Polly Katherine Hilton

bSmart Reads: Hot Girl and the Woman Behind the Words

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I have a huge crush on Misha Lambert.  As she sits across from me, halfway between midtown and Brooklyn, in a quaint but in this moment, solely ours, coffee shop, I count myself lucky.  Misha Lambert — you’re going to want to write that name down because she is a rare breed of special.  At the ripe age of 22, Misha finds herself living out the New York adventure, like so many post-grads do; working to support creative aspirations that refuse to be silent or shaken.  The reason for our meeting on this particular Wednesday is simple; Misha recently self-published her first book, Hot Girl.

Hot Girl is a must-have for anyone who relishes the feelings that come with devouring masterfully crafted words.  Divided into two unique and equally engaging sections, Hot Girl is comprised of poetry tracing the span of Misha’s lifetime.  Dealing with topics such as love, the complex relationship between mother and daughter, the societal pressures women of today face as juxtaposed with the media, and finally, self-acceptance and body image affirmation (the second portion of the book is a selection from Misha’s lauded performance piece, The Body Project), Hot Girl is unapologetically honest and true.  I can raise my right hand and swear never have I been so equally challenged and inspired by a book before — it’s just that good.  Hot Girl articulated feelings and realizations I, as a woman, have struggled to articulate for years, and allowed for me to begin my own journey towards empowerment and being the ‘hero of my own pretty.’  Quite simply, Hot Girl is a triumph.   

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Purchase your copy of Misha Lambert's new book Hot Girl here!

Hot Girl

What was the biggest challenge in self-publishing Hot Girl?

The most challenging aspect of self-publishing was that I didn’t have anyone guiding me or structuring my work — it was all independently motivated.  I was creating my own deadlines, which I will say, is not my strength in life.  For example, my original deadline for the book was Thanksgiving, then it became Christmas, then New Years, and then it became sometime in February, then Valentine’s day.  Being my own governor was the hardest aspect of the process.

But what surprised me the most was how easy the writing aspect was!  Because of the stage of life that I’m currently in (having just graduated), I haven't been working creatively outside of my own projects.  This book has been my lifeline.  This project has been my home base and my security blanket.  Having an outlet that I created for myself has been so comforting in the midst of this transition.  The ideas and inspiration flowed freely once I had internally established this project as a big goal in my life.  In all honesty, I loved every second.  There were moments, that were tough, sure, but all in all, the entire process was pretty empowering.  I highly recommend it.  Write a book!   

What drew you to poetry as your medium of choice?

Every writer has a voice and a style that is unique to their soul.  I’ve tried to write conventional plays, I’ve tried to write prose (with some success), but I always revert back to this medium.  It’s my stream of consciousness and how my thoughts manifest.

Growing up, poems were my main source of artistic intake.  My mom is a huge poetry fan and writer.  Every birthday card my mother has ever written to me has been a poem.  Everyday when she would pack my lunch, there would be a poem inside.  And my dad is a songwriter — that’s poetry too!  All of the memories I hold onto of my grandfather are of the two of us bonding over poems.  I’ve constantly been saturated by it, so it comes naturally to me.  It’s my, and my family’s, second language.  That’s just how my thoughts naturally come to life.  For me, it’s always been poetry.

I enjoy saying the things that are hard to say.

Do you have a favorite passage in Hot Girl?

The piece that I’m most proud of, in the sense that I had this boiling, festering wound inside me that I couldn’t articulate for so long — I had all this anger and shame attached to it — is A Gulf Between Us.  For those who haven’t read it, the piece is about womanhood and about how we as women sometimes don’t make space for other people’s versions of womanhood.  The piece was born from this place of feeling misunderstood by the people who love me the most.  That emotion got me reflecting on my own behavior towards the women in my life.  I started dwelling on my own hope that I had, and continue to have, to allow my female friends, and people I love, to live in their own experiences, issues and struggles as women.

