rick j lives in portland oregon where he works in a used bookstore pricing books. when he isn’t working he is often sitting in a cafe by a window drinking tea and eating something delicious while reading & writing. you can read some of his writing at www.myspace.com/vivekanj
S&TG: Do you use the word artist, poet, etc. to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, etc. or famous? Have you always thought of yourself as an artist?
i don’t usually call myself a poet or artist, but instead, use the word writer because it is what i do at the most basic level. i define writer as someone who is compelled to translate their experience of life/living with words, instead of images, or sound, or movement, or raw material, etc. so regardless of whether i have a pen and paper in hand, the act of writing consists of that core urge within to translate what’s happening in a sort of linguistic confession.
when i first moved here in the nineties, there was a guy read at the open mic at cafe lena named stephen babcock who once said that “anyone who walks up to you at a party and calls himself a poet is an asshole.” i think what he’s referring to is the pretentiousness, the lust for the glamour of being known as a “poet” and the auro of precious sensitivity, of being a “special” person, without actually proving it with deeds. the title becomes an ostentatiously worn lens that colors the public perception of that person, possibly reframing otherwise boring or even obnoxious behavior, “but oh, he’s a poet, she’s an artist!” ultimately, i am much more fascinated by the creative process than identity games.
i do not require the approval of authority figures or gate keepers for me to feel like i am an artist. i write, therefore i am. i create, therefore i am, and we all come and go, with the memory of some of us lingering little longer than others…
i do not recall a beginning of the activity of translation…
S&TG: And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, etc? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you?
being requires no meaning/the sun merely shines./the paper was a pane of glass/
offering its face to the pour.
i have not yet begun to think of “myself” that way. i write poetry, not fiction.
S&TG: How long have you been making art?
sometimes the act of creativity is a muscular effort to construct something from nothing with the materials available at that particular time and not limited to the physical, but including as well, the beliefs, the narratives,
the imagery that has coiled itself in the greater unconscious. i was born with an antenna that has allowed me to tune in to various stations, which is why i feel like i am often “translating.” however, i occasionally indulge my craving to make something from scratch as a way to sharpen the blade of my craft. i prefer to cook with sharp knives.
to answer more succinctly, since the heart began…
S&TG: Why is your art important to you? Why do you spend time creating when you could be doing something completely different and no one else would stop you?
i am probably attached to the product of the process, though i did lose almost everything i wrote in the nineties and i have moved on. what is important to me is the activity of the creative process, the commitment to show up for the making of art, the engagement of the process, resorting to it, relying upon it, using it to measure the quality of my being at any moment, as if the pen were a stethoscope, to verify the vitality of the heart/mind. it is a way of measuring that vitality. i think of scientists drilling deep into the arctic ice to capture samples of old ice, to study what was in the atmosphere at that time. similarly, the writing is a process of drilling deep into the mind, into consciousness, to take samples, to test them for what they reveal about the atmosphere of the consciousness at that time.
for me, it’s really the opposite that i keep asking, “why do i keep doing something completely different when i could be spending time creating?” i think its fear, fear of the unknown, an aversion to confrontation, that i can’t bear the nudity of how i really am, exposed there on the page. fear of the violence of the pour, and how unsettling, disturbing it can be. fear that i might not get back to some state of mind/being that can pose as normal enough to get through a day in the abject theater of corporate consumerism.
S&TG: What does it feel like to create? No, seriously, what does it feel like?
it’s always different because i am always different and every piece of writing is a baby, unique unto itself, even though they are all human.
sometimes stumbling in the dark, stubbing toes on furniture you knew was there, but not exactly where. sometimes walking slowly through the fog, everything softened and indistinct, like a room whose furniture has been draped with sheets, suggesting forms to be discovered. sometimes running with a leash in hand after an excited dog, not quite knowing where we are going and not quite being in control of the direction. sometimes a passenger, a hitchhiker, hoping to get somewhere, getting into whatever poem is willing to stop for me. sometimes, a diver, standing still on the high platform, the land unfurled before me, borrowing my breath to feed its glint, space opening like a sheet floating down onto the bed, until i leave through my leap and join the space in descent, burrowing into it, the air caressing my skin, and i am pointed, narrowed for the inevitable entry into the water, which breaks the seeming spell, submerged and then arising back to the surface of awareness once more.
and sometimes it’s like a day of carrying heavy brick in the hot sun and you don’t feel like you’ve done much for all the effort and you’re dirty and sweaty, and sore, and seriously question the whole enterprise.
S&TG: What kind of art do you make? What excites you as an artist?
linguistic sculptures, language installations, word-movies, still lifes,
syllabic songs, etc. i compose lines of thought/feeling condensed into
language that is unusually tight and lithe and handsome, like a cheetah.
i am excited by veins, and their promise of fresh blood. i am excited by the hunt, running down poems on the street until they give up or i catch them,
plunging my snout into their bodies, my face painted with loose imagery and
i love when life feeds me poems whole and beautiful, without the running, as if i were being rewarded for my diligence with an easy kill.
S&TG: What’s your creative process? Do you follow a routine?
yes, i go to church as often as i can, and pray, sometimes fervently, in between.
and yes, i do follow a routine. i have places designated for worship that i go to. as i am returning home from work, i begin to vitalize the intention to write, repeating “i am going to a cafe and i am writing, i am studying poetry, i am filling a page, i am writing continuously for an hour.” as i walk down the street to the cafe, i repeat this in my mind and sometimes whisper it under my breath. i am fortunate to live in a neighborhood where it’s not unusual for crazy people to talk out loud to no one, so i fit right in. i sit down and open my notebook and begin to report what i see around me, or turn around and in, and report what images, what sights, what interesting fragments of language i found. it’s like being a fisherman who leaves his nets in the water and returns in the evening, and its usually evening, to check the nets he left in the cold dark water of his mind, to see what got stuck there, to see what can be used.
S&TG: Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?
i go to cafes and bath daily in the language of the empire, otherwise known as reading the newspaper. i like to watch and listen to “normal” people. human speech never fails to fascinate me. i love catching people being people.
S&TG: What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?
decide, decedere, to cut off from any other possibility. to show up, to enter fully, with firm resolve, and go all the way through.
Making a living
S&TG: How do you pay your bills? Etc.
i work in a bookstore, pricing used books.
S&TG: How does the way you make a living right now either support or complicate making art?
being alive tends to both support and complicate making art. i think i am more creative after a day of work than i am on my days off. i think it’s because i feel the need for serious commitment. a friend once told me that living in new york city made her more serious about her buddhist practice because the city is so crazy and demanding that she felt she HAD to practice or she’d go crazy herself. because my work is mostly dull and repetitive, i feel the need to engage the creative process, to flesh out my life, and to do something with the full pot of my mind after a day spent dreaming.
S&TG: What’s the most important lesson you want to share with an artist about how to make a living?
sacrifice, choose your sacrifice, choose what you will sacrifice or it will be made for you. you are an infinite being in a very finite form. you must choose.
you cannot have everything, so choose what you willing to sacrifice wisely.
S&TG: Do you hope to make a living doing your art one day?
no. i actually like that i don’t make money doing creative writing. i feel it would pollute the art.
S&TG: Do you feel having to make money limits your creative life?
life limits the creative life.