“I want to create art that’s unpredictable,” says the speaker in “steamboat,” one of eleven interstitial essays from Chachi Hauser’s memoir, It’s fun to be a person I don’t know. As a direct descendent of the Disney dynasty, some of Hauser’s essays mimic a trip to the theme park while confronting issues centered around the environment, gender, class, and race in a deconstruction of generational privilege. At other times, the personal essays meander through life and love in New Orleans mimicking the shape of the Mississippi River, rippling on themes of identity, love, and denial. Marveling in the unpredictable duality of life, Hauser’s narrative voice shines through its embrace of the uncertain and absurd, creating a cinematic collection of essays that ring with the authenticity of a deeply reflective voice. “I want to create art that imagines a new way of being instead of upholding the one that exists, that’s accepted. Art that deviates from the way culture, the way Disney, creates human experience. I want to create myself, a person who recognizes their lineage but is not defined by it. I say this but I don’t know how; I don’t know if it’s possible. So I will write.”
With societal impositions of binary thinking and uncertainty moving contemporary life, security seems further away. As the current generation confronts climate crisis, economic hardship, and political unrest– Hauser subtly asserts unpredictability as our only constant. “The truth is, I don’t know what I am. I don’t want to have to pick, one or the other– I want to float, to exist in the in-between, inside the world of unpredictability” (“steamboat”). This authenticity is accompanied by the admittance of a skewed memory and limitations to truth, “I can only write my truth, and, even then, I won’t get it right. That’s the thing about truth, it’s like the delta, like the River when it could move: it’s always shifting, changing,” (“kiss between our sigh”). Through this art of unpredictability, Hauser challenges the reader to reflect upon one’s relationship to the subject matter and begs the reader to think about what is redeemable and what may be lost to unpredictability.
While Hauser dispels the magical facade of Disney, “as they were the ones who made the imagination into something marketable,” (“disneyfication”); she also holds space for and attempts reconciliation with family lineage. Conflicted with the bloodline as a great-grandchild of Disney, Hauser reconciles with the juxtaposition of a lineage dressed in magic, wonder, and imagination yet drenched in misogyny, racism, and poor treatment of workers and animals, like the lemming suicides. In a continual deconstruction of the magical kingdom monopoly, the narrator shares “sometimes I want to work a knife through the threads that attach this Disney thing to me.”
In “the boys who wouldn’t grow up” Hauser weaves through the magic of the Peter Pan ride at Disney, simultaneously confronting gender inequity along with their own gender identity. From Betty Bronson, the original actor cast for Peter Pan, to Hauser’s own gender journey, Hauser reflects, “In hearing about the custom of a woman playing the part of the perpetual boy, I feel the tug of something familiar.” With an experienced background in film, Hauser questions the casting choices, wondering why one exception for theatrical truth can be made by casting a woman for Peter Pan in a world so obsessed with gender rules. Hauser deftly concludes: “a girl can be a boy, perhaps more convincingly than an actual boy can.” Throughout the history of Peter Pan and the ride itself, the reader encounters a series of flashbacks of the narrator’s own gender discovery through memory of a childhood friend, Alex. Two “tomboys in oversized T-shirts” cursing and sneaking shorts under their skirts as rebellion from the pains of not being allowed to wear pants in Catholic school. Alex and Peter Pan were pivotal figures in the narrator’s journey of self-discovery. With the boundaries and limitations of societal influence, a confidence is lost along the way: “Looking at an old picture of myself, my short hair and basketball jersey, I don’t see a little girl. But I don’t see a little boy either. I see a small body, a child’s body, a kid who could move through space with confidence, a confidence I must’ve unlearned.”
When referring to the memory of a grandfather in “ashes”, Hauser admits the following: “What I know about my grandfather is a hazy mixture of my mom’s stories, information from the internet, and my imagination.” This honesty conjures trust in the narrator as they guide the reader through the Haunted Mansion attraction and piece together the relationship to their great-grandfather and grandfather, Roy. It is here we gain a real sense of the distance between Disney and Hauser, “In the case of my grandfather, I felt I was learning about the man through his death, while also remaining skeptical of this portrayal.” The narrator continues to grapple with the unpredictability of memory, “I had a vague memory of a guide at Disney World telling me and my siblings that one of the characters on the Haunted House ride was modeled in the likeness of our great-grandfather, Roy. Or after our grandfather, also named Roy– I couldn’t remember which.”
