The Write Stuff: William Taylor Jr. on Doing Your Best to Ride Out the Dry Spells
The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.
William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. Broken When We Got Here, his latest book of poetry, and An Age of Monsters, his first collection of fiction, are both available from Epic Rites Press. The Blood of a Tourist, a book of new poems, will be published in early 2014 by Sunnyoutside Press. William was a recipient of the 2013 Acker Award.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?
It depends upon who's asking. Usually I'll just mention my day job. If pushed or cornered by the right person I might let it slip that I sometimes write poetry. But everybody writes poetry. And if you tell someone you write poetry, they'll inevitably ask you what your poetry is about, and that's the worst question ever.
What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?
Finding a balance in doing what I have to do to keep a roof over my head and doing the things that give my life some semblance of meaning. I get depressed and grumpy when I'm not using enough of my time creating.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Gosh, that could mean any number of things. All in all, I certainly couldn't recommend it to everyone. There's not much in the way of sleep or financial stability involved.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
In my best moments, I do. I'm married to someone I love, I live in a city I'd always wanted to live in, and am a part of a community of amazingly talented writers and artists. I write things I like to write and there are people out there willing to read and publish them.
When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
The video in which a cat dressed as a shark chases a ducking while riding a roomba. I think it sums everything up quite nicely. When people ask me what my poetry is about I will direct them here.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
I've never had much of a sense of ancestry, or a connection to my relatives outside my immediate family. My grandparents had all passed away before I was born. I grew up in California and all my relatives were on the East Coast, so my interactions with them were few and far between. As best I can tell, my Mom's father was a deadbeat alcoholic and my dad's dad was an abusive preacher. I think he drank, too. We never talked too much about it. I am, however, a distant relative of President Zachary Taylor, but I don't know much about him, either.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
At ten years old I remember being obsessed with the Incredible Hulk and Olivia Newton John. I read a lot of comics and drew superheros on all my papers at school. I wanted to be a comic book artist. I didn't want to be Olivia Newton John, but I did have a dream that she was on my baseball team at school. Truth be told, I am still obsessed with the Hulk and Olivia Newton John.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.
I'd like a modest cabin, is that allowed? Woods, a stream, maybe a little waterfall. A notebook and some good books to read. Wine and various other mind altering substances. I'd walk around, read, write and drink. Ponder the mysteries of the universe and nothing much at all.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Good god, no. I've just now recently started doing karaoke. I think that's as close to a striptease as I will ever get.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
What's wrong with society today?
There are people everywhere without flowers in their hair.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Booze and ibuprofen.
What is your fondest memory?
Spending afternoons staging epic battle between my Micronauts and Star Wars action figures.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Some days many times over. Other times I'll go through periods of not being in love with much of anything, but I've been around long enough to know that life tends to drop beauty in your path when you least expect it, so I do my best to ride out the dry spells.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
A cure for cancer? World peace? A general tolerance between people with different beliefs and lifestyles? All the usual unlikely stuff.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I see art, in all its forms, as a way for people to share with each other what it means to be human, the joy and the horror of it all. It helps us feel not so alone. It helps us understand ourselves and our possibilities. It's definitely necessary for me. Some people seem to get by without it, but these people confuse and frighten me. And they often seem to be in charge of things.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
Buy me a few drinks first.
What are you working on right now?
Doing the final editing for a book of poetry due out in the fall, and putting together a manuscript for another collection. Also gathering some poems for an e-book collection of my pieces inspired by the Tenderloin. Lastly, slowly working away at a novel that quite possibly will never be finished. But that's okay.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
My favorite writing tends to capture the darker aspects of life as well as the joy and wonder of it. I love writing that is both sad and funny at the same time. I want it to make me laugh as it breaks my heart. Because that's what life does. Cormac McCarthy does it perfectly in his novel, Suttree.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I would love it to be affordable enough to allow a more diverse group of people to live here.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
A good bar and a good band with a friend or two. A fun literary event. Dinner and drinks with my wife.
What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?
I was in Santa Cruz. It was early in the morning and there was this gentleman walking across the street. At some point he paused and projectile vomited what seemed like an endless stream of green. Then he continued on his way like nothing had happened. Then he paused a moment later and did the same thing, then once more continued on his way. I stopped looking after that.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
You can do virtually anything with 50 words, that's what makes writing so exciting. 50 dollars will get you a decent bottle of absinthe.
What are some of your favorite smells?
The smell of fresh rain on pavement. What's the word for it... petrichor. The ocean.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
Maybe a trip to Europe in which I had the leisure to visit the graves and homes and haunts of some of my favorite writers and artists. See Oscar Wilde's grave, drink in Hemingway's cafe, walk about Thomas Hardy's countryside. Or a train ride across the U.S., stopping everywhere along the way for as long as I pleased.
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