The writings of Jim Lopez have long impressed me, crossing elements of high-brow intellect with low-life gutter existence. Above all, he has a knack of telling a story. There was a lot I wanted to ask him, and in this interview, he gave me some illuminating answers and a whole lot more.
CN: Although it’s perhaps a little difficult to pinpoint precisely why, I find there’s a decidedly ‘Beat’ writing feel to ‘Rubber Hose Real Estate.’ Are you in some ways influenced by the Beat writers, intentionally or otherwise? What other influences do you draw on when writing?
JL: I am suspicious about the nature of writing all together. Does the written word enhance or obsolesce verbal communication? Obviously the invention of writing has enhanced human progress but there does seem to be a subtle loss in the art of conversation here in the States. This becomes evident when one goes to a bar or café, and I suspect that the written word is culpable, to some degree, for the weakening of the mnemonic faculty. People have the luxury of writing something down and, therefore, one does not have to commit oneself to the development memory, but then again, writing is also a tool that aids the mnemonic faculty (giving the eyes something to focus on); therefore, the written word strengthens our visual senses, while possibly weakening our auditory senses, and this influences how the mnemonic faculty is either enhanced or obsolesced in our current culture. I find myself questioning whether words are really meant to be written down, and unless a person is able to enhance words, so that they are “worthy” of time spent being read, they most definitely should not be written down.
There was an inherent musicality in the language of the Beats (a marriage between oration and writing), which enhanced the collective memory and strengthened poetic recitations, which effortlessly lent itself to the skill of oration; therefore, the Beats were more than capable, (they were committed to Vision), possibly even ordained to be the torch bearers of the written word and influence emerging generations.
I have not read the entire catalog of Beat authors, not even close. I have read Kerouac’s Satori in Paris and Orpheus, Burrough’s Junkie, Naked Lunch and The Job (and various excepts from other works), Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind, some of Ginsberg’s poems, Barry Miles’s The Beat Hotel, Jean-François Duval’s Bukowski and the Beats, and I have listened to recordings of various Beat authors, but I have never been immersed in Beat texts. My readings of the Beats were more of a catching up with what has happened exercise. The only Beats that I actively (biographically) sought out were Ken Kesey and Burroughs, but I have not read much of them; nevertheless, Burroughs lingers in my mind like a lonely man who jumps out a window while everyone in the neighborhood is fucking each other’s brains out. How could I not want to know more about that man; whereas, with someone like Kerouac or Cassady all I have to do is jump in the truck and make my way across the United States, observing the landscape and big sky, drinking in every bar or back woods alley of my choice and then wind up in seclusion. I’ve done that seventeen times already and all I have to say is, “There are no good times to be had on the road per say; nevertheless, it is magical.”
Living life is like going to a baseball game. A person strategizes for a win, which is mostly a vain endeavor (as the odds are stacked against you), but you do it anyways because that’s how the game works. Then in the bottom of 9th two batters knock a few through the hole, landing on first and second. Then your clutch hitter, at the top of the order, comes in and drops one over the right-fielder and the third base coach waves two runners home. If you’re really on top of your game, or luck smiles upon you, you knock one out of the park and everybody goes home talking about what a great game it was. Most of the time you were eating over-priced hotdogs, drinking overpriced shit beer, maybe feeling up a fan or two: the usual mundane stuff. But what sticks with you is that homer or great infield snag. Burroughs is one of those great plays made in life, as is Bukowski.
You have to gather up the courage to get out on the road, especially when you have no money. Screw Kerouac. I suspect he’ll understand if no one ever reads On The Road again, but only if they actually get out on the road his or herself; otherwise, stay home and read it. I never could stay still long enough, so I never read On The Road. I meet these beat lovin’ pukes and they tell me, “Yo, you never read On the Road, and you call yourself a writer.” But I don’t call myself a writer, as I said, I’m not certain that words are meant to be written down; nevertheless, I do it. I’m more interested in storytelling, in oration, good conversations. This is where I find greater pleasure in language.
The Beats were a bunch of rebellious queers waxing their wits and thank god they did. The Beats tore away the veil of U.S. hypocrisy and its abnormal normalcy of moralizing. They disdained a controlled life that preached a false utopia through religious and scientific fundamentalism. The Beats made rebellion and revolt more acceptable. We’re fighting or writing for the ability to determine one’s own sense of validation: to be one’s own determining factor in the pursuit for value in all our differences and uncertainties. That’s how I understand the Beats. Without them we would be further behind in self-actualization and cultural diversity. In this sense it is fair to say that there is a Beat feel or influence to my writing.