The image of a gulf of water was inspired by this phenomenal podcast called On Being, by Krista Tippett (I actually thank her in the acknowledgements of Hot Girl.  I’ve tweeted at Krista.  She knows me.  We’re friends.) I was listening to On Being throughout the process of writing Hot Girl, and I was inspired by a particular episode and this image of a gulf— I don’t know if I should go into more details — but something in me clicked and that was the image I’d been searching for.  That’s it!  A body of water that separates two women.  A Gulf Between Us expands on that.  

Additionally, the scariest piece for me to include in Hot Girl, would be any passage in which I talk about my own ugliness.  The specifics of dealing with being overweight — that is really terrifying to share.  I think one of the most visceral poems, to that end, for me to go back and read is I’m Twenty-Two Years Old In Portland Maine.  I spent a month living in Maine, working on this wonderful show, called Speak About It, which I toured with.  It was such a strange moment in time.  I was in a new city, surrounded by new people, doing this very challenging piece of theater.  The show dealt with sex education and healthy sexuality in a real and vulnerable way which was scary.  There was so much going on for me in that time, and though that poem is very short, it was hard for me to say those words.  But I said it.  It’s definately one I read back to myself and shudder.

Finally, The People I Like makes me smile.  It was the last edition to the book.  It barely skated in there!  I had already sent Hot Girl to my friend Erica Blumrosen, who did the layout for the hardcopy.  She was essentially my editor/graphic designer, along with another friend, Nico Walsh.  I sent her what was to be the final draft and said, ‘Design it! Do it! Go!’ but then was like, ‘Wait! I have one more’ and that was The People I Like.

That crazy compulsion in me to turn my pain into productivity is what allows me to write.

Could you speak to your process of writing bravely and how that plays a role in creating art?

There's something Lena Dunham has said, in a few different places and in a few different ways, about what compels her to write — she describes it as literally being a compulsion; a physical compulsion.  I believe that honest compulsion is one that can’t be ignored and can be applied to make any passion ring true.  For example, that instinct absolutely feeds acting, which is another calling of mine.  

Being a healer at heart is something that compels me to write truthfully as well.  For that, I have to give a shout out to my parents, who always honored what I was feeling.  I understand every child doesn’t have that privilege.  My mom has a background in psychology and is a teacher, so she’s always been very present for me in that way.  

I have in me a serious need to reveal.  It’s selfish.  It’s not only for the empowerment of the people around me, which is a big goal of mine.  I enjoy saying the things that are hard to say.  That might be rooted out of some strange need to not feel alone and to speak my reality into existence, knowing that someone will agree.  I like to air out shame.  I’m ready to turn that shame into something productive.  That crazy compulsion in me to turn my pain into productivity is what allows me to write.  Ultimately, it’s the love of language and the love of art that keeps it real.  I’m such an in-taker of so much amazing art, that, I in turn, have to put back out into the universe whatever it is I synthesize.  It’s a deep need for me and I encourage it.  

Every writer has a voice and a style that is unique to their soul.

What role did your Mother play in the writing and editing process?

My mother is a huge part of the voice that I hear in my head on the daily.  When I’m writing and using that voice, she’s almost always present.  It’s hard for me to even separate myself from my mother at all.

I’m a person who identifies as having a history of disordered eating.  If you look at the theory of eating and eating disorders, at the root of every single disordered eater, is family.  And that’s ok.  Coming to terms with that fact through my writing, for me, without placing blame — is my way of sifting through the messiness that is loving my family.  I can’t separate my family from this whole journey.  It’s all connected.

I sent Hot Girl to Mom and Dad first.  My mother is so wonderfully emotionally available and deep and all along she’s been a champion.  It’s hard when you know and love someone to not read their poetry and ask, ‘Are you ok?’ or completely freak out.  Mom’s first impulse after hearing some of it was to say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and I had to say ‘Stop.  That’s not what this is.  This is not a dialogue.  It’s art.’  It’s always a dance with writing and with family.  You don’t want to hurt anyone but you also have to do the work you need to do.  My family has been wonderful about it.  There’s a moment when you become someone through your writing that your family doesn’t know entirely and I felt this book was kind of a coming out in a certain way.

