Growing up in rural Wisconsin, movies gave Charles Jensen a chance to see the world; New York, India, South America, Rome – all were right there waiting for him to turn on the family Betamax (Jensen came of age in the 1980s) and just push play.

But in a time and place that provided little support for a young boy still coming to grips with his sexual identity, the stories Jensen saw on screen offered much more than a simple escape. As he writes in “Splice of Life,” a new memoir out this month from Santa Fe Writer’s Project, movies “caulked in the spaces between each cell in my body. I became whole.” Through film, Jensen was able to envision the person he wanted to be – and, as he got older, better understand the one he had been.

A poet, editor and head of UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program since 2016, “Splice of Life” is Jensen’s first memoir. Told as a series of 13 personal essays, the book uses cinema to frame and explore the experiences that have shaped his personal and artistic lives. Each chapter is tied to a movie from a different film genre, from “Mean Girls” and “Westworld” to “The Neon Demon” and “Gattaca.”

The result is a vulnerable and engaging mix of deeply personal stories that nonetheless explore universal themes of grief, identity, rivalry and coming of age. UCLA Extension spoke to Jensen about his process and motivations for the book. His responses have been edited for length.

What motivated you to write “Splice of Life,” and why now?

I always have projects going, ideas jotted onto Post-Its around my desk, and I just gravitate to whatever’s holding my interest at the time. Writing the essays in “Splice of Life” became a kind of personal challenge, since it was such a departure from the other writing I do. I like to challenge myself creatively and charge headlong into new genres, new modes of writing, new subjects as much as I can.

Why choose film as a lens through which to think about your life?

I double majored in film studies and cultural studies & comparative literature, so I spent several years learning about film form and film theory. All of that fed right into my approach to poetry. I was inspired to start “Splice of Life” when I saw a call for submissions for an anthology of queer folks’ relationship to horror films. That first essay ended up becoming “Postmodern Pastiche,” and while it wasn’t ultimately right for the anthology, it captured my interest. I wondered if I could write more of these, bridging what I felt were gaps in my memory with films with similar themes, images, or plots.

What kind of reader do you hope will engage with the work?

My first audience is always myself. I write what I want to read more of in the world. Once I’ve gone through all the work to write something, I know at least one person will be pleased! I honestly don’t know if I’m writing for anyone else specifically, but I do try to approach everything I do with an openness so that people of many backgrounds and experiences can feel welcome in my books. “Accessibility” in writing is sometimes used pejoratively to describe work that some find overly simplistic, but I think every writer has to contend with what accessibility means to them. For me, it’s a priority. I want readers to “get” what I’m doing and enjoy it.

How did you match the films that frame each chapter with these episodes in your life?

It was a very intuitive process! I think all but one essay had a single film I tried to use to write it. For the “Western” chapter about my visit to Tombstone, Arizona and its re-enactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral, I thought “Wyatt Earp” was the right choice. But as I sat with the essay, I realized I was exploring our relationship to guns and gun violence as well as whiteness, wealth, and privilege, so “Westworld” ultimately brought these aspects of my lived experience into clearer view.

Was it daunting to be this open about your experience?

Honestly, I’ve become so much more anxious as I approached the pub date for this book! Once it was submitted to the publisher in its final form, I panicked because I couldn’t take it back, and I worried about how people might see me differently after reading it. The feedback I’ve gotten, though, has been so positive and supportive, and I feel seen in a way I don’t think I ever have been with poetry. Everything in this memoir is something I lived, saw, or felt, and it’s as accurate to my experience as I can make it. There’s nowhere to hide. It’s all me.