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Artist Profile: Morgan Parker on ‘You Get What You Pay For’ and the Journey Towards Interconnected Identity

Morgan Parker sat down with The Harvard Crimson to discuss their new book, "You Get What You Pay For."
Morgan Parker sat down with The Harvard Crimson to discuss their new book, "You Get What You Pay For." By Courtesy of Penguin Random House
By Kinnereth S. Din, Contributing Writer

Poet, essayist, and novelist Morgan Parker’s collection of essays, “You Get What You Pay For,” dives deep into the personal. The collection sparks reflection and inquiry about the ways our identities interact with each other and broader society. In this collection, Parker reveals the details of such a journey and how she was able to illuminate aspects of her own identity.

Parker's essays present an autobiographical picture of her religious, social, and racial identity. They are deeply intertwined, informing and determining one another. The memoir rejects linearity both thematically and in timeline, as each essay flashes forward and backward to describe a healing process that is messy and tumultuous.

“I wanted something that could be interpreted in a few different ways depending on how you're looking at it. It felt important for me to use the language of economics and money and you know, who was paid what for what? Who's being compensated, what you're getting out of your money, things like that,” Parker said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson when asked about the meaning of the book’s catchy title.

Parker specifically reflected on the importance of returning to past experiences; “I've written a lot about my depression and a lot of other trauma that I've experienced. And I think sometimes, when I'm talking about my books, there's an assumption from audiences that it's like, oh, I'm over it because I talked about it, and it happened. And so, therefore, it's all done now.”

Sharing about the topic of past experiences and the process of healing, Parker cautions against adopting a limited view of what healing can be.

“It's just important for me to remind myself that when I don't feel like I'm moving forward, it doesn't mean I'm going backward and it doesn't mean that I'm not moving at all,” Parker continued. “And that it's okay sometimes to go backward in order to go forward or it's okay to find yourself back in the same place as you were before.”

Parker does not skim over the role of therapy in her journey and speaks to how writing has also served a crucial role in both seeking help and healing.

“It has been the space where I can be honest about how I'm feeling. It was the first place for that. Then there's therapy, but the first place that I learned to be honest about my feelings was in a journal,” Parker said.

Parker also weaves in critical examinations of politics, culture and social theory — all of which she argues informs one’s identity. “It's really for me about utilizing everything that's out there and available, and especially as a writer, it's about utilizing different languages and different vocabularies,” Parker said.

“It's really about having different pairs of glasses,” said Parker, when speaking about the importance of including different lenses such as anthropology and comedy to use toward self-discovery.

Ultimately it is no surprise that Parker’s approach leans towards the cultural or anthropological — her essays speak of a personal growth that relies on community and self-discovery that is informed by a diverse understanding of identity. It is a journey, she argues, that cannot be separated from the humanity of others.

When asked what Parker hopes readers will take away from the book, she explained her hope for an increased curiosity among her audience.

“I would just hope that readers come away from it with a little bit more curiosity about other people, and maybe they feel more compelled to just pay attention to other people,” Parker said. “I think for me, it’s just like, we can maybe look out for each other a little bit better.”

For a memoir that so vulnerably and reflectively begins the task of examining the self, “You Get What You Pay For” reminds all of us about the importance of an empathetic approach.

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