Jayinee Basu is a writer based in San Francisco. She is the author of a book of poems entitled Asuras which was featured on Dazed Digital’s “Who Should You Be Reading in 2015.” She writes interactive courses for sexual violence prevention in the East Bay, and is also a volunteer research assistant at the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF where she aids research in neural network functions and frontotemporal dementia. Currently, she is finishing a pre-med program at UC Berkeley.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I say I’m a writer and that I work in sexual assault prevention. Sometimes I mention the pre-med thing but I worry it makes me sound like I’m 19.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Trying to do too much at once. Sleepiness.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Lol, go for it dude. Writing is not hard and you’re probably already doing it. But I mean I guess I would have to ask them to clarify which thing they’re talking about. In general I think I would advise people to try to do things they are not naturally good at.
So far, yes, because I’ve gotten the chance to do a bunch of things I’ve wanted to do and I love and feel loved. But I may find out soon that I have failed at something important that I put a ton of time, money, and tears into and that will suck a lot. But whatever, shit happens.When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
I really only watch YouTube videos when I’m with other people. Actually it’s weird how little I voluntarily engage with time based media by myself. I much prefer reading or looking at pictures. That said, I love Theo Jansen’s work. Jesus Christ. One man made this. Humans are stupid cool.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My great-uncle Debesh Ray is an important Marxist author in Calcutta. Once I was at the UCSD library and was leafing through a book of translated Bengali literature and randomly flipped to something he wrote. That was neat. My mom told me stories about him hiding from cops under the bed at my grandmother’s house during the Naxalbari movement in the 70’s which sounded very cinematic and also very awful. But overall I think I most respect my female ancestors for having put up with and survived what I assume was an enormous amount of cultural and colonial bullshit.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Umm, I want to say Allen Ginsberg? Maybe that was a couple of years later. I remember taping together pink pieces of printer paper and writing lines from Howl on it in huge letters and putting them up in my room. I did make the editorial decision to leave out the bit about “endless balls.” I was super into painting back then but I don’t remember ever wanting a certain career. I probably just wanted to be cool and pretty. Oh, also I really liked Gary Larson.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I never understood the appeal of camping until I met my boyfriend Patrick and his group of friends who are like SUPER DOWN WITH CAMPING FOREVER AND EVERRRRRR and are the kind of people who like hiking for months on end and enjoy climbing volcanos and stuff. So I’d probably bring them. I can’t imagine carrying enough food for a week so we’d probably have to learn to hunt. Somebody else would have to kill the animal for sure. Hopefully we’d be camping by some natural hot springs and hang out in those for most of the days. I would bring a lot of whiskey and we would drink that and sing Bruce Springsteen songs. On the last day we’d play Finish the Whiskey and someone would probably injure themselves on the way home.
But realistically if I’m in the wilderness for a week it’s probably because I’ve gotten lost and have died.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
I can imagine few things more unpleasant than doing something I am bad at (dancing) and then getting progressively more naked while doing it. Plus I associate stripteases with like ribbon dancing or rhythmic gymnastics or something, so probably no. Also I don’t like that kind of coyness.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
I don’t know, I dread checking it.
What’s wrong with society today?
Myopic self-interest. People who think they can do whatever they want to their communities and who then act befuddled when people get angry and start defending themselves.
Another thing wrong with society today: hot takes.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
What is your fondest memory?
Backpacking through the Yucatan and making new friends along the way, experiencing the bizarreness of cenotes, seeing San Francisco sparkling from Bernal Hill and deciding to move here, certain facial expressions, training my dog to be polite and shake hands, every time my cat actually wants to hang out with me.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
With people about two or three times a decade. With dog faces like every time I go outside. They’re so doofy, I love them. Hey, person reading this, let me paint your dog’s face.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Guaranteed minimum income would be tight. Evidence of consciousness in machines would also be pretty incredible. The re-introduction of psychedelics into our educational and medical systems. Affordable, delicious printed meat.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is communication, and even molecules communicate, so I’d say it’s pretty important. Art is also about identifying conflicts. When people say they want peace, I don’t know if they realize that there would probably be no art in such a world.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
I was explaining to Patrick that I was doing this interview for SF Weekly and it had this question and we had this conversation over gchat:
P: wait so they give like everybody one form
no matter who they are interviewing
like an email chain
P: so just like everyone answers that sex question
that’s so weird
J: most people do
you don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to of course
P: like if they were interviewing the mayor
J: lolol no this is a series that interviews writers
lol ok that makes way more sense now
What are you working on right now?
I’m wondering what it’d be like if we began to feel the lethal effects of poverty on a species level, and what would happen if our DNA activated latent and goofy phenotypes to help bridge economic gaps so that we don’t go extinct.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I would like to do more science and political writing, stuff that takes a lot of research and synthesizing narratives from a sea of information. I would like to write fiction that doesn’t suck. I would like to help people whose bodies have betrayed them to lead good lives.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I would get all my friends to live in a giant compound in the city with me.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Trying to apply makeup while drunk on cheap champagne, tiny gallery hopping in Chinatown, passing around tequila, frantically smoking cigarettes on a fire escape, taking Polaroids, my friend Will demanding someone photograph him stepping on breaded shrimp, trespassing on boats, watching people play pool at Phone Booth. If by some miracle of chemistry I manage to stay awake after 1 a.m., I guess I would be making sure Ben and Will don’t get arrested for whatever hijinks they are committing at the time.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
Once in India I saw two dogs that were presumably once having sex but somehow became stuck together, unable to disengage. They were both crying and the female dog was bleeding everywhere. It was horrifying, and reminded me of many human relationships.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
I could write a status update on Facebook. It’d probably be a joke that hinges on information only I have. For whatever reason I think those are hilarious. Patrick is always like “…Jayinee that is funny only to you” and I’m like “I KNOW.” Also, have you seen how cheap vegetables are at the market Casa San Lucas? I’d probably buy a shit ton of those for 50 bucks and make some kind of massive salad and put them in little disposable containers and give them to homeless people.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Jasmine and most other white flowers, ghee, frying garam masala in hot oil, the nihari simmering in a slow cooker in my kitchen right now.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Unsure about who is funding this but if it’s all expenses paid I’m going on an epic worldwide shopping spree for the fanciest, prettiest clothes and eating at the best restaurants. I love fancy things. It is a problem. Most other things I think I’ll be able to manage on my own. Or wait no, a trip to outer space.