Elissa Ball on why Seattle is like your weird over-apologetic ex

Not so long ago, Elissa Ball was a Seattle reading dynamo. You could find her at readings all over town, sharing her poetry and clapping enthusiastically for her friends. Then she moved to eastern Washington and we saw much less of her. Ball makes it a point to come back to Seattle often — she published a wonderful little book called More or Less with Seattle's Cold Cube Press last year — but many folks (myself included) miss the energy that Ball would bring to a reading just by being in attendance.

Tonight, Ball is in town and performing at Brett Hamil and Emmett Montgomery's weekly Beacon Hill stand-up comedy showcase, The Joketellers Union. (Full disclosure: I'm participating in this event tonight, but Ball is the real reason to attend.) She was kind enough to talk to me yesterday about what to expect tonight and how Seattle makes her feel nowadays.

What can audiences expect from you tonight? Have you taken up stand-up comedy as well as astrology/tarot/poetry/pun-ditry?

Stand-up comedy is what I’m bringing! I actually started doing stand-up in Seattle around 2008. Though I loved watching comic friends work their onstage magic, I got eventually got fed up by a comedy scene swirling with rape jokes, sexual harassment, and shitty shock comics (wow did they think their “ironic” racist/transphobic jokes were edgy!). So I quit comedy for about six years and just tweeted my puns, wrote a couple joke books, made goofy memes, and performed humor-heavy poems instead.

I only came out of comedy retirement in late 2018 because my friend Mara Baldwin (remember that name; she’s gonna be huge) hosted a rad monthly show in Spokane and begged me to do a stand-up set. It does feel good to be back up there telling jokes about pugs, The Lion King, and BDSM. If any anti-pun folks are at Wednesday’s show, I suggest they use the bathroom or take a smoke break during my set, because there will be puns.

It seems as though you've picked up a few hyphenates in the time since you've moved out east of the mountains. What are you working on right now? Do you have any new books in the works? What does an average day in your life look like?

A palm reader in Olympia once glanced at my hand and went, “Woah! There’s so much going on here I’m dizzy. It’s like a circuit board crammed with wires.” That’s the speed of my life: about five jobs/gigs at a time, ongoing projects, and so many passions. Fashion, interior design, the occult, punk, poetry, jokes, irises!

During those no-stand-up years, I got deep into tarot and astrology. After I moved out of King County, Seattle Weekly (R.I.P.) asked me to pen a weekly astrology column for them. So I wrote Space Witch from Eastern WA. I’m ultra grateful for that gig, but having a weekly writing deadline for two years—no breaks—wore me out. I still write for alt-weeklies—mostly band interviews and film reviews—just not every week. I still intend to make a monthly Space Witch astrology podcast eventually. Witch work will always be part of me. I read tarot and birth charts for clients at my tiny office or over the phone. Co-workers at the bar where I work always ask what’s up with Mercury.

All year I’ve been pouring editing energy into my chapbook-length poetry manuscript. I recently tweeted “Dear Universe, plz don't let me die 'til this new shit is published & on shelves” which is pretty much where I am. Because my last three books are sold out, I feel an urgency to create something relevant and in-stock. The submission (read: rejection) process for this poetry collection has been brutal, but I’m a tenacious little terrier. I won’t let go ‘til my poems link up with the right publisher.

An average day for me is fueled by Grocery Outlet mixed nuts, productive rage, and the goth outlook that death could pop out of the bushes at any time, so I’d better haul ass. I start my day with a swampy green smoothie, strong pu-erh tea, and a scan of cute adoptable shelter animals (to get those endorphins pumping). I work one-to-three jobs, grocery shop for my grandparents, read other people’s poems, maybe see a band or go dancing, and end the night with an Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode (though the amnesia episodes are good too).

What do you think about Seattle, now that you have some distance from the city? Sometimes it's hard to get a sense of a city when you live in it, day in and day out—what do you notice when you're visiting?

Seattle is that ex who wants to hang out and sip nettle tea but keeps apologizing, “Sorry I’m in a weird mood today.” Seattle IS one weird mood. Melancholy and nostalgia and that damp, salty kelp smell coming up from the Sound. I love visiting, but it’s sad too. My friends here seem wrung out, exhausted from working so hard just to barely make it. Honestly, late-stage capitalism means that’s the reality for most people just about everywhere. I mean, Missoula, MT, has a rental crisis.

I gotta confess: Since moving East, I’ve stopped composting. (Sorry! I still recycle!) In Seattle, composting seems to be of utmost importance, whereas saying no to Amazon or developers is not as important.