If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice what would it be?

Keep going with the ‘weird’ thing.  That little feeling that you have inside, that you’re so out of place and that you’re so alone, and no one gets you— you’re right but just keep riding that to glory.  You’re totally weird and what you’re feeling is valid!  People are thinking that you’re different.  Just know there’s major payoff to being weird.

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Becoming your own hero of pretty is learning to silence the noise around us.

Smart Girl

What would you say to a young woman who's struggling to realize that she is her own hero of pretty?

Who isn’t, right?  It’s so hard.  Becoming your own hero of pretty is learning to silence the noise around us.  There’s so much inundation in this moment, in our country, within our culture — it’s a constant flood of comparison.  I recently unfollowed all of the fitness and food Instagram accounts I was previously following because those photos were really upsetting and triggering me, and making me doubt my own choices.  Even if the whole world is jumping on a bandwagon, just know, that’s not necessarily the right bandwagon for you.

If you’re struggling to be your own hero of pretty go to college.  Continue your education.  Learn.  Just learn.  When you're fortunate enough to learn, your world opens up.  That’s why in the book I say ‘Turn off the TV.’  The TV is so harmful.  There are so many harmful things coming at us and it’s our job to escape all of it. 

Also, having older female role models has been instrumental.  Befriend people who are not listening to the noise.  Befriend the weirdoes, the women who have never worn makeup, and the professors.  Have women in your life who have made a life for themselves totally outside of beauty standards.  Those women do exist.  There are so many ways to do pretty — millions I would say.  I feel for everyone who is struggling because it makes sense.  I think we should honor that struggle, but man, shut off the noise! 

What do you think women can do to encourage one another and foster positive body image?

The first thing, and I address it a bit in the book, is we need to stop the negative self-talk — especially out loud!  We should stop it within ourselves too if we can, and work to change our thinking which is way easier said than done.  I am a person who is very resolute in that if you are in my presence we do not fat-shame.  We do not shame other people, specifically about how they look.  I don’t want to hear a fat joke, I don’t want to hear a dumb blonde joke, I don’t want to hear a homophobic joke — I don’t want to hear any of that poisonous rhetoric that has become commonplace.  It’s cheap and turns me off.  Holding ourselves accountable in that way is a great first step. Language is power.

Surrounding ourselves with people who make us feel good is another proactive step.  You can have people whom you love dearly but they don’t make you feel good.  They make you feel small and unworthy.  Get rid of them.  I’m not perfect.  I’m a work in progress, but that’s been my experience and that’s what’s working for me.

Befriend the weirdoes, the women who have never worn makeup, and the professors. Those women do exist.

How did growing up in a creative household inspire you as an artist?

I had a very particular and special upbringing and it’s something I don’t take for granted.  I know I talk about it a lot, but I’m so proud and humbled that my whole family is creative.  My dad would wake me up on Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM playing piano; my annoyances are special in that rare way.  On a million different levels, growing up in that environment breeds someone who feels like their ideas truly matter.

I’m also inspired constantly by the integrity that my family has, and I’m specifically talking about the way I’ve observed my dad’s behavior as an artist.  He’s never been unkind to one person — he’s never bragged about himself, he’s never done something for the wrong reasons.  He’s been his lovely, honest, transparent self, and he’s been met with success.  That has taught me that you don’t need to be an asshole to make it.  He’s such a fan of people.  He’s just a mensch!  I love that.  Even more than his success and the records he’s made, it makes me so proud that he’s everyone’s favorite guy and I aspire to be like that as an artist as well.

What’s your next creative goal as a female artist?

