, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Wow. I can’t imagine putting so much of myself out there. (That’s why I write fiction!) Brava, Jolene!

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lance reynald April 25, 2007 at 1:58 pm

amazing story.

I just love tales of finding yourself through the help of some idols…

and finding courage to write about those darker places so many can’t find a way out of.

you also managed to get me to pull up my full Skinny Puppy collection on my iPod, next stop KMFDM and Front 242…

Thanks for playing in the Park Jolene!

xo-LR

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Daryl April 25, 2007 at 2:19 pm

This interview has stirred my soul so deeply, I can barely find stillness within myself to write anything to you both right now.

Wow… I’m just completely blown away. I’ll have to let this settle and write more later. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much Jolene and Susan.

Most sincerely,
daryl

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Nathalie April 25, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Moving story, Jolene.
Thanks you to both of you.

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jolene April 25, 2007 at 3:38 pm

WOW! Thanks so much for all of your kind comments! And thank you Susan for reading my book and doing such a lovley feature!

I will keep checking in for comments…have to run out now but just wanted to say that if anyone has any questions, I’m completely comfortable answering them. I know there are some heavy issues involved but I’m open to questions & dialogue.

Thank you, thank you!

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Carolyn Burns Bass April 25, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Fabulous interview, Susan and Jolene. GO ASK OGRE sounds like a powerful book.

Truth is an anti-inflammatory for psychic pain. Whether in a memoir, over a counseling session, or upon one’s deathbed, truth is a type of mental medicine. I hope GO ASK OGRE sells enough copies to warrant an afterward that reveals the remarkable healing between Jolene and her mom as a result of the book.

Most amazing to me is that Ogre kept Jolene’s letters intact through the years. This says as much to me about Ogre as it does Jolene. (Bravo, Ogre.) I wonder how many other Jolenes there are, pouring their hearts out to pop icons who read (or not) and toss them away as the deranged scribblings of crazed fans.

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Susan Henderson April 25, 2007 at 10:40 pm

amy, billie, Paula, and Betsy – Thank you for being here. And Paula, what an insightful perspective you have. Your comment woke something up in me that was sleeping.

Karen – I think she’s brave, too. I also think fiction writers can go places that take unbelievable courage and vulnerability. I have a guest coming here in a couple of weeks, and we’ve been talking a lot about Coetzee, who’s mighty courageous, and one of many.

Lance – Do you remember that indie record store on M Street, about 2 blocks from Poseurs? That’s where I bought my first Skinny Puppy record.

Daryl – I think you stirred some souls during your interview, as well. I’m glad you’re here.

Nathalie – And to you, for being moved.

Jolene – Thanks so much for such an honest interview. I have two questions, if you feel like answering them. One has to do with the cutting. I’d love to hear you talk about how that was an outlet and what you’ve substituted in its place. Also, I would love to see a memoir from you written by the grown up Jolene and wondered if you’ve considered writing one.

Carolyn – Wow, you said it about truth. Even for those of us who tell truths with fiction. And I second the request for that mother-daughter book!

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lance reynald April 26, 2007 at 2:01 am

wondertwin- I can totally see the record shop you’re talking about in my head…the name escapes me. I always bought my vinyl at that indy shop in Dupont. usually after some under-aged drinking at Dupont Villa and hanging with the punk couriers in the circle, chain smoking Newports…and if I recall correctly, Commander Salamander had a measly magazine rack of import vinyl…Oh yeah…SMASH! lol.

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Darrin April 26, 2007 at 12:13 pm

Powerful story, Jolene. You’ve bravely shown that writing letters can be such a creative antidote to hopelessness.

For everyone else — I suppose Jolene has been too modest to mention that she’ll be reading at KGB Bar in NYC on May 8th. See you there, Jolene!

Darrin

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jolene April 26, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Yep! I will indeed be there!
Thanks so much Darrin! I’m looking forward to seeing you there! I love the KGB Bar!

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Lori Oliva April 26, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Whoa. Self-loathing comes in so many forms. Many of which are subconscious…making the wrong choices, loving the wrong people, living the wrong life. Hopefully one day we snap out of it. Sometimes it takes therapy. I still struggle with unhealthy thoughts and right now seem to be overcoming them. Anxiety and “What if” situations can put you into a tail spin faster than a blink. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences. It’s brought me back to a lot of dark times as an outsider growing up.

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Susan Henderson April 27, 2007 at 11:16 am

Hey, everyone, I’m talking with Terry about the problem with comments being eaten, and I apologize and will get that fixed.

In the meantime, I’m going to post a response by Jolene Siana:

Thanks Susan, actually this is something I wanted to talk about. After I stopped cutting I began to have panic attacks. At first it was quite debilitating but after I went to the library and got 10 books on panic disorder I learned how to deal with it and treat it. After about 6 months I stopped having them. I had gone to a doctor about it and he immediately suggested drugs, which I declined. After several check ups he declared me well-adjusted and told me that he didn’t think I needed to attend the support group meetings that they offered. Although, looking back. I wish I had gone.

Over the years I’ve had symptoms come and go, relating to, General Anxiety disorder, which, I’ve been diagnosed with. I considered an anti-anxiety medication only once but quickly decided against it. I would just rather learn about my behavior and issues instead of trying to mask it. There are ups and downs and believe me, there are times when I would like to take, like a pill, a quick fix, so to speak but I don’t. Now, when I’m feeling anxious, I write and paint and go for walks. I remind myself to stay focused and balanced. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not.

At the moment I’m actually working on another young adult memoir. It’s all the preceding events to Go Ask Ogre from age 14 to 23 so you can see what led to the depression and cutting and what happened shortly afterwards. It will also be visual like Go Ask Ogre.

As far as a memoir of my adult life. Yeah, I’d love to do that. And my first year in New York has given me plenty of material to work with, that’s for sure! I document everything and take notes all the time, so I guess my answer is, Yes.

Thanks so much for the suggestion of an afterword in Go Ask Ogre.

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John Bourne April 27, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Hi Jolene,

Really nice article.

I was particularly touched by the journey you and your mother have been through since the publication of your book.

I too used to have lots of penpals. The letters were wonderfully therapeutic.

Being ‘in the moment’ – there is nothing more beautiful.

Take care,

John Bourne.

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Susan Henderson April 27, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Jolene – Every one of your book ideas sound like good ones. Fascinating how the panic attacks started when you stopped cutting. Add that to your list of books you can write. I’ve known lots of cutters and lots of people who get panic attacks, but it’s not something people understand well or talk about much. A couple of colleagues of mine from my old line of work put out this book – Understanding Self Injury by Kristy Trautman and Robin Conners (http://www.gannett.cornell.edu/pharmacy/selfhelpbooks.html)- but it’s a clinical approach, and I don’t know any actual writers who’ve tackled the subject in a narrative form.

You’ve been a wonderful guest, Jolene. Thanks so much for being here this week!

John – Welcome!

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Laura Benedict April 30, 2007 at 9:13 am

What an honest, thoughtful interview. It’s such a miracle that Ogre saved those letters. We’re so lucky that we don’t get all the things we hope/pray for in this life–but what a blessing when a gift is bestowed, un-asked for, un-dreamed for. And how wonderful, too, Jolene, that the process of this book gave you and your mother a measure of peace. Well done–I predict a remarkable career!

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