I would say that my writing is rooted in Cynicism, which has been perverted and redefined to mean being a negative ass. But Cynicism has little to do with being a negative ass. To be a Cynic is be truly against slavery and all its masks, and to use wit to unveil slavery. The father of Cynicism, Diogenes of Sinope, laid down his maxims: In order to be free one must rely upon the least amount of material objects, and that the market place cannot determine one’s value. One might consider that Time is not just a backdrop for events, it’s also free energy based on rotation. Yesterday’s Laws may no longer be Laws tomorrow. The current Timeline may merely be a measurement for the History of the Slave Market. I understood the Beats to be carrying the torch of Cynicism. And one must eventually decide that he or she will decide for his-or-herself.
I am much more influenced by the Romantics, Bukowski, the Surrealists, Dorothy Parker, William James and the social realism of Steinbeck, Erskin Caldwell and Nelson Algren, peppered with Walter Lippmann and ancient text.
The Beat life influenced me more than the actual text of the Beat Generation.
CN: Your stories are fairly densely populated with drug addicts, prostitutes, swindlers, perpetrators of violence and various other unsavoury sorts. To what extent do these people populate our own world? I suppose I’m asking how clear is the separation between art and life, and to what extent do you agree with the oft-held opinion that a writer has to have experienced something to write it and do so credibly, and the adage ‘write what you know’?
JL: I had reality shoved up my ass the moment my mother’s pussy started stretching around my head and was smeared across my face: a traumatic and equally beautiful event.
H.L. Menken wrote John Fante, “The writer must do more with little.” The work gets done by sitting in front of a computer, typewriter or pen and paper. And that’s the truth of the matter. There’s no way around it. I know some writers who spend most of their time getting drunk and seeking out experiences, but they rarely ever write anything. I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s difficult to be in two places at once. But Inspiration often comes from simply sitting down and getting the words written.
Discipline is absolutely necessary but I find it much more inspiring to be disciplined when I’m moved by some external factor or am struck with inspiration, whether external or internal. Oftentimes these influences are merely what I am surrounded by. I’ve never had to go very far to find unsavory characters. I was surrounded by them as a child and regularly come across them in my adult life. I was a latchkey kid. My parents separated when I was three and my mother was rarely home. I was beat regularly by my over-worked, under-paid mother and by bigger kids or gang members trying to rip-me-off. Some sort of beating was scheduled for me on a weekly bases.
As a child I was surrounded by working class people, as well as drug addicts, thieves, violent bastards, rock-n-rollers, and homeless out-of-work people. Many of my high school friends had intact families and lived in nice homes. I lived in a shitty barrio and the apartment building I was raised in was directly across the street from the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles. I inhaled automobile exhaust twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year, from the age of eight to the age of seventeen. The 10 Freeway is eight-to-ten lanes wide with a train line running down the middle of it. It was constantly noisy, dirty and hot. The traffic was so loud and filthy every day, and this was intensified twice a day during rush hour traffic.
Sure there were “normal”, well behaved people as well, but they were waning. Kids who grew up in northern San Gabriel, which was middle-to-upper class were getting fucked-up on drugs just as much as kids from South San Gabriel, where I mostly grew up.
My mother was conceived in a mental institution in Massachusetts and orphaned in Los Angeles, where she grew up in foster homes and juvenile detention centers. My father left Cuba a year or so after the Revolution and married my mother when she was underage. Their marriage failed and my father was a typical skipper. My mother packed up my sister and me and moved us to Maine, where she went in search of her mother, whom she’d never met. That failed quite quickly so we moved into the Wayfarer, which was a boarding house above a diner and a bar in Rockland.
At one point my mother could not afford to keep me and my sister (and she would not go on welfare), so she left us with a Mormon family, who lived on a farm, for about a month until she got a stable job and found a place to live. Then her boyfriend beat her up and that was it. We were back in L.A. after two years.
My mother was pissed-off all the time, working two, sometimes three, jobs. She and I grew tired of each other fairly early in our relationship: she was either throwing me out of the house or I was running away until I moved out all together at the age of seventeen. I had turned into a snot of a drug user and boozer. Then I found Jesus but discovered the Christian world to be full of self-righteous hypocrisy and fundamentalism, as well as being politically motivated and ignorant: there’s a lot of money and thought control in organized religion. I scrapped the “religious” life, understanding that all I had done was barter one neurosis for another. I did maintain the essence of my theological pursuits (the development of the spiritual being) and went back to what I knew best: travel, good drink and conversation and striving for hope: that I might give and receive sincere love.
The point that I am trying to make is that unsavory experiences were natural. It was my life. I didn’t know much of anything else. I and most of my friends grew into bull-shitters. We sat round, playing music, getting high, drinking and making each other laugh by insulting one another and not taking it personally. We spun stories out of our daily experiences. I simply chose to write some of it down and twist it a bit.
