The Nerves (Metatron), won a 2021 Lambda Literary Award. They've written for art magazines and exhibitions, conducted interviews, crisis counselling, drawing classes, bookselling, astrological consultation. They are at work on several projects, including daily address at https://psychiclectures.substack.com.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Probably the question I most frequently ask editors and other people is “does that make sense?” My central doubt. Hearing how people read The Nerves convinced me that I do.
Everything else will be a deepening of that reassurance. I’d like to let people know I understand what they mean too.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
No, I came to poetry first. I love what meaning is generated through beauty, silence, and contradiction. I love language at the level of the voice, then the sound, the pause, the word, the line. The scaffolds of genre at this point seem onerous, but I use them, for now, to convey sense. I don’t really think about storytelling unless I absolutely have to, which is less than you might think.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My notes are non-stop and I try to sort them but they aren’t usually towards a particular project when they come down off my head. But everything comes from there. I guess writing is sorting them and making them make sense.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A sound becomes a sentence when there’s a collision, and so on. I admit to being kind of precious about books (The Nerves was gorgeously designed by Sultana Bambino) but when writing becomes commodity the writing part of that project is over.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings. The reading and listening parts. I love reading and being read to. I record myself while writing. I love the extra information conveyed by posture, dress, voice, atmosphere. And the audience’s stillness or noise. Reading is lovely and writing is simply not. Writing is bad posture and staring at the wall. It’s quarantine.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Is Voice theoretical? It’s nice when my theoretical concerns feel cosmic, like the social and the personality are gone and the Voice is a chorus. I wrangle those socials and individuals with genre but it’s exciting when they recede. It would be amazing to write without power or grief but they are always major.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Well they have lots of different roles. Medium, teacher, adjudicator, observer, entertainer are a few. I find it hard to relate normally when compulsively writing. Ironically, I don’t think I’m alone in that. Maybe I can put some pressure on that.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have to be ready, but at their best the editor is the first sense-maker! Amazing. I’m in awe of people who share their work at all stages.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I took a workshop with Leah Sophia Dworkin where she shared a technique for envisioning where you store your memories, and how to tuck them away when you’re done with them. Until that point I’d been going through a period where writing felt really overwhelming and even distressing, a boundless and vulnerable endeavour. That was great. The container doesn’t have to be a strict form.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
No, I’m not regular but I do it every day. If I do it well it usually happens when I have a free afternoon and the light is right. I write in bed with my cats if I feel evil. Or I go to the Hart House Library (hot tip). I’m newly obsessed with how unhealthy writing tends to be, how much ruminating, drinking coffee and alcohol, scrunching the body. No wonder it can get a bit morose and tortured. I want my writing to be embodied so I try to get into the body with meditation, stretching, music. Sex if I’m feeling committed. The only thing I don’t like about the library is I can’t do Wheel Pose without inhibition. My best advice to writers is to take care of your body. It moves your head. So, note to self, get out of bed.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The world is too much with me and I’m chronically over- rather than understimulated, but I guess if I feel confused I read, let the notes come out of my head, return.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Boys. All my past and current homes. Even when I lived with my best girlfriend, but then it smelt like patchouli too.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I love to draw and I find ease there, probably because it’s more in conversation with myself and less others so I have less responsibility. The freedom of association in that kind of mark making, the immediacy of emotion in a line, taught me a lot about what’s important to me in writing and in general. In art school I only wrote ekphrastically and I think the care of conveying the world while surrendering to its mystery (artists hate having their work explained but need it to be described) comes from there.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m reading very distractedly since I started working in a bookstore, but writers I carry around with me (quite materially) are Eileen Myles, Joshua Whitehead, Liz Howard, Dionne Brand, David Wojnarowicz, John Wieners, Renee Gladman, Tamara Faith Berger, Hannah Black, Aisha Sasha John, Prathna Lor, Lucy Ives, Lucy Ellmann, Shiv Kotecha. Kafka, Berlant, Sedgwick, Davis, Carson, Dickinson, Woolf, Weil. Notley, Mayer, Niedecker. Woof.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Reflecting on that list, read more work in translation, read more work from the ancient world.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
A helping profession for sure. I used to have a lot of guilt about the arts, now I feel like they’re one side of a call and response. I still feel like my most instructive experiences are listening to or caring for people. Reading is like the desultory, or preparatory way of doing that. Writing at its best distills something from all different kinds of experiences, alchemizes, offers something weird and ripe. I’m not sure about that mirror-to-the-world metaphor, if it offers a clear picture. It’s more like cultural production is a twisted, distinctive little farm grown in the soil of experience, the compost of living. I believe in it a bit more now, I believe that my connected experiences came from reading as much as anything else.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I love to draw but I’m in my thirties now and I think I’ll have a lifelong struggle with the substance of the world, with caring about lasting materiality, with the value of objects and the realities of bureaucracy and money. That eliminates a lot of professions and visual artist is one of them. Writing has cheap overhead and needs no storefront. And it can be joyful.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Darryl by Jackie Ess. I’m loving the new season of Couples Therapy. That show is nuts.
19 - What are you currently working on?
Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, poetry about everything, and my daily Psychic Lectures: https://psychiclectures.substack.com
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