How perfectly fitting/mildly depressing is it, that this somewhat spirited/dejected line I wrote about obscurity, that’s part of a great book about writing by Kevin Smokler, has been ripped off and made into an unattributed/anonymous greeting card of some sort on a tumblr called mypoetcard? Revised line: I spent a long time writing in obscurity, you’ll spend a long time writing in obscurity, some blogger will then take the writing and we will remain obscure.
Writing a book or two changes everything. The best thing anyone ever told me about writing a book is that whatever anyone tells you about it will be their experience, and your experience is going to be different and it’s going to be yours. That’s important to remember, I think. Having said that, people ask a lot of questions about writing a book. Or have a lot of assumptions about writing a book. It’s a weird life to navigate sometimes. And most of the interviews you read or do just end up kind of sounding like living the dream. Because that’s what interviews need to sound like most of the time. Nobody wants too sober of an interview from someone who is doing something the readers themselves might want to do, right? One time a guy was writing a piece in The Times about writers on the storytelling scene and he got in touch with me and I gave him seven or eight honest quotes about how hard people work and how long it had taken them to break through, and he said he probably wouldn’t use any of those quotes because he was working on more of a ‘step up, tell your story, get a book deal or HBO series’ type of piece. Which I understood; people want to read about you living the dream. And in fairness, some days you are, and that’s pretty cool. Some days your phone rings and you’re flying business class half way around the world. Some days you’re reviewed from Belfast to Berlin, to New York and London, Los Angeles, and a bunch of places in between. Some days you put $50,000 or $60,000 in your checking account then head to the airport to be gone doing really amazing stuff for a month. I think I just covered three days right there; there are 362 more in the year. And there are usually at least a couple of years between books. And maybe on some of those days you wake up to go to a studio or conference room to work a freelance gig so you can keep your bills paid while you figure out what’s next. In 2009, I got the phone call that my HBO pilot based on my 2008 book wasn’t going to get picked up for series; I got that call in an editing room where I was producing a paper towel commercial. At least I had blown the last of my HBO money on a kitchen instead of vodka and strippers like the old days! It’s a charmed and lucky life, and these are luxury problems, to be sure, but writing has got some weird fixes and narrow spots in the road if you’re not one of the five or ten people on top of the charts in sales. And you never read much about that! – or at least I haven’t. But here’s an interview with Neal Pollack that’s as honest and bold as it is well-adjusted. Super refreshing, not to mention somehow charming, and above all, hard-won. And remember what I said, your experience with writing will be your own. —D.K.
awesome photo by ericahlquist:
#nyc still rules!
[Literary New York is like] Great White Sharks fighting over a bathtub, you know? There is so little. The amount of celebrity and money we’re talkin’ about is, on the scale of true entertainment, so small. And the formidable intellect marshaled by these egos fighting over this small section of the pie, it is just, yeah, it seems kind of absurd.
—David Foster Wallace
George Dawes Green started The Moth fourteen years ago, this you might already know. There are about nine sentences written in every article about the so-called storytelling scene in New York and this is one of them, so apologies if you’ve read it a thousand times. When George called me up this summer and asked me to do 14 dates with him in Fall, I said yes. Aside from liking him, I am deeply indebted to George and The Moth. In 1999 when I quit drinking, broke up with my girlfriend, and lost my job, those nights at The Moth were keeping me out of a tiny apartment without furniture where I would just sit for hours feeling confused about the future; those nights at The Moth back then were probably saving my damn life. So when they call, or George calls, I say yes, period. And I figured these dates George called about were a book tour thing for him or maybe a Moth thing that he was putting together. It slowly became clear it was neither. Talk of an old school bus. Talk of playing anywhere that would have us; of musical acts like Katy Cox & Phil Roebuck and Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent playing murder ballads throughout the show. Talk of never leaving the state the tour starts in. Fourteen shows in Georgia. Are there even fourteen places to play in Georgia? I mean, you have Athens. You have Atlanta. There’s Decatur. George has seen something small become something big and worldwide and maybe he wanted to see something be small again. The guy is first and foremost a poet, if you ask me - and the romance of small is giant. So here was The Unchained Tour — a chance to get on the bus, and for the bus to break down, a chance to play any place that would have us, for better or worse. It was old theaters, it was small town bookstores, it was roadhouse bars like Manuel’s in Atlanta. It was long drives and no sleep; navigating truck stops with the people you were onstage with last night and the night before and the night before that; pulling over on a five-hour drive with four of those hours still ahead of you, just because the moon is full and you all figure you should be standing out there under it for a few minutes and feeling it. It was finding these gems of towns you never knew existed and remembering that the world is not New York and Los Angeles. It was ghosts, moonlight, Spanish moss, and widow’s walks. It was late-night waves of Red Bull or coffee in your blood washing a million new things into your heart. It was saying old and new words into microphones and making random asides that you didn’t know were in you, probably ghosts getting a laugh through you. And every night started with lights going down and Michael & Cary stomping out songs about Bad Luck or Katy & Phil sliding through the bluesy dirge of John and his ghost being chilly with no skin on. It was driving with Francis Allen and him making us laugh so damn hard when I, for one, didn’t think I had it in me from being so completely drenched, then dried, then spent and wired. These shows were maybe the best I’ve ever been on a stage. And I got to see people I see doing shows all the time in New York —like Juliet Wayne and Edgar Oliver— push it to new levels doing so many nights in a row; I think it was the best I’ve seen them. I’m lucky as hell to have ever gotten tangled up with The Moth ten or eleven years ago now. And lightning struck twice when I got a front row seat to how gigantic it is to be part of something small and just getting up on its feet the way Unchained is. I fell in love a thousand times out there I think; every single person on The Unchained Tour was a gem and a luckiest chance meeting. If I learned anything these three weeks to share with you it is this: if you are someplace small, don’t waste a minute thinking you need to be in New York or London; follow your heart; let your work pick you up and take you where it’s trying to; roll your eyes at every little fear talking smack in your head, because your head has nothing to do with it in the end. And also: sing and dance a little bit about death and how we’re all heading that direction, and a little bit about love and how none of us know what the hell is happening — after starting 21 nights this way, it has been my experience that it is a secret to realizing you are alive and lucky to be. I’ve been back home two days and am just beginning to realize that this thing changed my heart and every riff and rhythm I thought I had down pat. Viva being Unchained.