As an adult, Hauser combs the internet for confirmation of this family legend and settles on the skewed memory of family stories or perhaps a childhood dream. The story, whether factual or not, is still a “truth.” As Hauser’s voice becomes increasingly reliable, they find the answer: the figure mistaken for one of the “Roys” was actually modeled after Thurl Ravenscroft, famous for singing “Mr. Grinch” and voicing Tony the Tiger. This mistaken identity was reinforced by many park-goers and tour guides over the years. Yet another example of unpredictable truth.
Hauser’s prose shines brightest through their caustic and delightful observations of the absurd, the most notable of these being the mention of HEPA cleanups, a monthly requirement to vacuum human remains at Disney, with the Haunted Mansion being the most popular site for ashes. Perhaps no surprise that dedicated Disney goers wish to spend eternity there. The “ashes” essay takes an unpredictable turn by ending with three numbered and factual known truths about where Roy’s rationed ashes in Ziploc bags were spread, one location being Hawaii. But the last bit of remaining ashes is flushed down the toilet by the narrator’s mother.
What I particularly appreciated was the comfort in liminality offered in Hauser’s reflective and often poetic prose, as well as an invitation for creative expansion complemented with encouragement to deviate from societal norms. Each essay follows its own form and pushes boundaries within the limitations of the page by utilizing extra space, separating shorter fragments with asterisks, jagged line breaks, and screenwriting elements. As noticed in “grand isle part II”, the form dances in between blocks of prose and what resembles a sketched outline of a screenplay with dialogue, a nod to Hauser’s filmmaking background. There are no asterisks separating sections here. The opening paragraph of the book in “this summer, high river” is a poetic offering inclusive of lines like “the River has pulsed swollen beside our city” and “if only my hands were strong enough to peel apart the levees on either side of the brown water like a pair of thighs.” Pushing structural boundaries plays into Hauser’s confidence with the art of unpredictability.
But the overarching narrative drive through the macro-level issues of environmental crisis, as noted in “this summer, high river”, “grand-isle part I”, and “grand isle part II” or social justice in “imagineering” and “disneyfication” over time and place, is a love story. It is easy to be distracted by the infatuation one might find in Disney, given the narrator focuses mainly on the their relationship with P. The reader might get caught up in the ups and downs of the unpredictability of this love narrative as the two navigate open relationships, distance, and identity. The narrator also embeds their love story between Ashley, the girl in New Orleans with whom they biked around and read books under the Spanish moss and between M, the French filmmaker whose “job is to translate life into images.” In these relationships, full of unpredictability, the narrator confronts jealousy, anxiety, identity and confidence. But all along, there is a comfort in this, “I want my relationship to live here too, in this space between borders, between the boundaries of flesh that supposedly separate our bodies. I don’t know what I want, or who I want, and this not-knowing is my only stability.” (“steamboat”).
Through this narrative arc of love stories, the reader gains insight into the narrator’s journey of self and identity via interior monologues and recollections of time and documentation of this one life we’ve been given. Grappling with mortality, climate crisis, and sense of belonging, Hauser captures the essence of the human experience by way of the multitudes of love: self, others, place, and time. In the end of the narrative, the narrator is in a romantic partnership with M, and even then, the reader is left with unpredictability, “I don’t know if M will ever stick around if he reads this. / I hope he will. / Yet still I cannot contain myself. I don’t know what to do but to try to tell the truth.” (“kiss between our sigh”).
The true love story that drives Hauser’s narrative is a love story with words. From the beginning, “How many words will it take to unearth myself, whoever I am inside this body? (“this summer,high water”) to end, “i feel like i’m forever tied up in a love story not with a person but with the / words” (“kiss between our sigh”). Each of Hauser’s curated essays piece together truth, and weave lived experience into words. Seeking answers that may never be definite, constantly changing, but nonetheless, answers in the moment through writing. Because of this, Hauser fulfills their promise to the reader by creating a work of art that is unpredictable; art that deviates from societal norms. Steering away from the happily-ever-after love story one expects in a Disney film, the narrator chooses to confront truth through the love of writing and in doing this, champions the art of unpredictability.
C. Rizleris (they/them) is a queer writer and recent MFA Writing graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Their work has appeared in fifth wheel press. Currently, they are working on a collection of hybrid essays. When not writing, they volunteer with LGBTQ+ youth, serve on the Transgender Task Force for the City of Greensboro, and enjoy the art of drag. For more on C, visit www.crizleris.com.