Sarah Vallance’s essay “My Rabies Diary” is part of Issue 74 of Bellingham Review. Subscribe or purchase a single issue through our Submittable page here.
“My Rabies Diary” is an essay about love and hope, precious commodities for anyone who has ever suffered from prolonged bouts of depression.
I was becoming bored with the essays I had been writing, and wanted to try a slightly different form. I was reading Anna Karenina and it seemed like an interesting counterpoint to my life at the time.
I am fascinated by the ways in which animals can change the lives of their humans. Scout and I discovered each other at a spectacularly low point in both our lives. I had been feeding packs of wild dogs in the country park near my apartment in Hong Kong for more than eighteen months. Most of those dogs were terrified of people and would never come anywhere near me. Scout stepped into my arms the second time I saw her and saved my life.
I am someone who struggles to form meaningful connections with people. I have a small group of close friends scattered around the world who satisfy most of my social needs. I’m not sure why, but the older I get the more introverted I become. It might be a consequence of spending so many years working in human resources for multi-national corporations. Dogs, on the other hand, I connect with almost instantly. They are a lot more tolerant.
Tell us about your writing life.
I did my MFA at City University in Hong Kong, a program, sadly, which no longer exists. It was a wonderful program with a superb faculty. I started writing when I began my MFA.
I was very lucky to have the first essay I ever sent off for publication picked up by the Gettysburg Review. It went on to win a Pushcart prize. I am easily discouraged, but that gave me the confidence to keep writing.
I write to make sense of the human experience. I am interested in stories about failure, loss, heartbreak, loneliness. “Bleak, depressing shit,” one of my best friends calls it. My hope, I suppose, is to make my reader cry and laugh simultaneously. Laughter is the best tonic for sadness.
Which non-writing aspect of your life most influences your writing?
I love to travel. I find inspiration in gritty, over-populated cities like Mumbai, Mexico City and Manila. I tend to explore new cities on foot, walking for between six and eight hours a day. Walking allows you to discover things you would otherwise never find.
I also love modern and contemporary art, and spend a lot of time trawling through art museums.
But most of my inspiration comes from reading.
What writing advice has stayed with you?
I think the best advice I received was to develop a distinctive narratorial voice.
What is your favorite book (or poem, essay, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?
I seem to write very little, but I read a lot. My favorite novelists include Per Petterson, Murakami, Richard Yates, George Saunders, and Camus. My favorite book is probably The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami. I love the poems of Roberto Bolano and Claudia Rankine, and my favorite essayists at the moment are Roxanne Gay and Hilton Als. I think my favorite essay is probably “The Fourth State of Matter” by Jo Ann Beard.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner and re-reading Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I am in the final stages of editing a memoir, and the early stages of an essay collection about loneliness.
SARAH VALLANCE lives in Sydney with her partner. They share their home with seven dogs and cats, including Scout.
Featured Image: “Stray dog” by Matthias Kümpel