I have a show happening!  It’s my New York debut.  I know that it’s only a year after graduation, but I feel like this gig is my whole life in the making.  It’s hard to get music you’ve written on it’s feet — it’s vulnerable.  It takes a lot of work.  The show is going to be at Sid Gold’s request room which is an amazing venue in Chelsea and it’s going to feature twenty or so songs.  Fifteen of those I’ve written with specific friends in mind, custom fit for their voices and souls which will be featured within the cast.  It’s so much fun and rewarding to write in that way.  Then we’ll also be performing a couple of covers, because you know, you can’t only hit people with things they don’t know!

In terms of what else is next, I have long-term and short-term goals, but as a general rule I see myself always being an artist who works in more than one medium.  I'm constantly asking myself, what is the future of theatre with music in it?  What is the future of theatrical music, poetry for the stage, books that are written to be read aloud, you know?  Performance art!  I have so much curiosity about bending genres.  Being able to create experiences out of art and collaborating with people I love gets me going.  It’s what I went to school to learn.  The immediate goal on my radar is getting all of the songs that will perform at the concert on a record.  That’s my summer project.  And then we’ll see what else comes next. 

People are thinking that you’re different.  There’s major payoff to being weird.

How can we be smart as women writers or women artists?

The dedication in my book is to all of my teachers.  From my first grade teacher, who was the first woman to ever read a play of mine and say ‘we’re putting this up,’ all the way up to my college professors who, it’s almost so creepy how much I worship and adore them.  I can’t stress enough how valuable educators are, especially to young women, who may have been told to quiet themselves in both voice and  self.  I want to give mad props to all teachers and encourage those who are on the journey to become teachers.  I think teachers are the most valuable members of society and it’s something I hope to do one day.  

I’m just a big proponent of lifting people up with us.  Every success I have I hope I can lift people up.  That was my hope with Hot Girl and it feels like if I can make one person feel less alone while reading this book I’ve done enough.  I accredit that to dozens of educators of mine who have seen weird little me and been like, ‘keep going’ or have pushed me to see myself in ways I haven’t seen before.  For all my teachers who read Hot Girl, I’m sorry for the weird ways you’ll get to know me, but thank you! 

Spotlight on Misha Lambert

What Are You Reading?

I just finished Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion and  I also re-read Just Kids by Patty Smith.  Both books have similar vibes— incredible women writers who are honest and scary. 

What Are You Watching?

 My favorite show in the world is Portlandia.  If you’re reading this Fred and Carrie (you’re not reading this), but please, hit me up!

I’m also watching I Am Cait, the Caitlyn Jenner show on E!  I highly recommend it to anyone who is curious about gender equality or the trans issues we're having in this country.

 What Are You Listening To?

Lake Street Dive’s new album Side Pony is in my ear buds.  

Shaina Taub, her new album, Visitors.  She’s a mentor and inspiration of mine.

Ariana Grande’s newest single ‘Dangerous Woman.’  I was lucky enough to listen to her newest album, which will be coming out in May. It’s a GREAT album.   

What Are You Eating?

I’m drinking this ginger infused, lemon, honey, peach tea that I make myself and it’s amazing.  Besides that, what am I not eating?  I’m not limiting what I eat and that’s fun.  A lot of avocado, in every form. 

What Are You Avoiding?

Cleaning my space.   My room looks like a bomb exploded and then Godzilla came in and picked up my room and gave it a little shake and then shat on it…

What Is Your Word of Today?

Inspiration. 

What Are You Grateful For?

Warm weather is changing my life, and the opportunity to share and be heard.

What Are You Hateful For?

I do not appreciate the woman shaming of Hilary Clinton that’s going on.  And that’s all I’ll say about that!  

What Are You Dreaming About?

I’m quite literally dreaming about a dear friend of mine, Michael Albert.  He’s been appearing to me in every dream, which is silly.  Love him.  

When it comes to my hopes and dreams, I’m always hoping for everyone I love to be healthy.  That’s my prayer.

When you someday reach the pearly gates of heaven, what do you want God to say to you?

She will say, ‘Your dogs are here and we have mac and cheese.’

 

 

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