Timing, Trauma, and Taylor Swift: 5 Questions for Heather Squire

Heather Squire is the author of Hard Bones, the first piece of writing promoted by Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires. Heather is an elder millennial with extensive restaurant industry experience and a background in geography and US housing policy. She is currently unemployed in Tacoma, WA. You can purchase Hard Bones as an e-book, watch Heather recite the whole thing on YouTube, or email her at contact[at]heathersquire.com if you would like a free PDF of the book. Her writing can be found at heathersquire.com.

Aren’t you a little old to consider yourself a millennial?
I was born in 1979 so I’m part of that micro generation that is on the cusp of both Gen X and millennial, but I didn’t graduate college until 2007, which hitched my economic destiny to a massively-contracted labor market with far fewer opportunities for decent jobs, which is becoming a defining feature of the millennial generation.

Why did you decide to write Hard Bones?

I started writing when I first got back to the US from Thailand as a way to process this incredible wave of darkness that was present in Thailand but immediately became a tsunami as I adjusted to living in constant fear of Covid and fascism that the rest of the US population had been living under for seven months. I started writing the intro essay about meritocracy in the beginning of the pandemic, but I was having a hard time connecting it to how I felt because I was still unaware of how much shame I carried related to my inability to secure steady employment. Reading Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is what helped me to understand those feelings in context - that there was a huge amount of weight I was carrying unrelated to (but co-productive with) the depression, anxiety, and trauma I was carrying. And that weight was the collective experience of living in a society that has been shaped by 40 years of neoliberalism: stagnant wages, extraordinary amounts of debt, the privatization of everything, hyperindividualism, and this clamoring social demand to never stop competing. That’s when I realized that I was only a character in this story, but that my personal experience could help people see the collective nature of much of their suffering, and that made me want to write Hard Bones.

Are the characters you meet in Hard Bones real people? What about the teacher?

All the characters in Hard Bones are composites: their avatars are based on actual people I met, but their details are a combination of people I have met and conversations I’ve had over the years. I never got that close to anyone I met in Thailand, but those few encounters shaped many parts of my experience there. I leave a lot of negative space around the characters because that is how I experienced them - as momentary encounters and fragments that haunt my memory. The teacher also fits into this category, which is how I ended up writing so much about him in particular - he represents my deep desire to connect and coregulate with someone who also suffers in solitude, seeking peace. I wanted to honor the beauty of those flashes of safety in vulnerability, while also expressing the absolute terror of being vulnerable when you are still carrying trauma that is rooted in betrayal by someone who was close to you. 

Why do you talk so much about trauma if you are not a therapist?As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, having spent many sessions in therapy that didn’t help, learning about the ways that trauma shows up in our bodies was a game changer. Not in the sense of a “cure-all”, but regarding the strategies I am now exploring for regulating the states of agitation and hyperarousal that flood my system when I am “triggered”. I told so many therapists that I felt like I was on fire, like my chest was about to explode, but they were only equipped to say, “Your anger is valid. You should try to let it go,” - not malicious advice, but invalidating of the experience I was having and certainly not helping me to cope with the symptoms that might never go away. Both individual trauma and collective trauma are widely misunderstood, and it was my hope that by writing openly about it that other survivors who feel hopeless might start exploring the subject and eventually find some relief.

Why Taylor Swift?

I was a “secret” fan of Taylor Swift in the past, mostly listening to her pop hits while working out. A friend shared her deeply emotional album Folklore with me over the summer and it became a constant companion throughout my final month in Thailand and the month I spent writing Hard Bones. You can find her influence scattered throughout my prose as the themes of exile, longing, and isolation. Her storytelling and austere melodies really gelled with my sparse style of writing, leaving enough negative space for the feelings to really bloom in the heart of the reader. I don’t know if my readers will have the same response to Folklore as I did, but it remains a calming and creative influence for me.