Most of the characters in Rubber Hose Real Estate (the story you published) were based on people I knew. Angie is the only real name given to any of the characters. She killed herself when we were nineteen or twenty. She had AIDS, and when things became too painful she sold her bike and T.V., bought some heroin and ended it.
Lucy is pretty much as I described her in the story but her and Angie never knew each other personally.
Soto is made up of two guys, one of whom I knew personally and one of whom I knew peripherally. The latter recently drank himself to death.
Tino is made of two guys, both who are living and still using. But I know only one of the guys that his character is based on. The other one is a friend-of-a-friend
Chacho is dead. He was a neighbor’s boyfriend and a real fucking fiend of a human being and thief. He wasn’t a transvestite, but he looked like one, feminine, constantly black and blue with a swollen lip. I believe he is dead now; in fact, I would be immensely surprised if he were alive. I’m certain he’s not.
Rubber Hose Real Estate was inspired by this Princeton Journal I found about Dueling. I’ve always been fascinated with men who could look each other in the eye and challenge one another. Things didn’t go down that way where I grew up. The Vietnam War ended and a bunch of refugees landed in my neighborhood. White and Mexican thugs used to go Nipper Knocking: they just got in a car and beat the shit out of every Nip/Asian they saw (man, woman or child) and sometimes they got so carried away that they just beat the shit out of anyone, Asian or not. And this was a regular activity. Most of my friends from other neighborhoods would not hang out in my neighborhood at night. I got the shit kicked out of me one night due to mistaken identity. I knew the guys and they knew me, but one of them was so high that he didn’t recognize me. The three other guys didn’t jump me, rather they stood by yelling, “David,” (the guy jumping me), “that’s Jim, man, that’s Jim!” But David, who was a big redneck who beat people all the time, and Cesar, a 230lb Mexican, were so high they thought I was Asian. I kicked David’s ass, busting his ear open, but Cesar pounded my face so many times that my jaw still pops-out of joint when I move it side-to-side. Cesar apologized soon after and I forgave him, because it was really David who was not listening to anyone and when I got the upper hand Cesar stepped in to backup David. I hated David before that and I hated him more after that. I made a Molotov-cocktail and was about to throw it in his house when I started thinking about his mother and brother and girlfriend and his new baby, so I never threw it. I lit it and was standing in front of his house, about to toss it in, but ended-up snuffing it instead. I never thought about killing anyone and have never thought about killing anyone since, with the exception of some greedy corporate scumbag, but that’s not my role in life. So I had to grow-up quick on my feet. I learned how to run and jump fences as well as, maybe even better, than any black guy in Compton.
I was thrown into a couple of SODA Homes in South Central L.A., which were private homes with bars around them, where young underage, non-violent offenders were housed until they went to see the judge. I was always the only white guy in the house. I was locked in with a couple of Cripps or Bloods my age. They fantasized about fucking a white girl with a shaved pussy. I fantasized about fucking a black girl with a big hairy pussy. They couldn’t believe it: a long haired, fourteen-year-old white kid jonesing to fuck a black girl with a hairy pussy. They loved me and I loved them. We would pillage the oregano from the kitchen or one of us would have a joint stuffed in our sock and we’d get high or get a headache, laughing all night. They always got sent to LeRoys Boys Home or some juvenile detention center. The judge wouldn’t even see me. My social worker would say, “The judge doesn’t know what to do with you, you didn’t break any laws, or at least you weren’t caught breaking any laws. Your mother just doesn’t want you. Do you have some place to go?” Sometimes my mother would come around and take me home, sometimes I was dropped off on a corner and made my way to a friend’s house for dinner.
Aside from underage drinking, drug-using, and the ever-so-occasional shoplifting the worst thing that I did was drive to Hollywood without a license and get free ball rubs from prostitutes. I started doing that at fourteen and stopped at fifteen. I’d pull up to a whore and she would stick her head and tits in the car. I would fondle her tits and she would rub my balls until she realized I didn’t have any money. Then she’d split and I’d find another whore to rub my balls. I loved whores.
I tried to get into Military School to escape the neighborhood and get some discipline, which I knew I needed. Metaphorically I was standing on the 10 Freeway’s catwalk and at the same time I was the guy watching and shouting, “Jump”, because a person is much more inclined to jump if they have someone cheering them on, but I flunked the Military School entry exam and became a trapped neurotic, picking up ideas, experiences and corky thoughts. I wanted out, so I started running away.
I can’t stay still and being financially impudent I have a tendency to move around.
