I started writing about something complex but fuck that. A turning point in my practice was this time I was riding the Megabus back from Chicago. I had gone to the AWP conference for the first time, I wasn't affiliated with an organization, I had to sneak past security or find someone who'd let me wear their badge. AWP is this thing where all the poetry presses have a table and there's shitloads of readings. Basically it's the place where the largest number of poets are gathered. It happens every year. AWP Chicago was the first time I hung out with my friend Kyle without getting drunk. As in, I had quit drinking, he hadn't. But we got stoned in the living room of a stranger and crashed there and it was like old times. At the conference I buzzed around with excitement coming into contact with people and documents that excited me so. The dude from Sonic Youth publishes poetry books? Woah! Another thing I experienced was reputation. I didn't know a ton of people but I knew people and they spoke well of me and that allowed me to interact with new people who I thought were so much fucking cool. This is all to say I had an excellent time and I was on "CLOUD NINE" as I waited in line for the Megabus, and waited, and waited, and waited... Jesus, this is taking awhile.. What's going on? Hey, I'm Paul. LOL this wait is ridiculous. Where are you going? Omaha woah me too. Yeah I live there. I'm not from there but I've lived there since Obama got elected. LOL yeah I moved in on election night, makes it easy to remember. What happened is I talked to someone from Omaha who was in school in Chicago. It was the best convo I'd had all year. Lots of laughs. When we finally got home I asked if we could hang out and we did and we ended up having a brief but nice friendship. The last time we chilled was on a rooftop in Omaha illegally gazing upon the shit skyline but where I'm from skylines aren't really a thing you think about. One time we were talking and my friend was upset about not getting into a medical school. I tried to say things that made them feel better but it wasn't working. I was at a loss. What should I do? I don't remember how I came to this decision but I decided I'd spend three hours working on a drawing and give it to them. If I put three hours of energy into a thing, that thing becomes a physical manifestation of my care. I just wanted to give my friend something that indicated my caring. So I made a weird drawing of the Sphinx. Growing up I...
was always told I wasn't good at drawing, and
I was never told I was good at drawing,
except by my Grandma that time I spent a summer making animals out of chunks of old wallpaper. Other than that, drawing was a site of frustration, unable to recreate an image as faithfully as others I went to school with. The Sphinx picture, it was the first time I'd entered into the act without being burdened by the desire to make a good drawing. I was just going to put X amount of energy onto a piece of paper and whatever came out, that was good enough. As a poet I'd known for quite awhile how poisonous it is to try and make good art. People don't listen to me when I say this. I tell them, "Try to write about the dumbest thing you can think of. Whatever you think is the worst possible thing to write about, write about that. Just write something that you think sucks so bad that it's completely meritless." Nobody believes me I'm showing them the path when I show them the path. (Just to be clear, everybody has their own path.) What I found when I used this method is the ways/things I thought were bad/shitty/dumb, I didn't really have a reason to feel that way. It was bias or received wisdom or fear or something else entirely. Another way of putting it is I realized even the worst ideas can have compelling results. And it's a good way to find new ideas cuz I guarantee you don't touch ideas you think are awful. Back to the story. As a poet I knew this, it was part of my practice as a writer to regularly challenge my notions re: what constitutes so-called good poetry. When I was making the Sphinx drawing for Megabus friend, it was the first time I realized I could apply this creative mode to drawing, and really to all of life. It was within my power to do whatever came natural to me, or do shit I thought was silly or dumb, or do anything at all. Just put energy into a thing. Energy -> thing. It wasn't long before started fucking around with music, doing dumb freestyle raps in my room when my roommates were gone. I haven't shared those recordings with ANYBODY but it was this awesome phase of my artistic life and it completely changed how I understood the machinations of my mind. I come at creativity through poetry and that's a boring world where all anyone wants to do is publish collections where they come up with some idea for it and then write a bunch of poems that conform to that idea. It's changed some the last few years but that's my context. I'm not that interested in publishing and when I talk to poetry fucks about it they look at me like I'm a lunatic. Last year I did an arts thing in Omaha and one of the people who occupied a higher place in the hierarchy of it than I did asked me what I do (my name tag said visual artist) and I said I'm a poet but I draw and I was in a play last summer and I just like to do all kinds of stuff. Again, looked at like I'm a lunatic. Don't get me wrong there's lots of people I interact with through poetry, art, etc. that think expansively in ways that inspire me so. I don't want to pretend like such people don't exist. But I'm consistently surprised how conservative the thinking is in the world of creativity. Discouragement abounds. The play I was in was called The Aliens. My character was this dude who fancied himself a musician and his best friend was a writer but they kind of hated each other then his friend died and him and this kid feel really fucked up about it. The play is named after a poem by Charles Bukowski who people either lazily love or lazily hate but to the haters I say his poem "The Aliens" is beautiful. The thing the play required of me that people were impressed by was I had to have an emotional breakdown every night. One of the shows, the last scene, tears were just streaming down my face as Harrison sang a Pete Seeger song. Back in the day, before that Megabus trip, I never would've thought I could do such a thing. But I can do all kinds of shit. And it doesn't matter if it sucks. In fact, if I'm not doing shit that sucks on a regular basis, I'm probably fucking up.