Susan Ito is the author of the Shebook The Mouse Room, a short memoir about a time Ito spent working as a “mouse girl” at a laboratory, while, at the same time, searching for her birth mother. Bizarre, right? Here are some of Ito’s latest musings on synchronicity, adoption, DNA, and the warm glow of her e-reader.
What prompted you to write this piece?
For many years, I tried to write this strange job as a setting in fiction. It never really worked because it just seemed too bizarre. Nude mice? But then once I began writing memoir, I remembered that I had this job during the first year of reuniting with my birth mother. It all fell together in a weird synchronicity of genetics, caregiving, and identity, and it taught me once again that truth is stranger than fiction.
Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they, and what is their origin?
I always seem to be writing about questions of identity, belonging, longing, and displacement. For a while, I was very preoccupied with writing stories and poems about organ transplants. As an adopted person, I’m interested in themes of transplantation—of originating in one family or body but then ending up elsewhere.
When did you first decide you were a writer?
In first grade. It was later solidified when I was ten and first read Harriet the Spy. She was my idol. I filled many a marbled composition book because of her. She really showed me how to pay attention to the amazing things around me: people, the color of their socks, how they lived, etc. She was my earliest writing mentor.
Is there anything that you consider too personal to write about? How do you find that edge?
Absolutely, there are plenty of things that I consider too personal! But there’s no clear-cut way of defining them. I’ve written about many things (late-term abortion, musings about my child’s future sex life, various bodily functions) that would be considered “too personal” by many. Sometimes I find myself thinking, What a great piece this could be, but I could never publish it. Then I write it just for myself or a select one or two readers. Nothing is too personal to write about, but some things are too personal to publish.
Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?
I currently also work as a physical therapist (in spite of nearly flunking out of PT school!). I think the most interesting day job I’ve ever had by far was working in the mouse room, although I’ve also been a family camp director, a leader of health workers delegations to Nicaragua, and a waitress in a Japanese restaurant.
Are you, or have you ever been, a member of a book club? What does/did that experience offer you?
I once belonged to a book club that had been going on for twenty years when I joined in. They were passionate, deep readers and also incredibly good cooks. They would rotate homes and serve themed meals that somehow connected, in strange and clever ways, with the books we were reading. I’ll never forget the Mediterranean feast we enjoyed after reading The Balkan Trilogy. Later on, I was in a mother-daughter book club with my daughter. That was a wonderful experience, going back and reading old favorites (Harriet the Spy!) and discovering new authors I never knew.
Which e-reader do you have? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?
I have a Kindle, but I also read on my iPad or even my iPhone, when I’m standing on line at the bank. I do love books and have thousands, but with e-readers, it’s great to have a book no matter where you are. My husband reads our favorite book, Gilead, during halftime at basketball games. I love that he’d rather read Marilynne Robinson than watch the Warrior Girls! I like to read in bed at night. It reminds me of reading by flashlight under the covers when I was a child. There’s something wonderful about combining a book with a night-light!
Read Susan Ito’s smart, strange, heartbreaking memoir The Mouse Room, only at Shebooks!