That was it. All I did was fuck-around when I was kid because there wasn’t a whole lot that was available to me. I’ve always been charitable and I still am. I have coffee with homeless mental-cases and people suffering from PTSD quite regularly. On occasion, I even let them in my home to shower and wash their clothes, and I make them something to eat. I listen to their craziness and plagiarize it.
I later developed enough discipline to graduate from high school, which I had dropped out of, and put myself through college and grad school, working as a: janitor at various schools and retirement homes; an after-school recreation coach at various elementary schools; finish carpenter in San Marino (off-and-on for fifteen years); made cold calls for a broker who sold IRA’s for Dean Witter; photographed ATM transactions (from San Francisco to San Diego) for Wells Fargo; gave guitar lessons; was a salesman at Guitar Center; drove a forklift in a warehouse, and tended bar at Harvard. I picked up any job I could get throughout my twenties, thinking that an education would improve my financial situation but it didn’t. When I graduated from Harvard I went back to what I was doing when I graduated from high school: Finish Carpentry. I hated it, even though I had become quite skilled at it, so I quit and have been mostly out-of-work since; however I been able to move around a lot.
I was born poor and unwanted, and I’m still poor and unwanted. Life is struggle, so I tend to write about hardship. I do try to bring some ethics into my writing. Dante’s “Inferno” is one of my favorite pieces of literature. It shows the inevitable consequences of the Enochian woes, that is, those who attain wealth at the expense of others and those who lack charity have a cold place reserved for them in hell. I suspect that this is true, if there is a hell or afterlife.
Newspapers have been an influence on my writing. But I get tired of them, as they are a sound track to start everyone’s day.
Art is the material form of something that is inside the artist. If the artist is successful then the form of his-or-her art is an authentic representation of what is inside of the artist. That’s it. There is no separation between art and life, and that is why art is oftentimes a truer form of spirituality than “religion.” What a person gets from sitting in a pew, (something every honest person hates to do), singing stupid songs, and too-often-than-not trying not to fall asleep while listening to a benign sermon pales in comparison to what art offers those who participate with it.
My life mostly sucks and so I write about things that suck and maybe my writing even sucks. But all I am trying to do is give form to an expression or an inspiration that is in me. It’s not complicated, but I can’t make it all up in a room sitting by myself in front of a computer. I get the ball rolling. When I get stuck I go out my front door and someone will inevitably say or do something that I could never have said or done, and I’ll take it and put it in an entirely different situation and continue building from there. I need others and experiences, but I don’t purposely go out and look for it. All I have to do is sit in front of my house and then Deryl the transvestite hairdresser, who is well-versed in Greek mythology, will walk by. He and I will flirt with each other or he’ll tell me some outrageous story or turn a cleaver phrase and I’ll take it and use it. He’s happy to give. I’m happy to receive and hopefully the reader walks away feeling like he or she hasn’t wasted his or her time. But I have not had very many readers. Having any form of an audience is new to me.
CN: Is there a particular philosophy behind your writing? Moreover, beyond the obvious and superficial function of literature to entertain, what do you consider to be the function of your work?
JL: Over all I am a victim to the American plight. I want a hero to save my life; some fucked-up, son-of-a-bitch, bastard, who has mastered his manners and needs no one to validate his own existence, except his self. I’d like to write him in some way that has never been written, but I think Homer, Enoch, Jeremiah, Jesus, Buddha, Hermes Trismegistus, Socrates, Diogenes of Sinope, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Miquel de Unamuno, William James, Dorothy Parker, Marshal McLuhan, Bukowski, Nelson Algren, and a number of Latin American writers have covered the philosophical elements in literature.
Philosophy is the love of wisdom or the wisdom of love. Honest copulations are important as are learning to choose one’s words and develop one’s own tone and character.
I read a lot of philosophy, theology, social engineering and history books.
I’m attempting to develop/create character, a homology of sorts, which is capable of facing death calmly, with courage. That is central to everything that I do. I am profoundly aware that I will die, and I want to face death calmly and courageously. In order for me do so, I believe it is necessary for me to take risk and develop a charitable character. When I was a kid I would watch movies where an airplane was going down and everyone was screaming in horror, or some guy has a gun in his face and he starts begging for his life, like Frank Lopez in Scareface, and I would think, “How shameful.” I acutely remember feeling and thinking that it was shameful to beg and scream when death comes for you. I never wanted to be one of those people. And then, at ten-years-of-age, a taxi was backing out of a driveway and ran over me as I walked by on the sidewalk. I almost died. The bumper slammed down, smashing my entire body between it and the pavement. The muffler burned me and then the goddamn tire grabbed hold of me and sat in my lap, skidding me out into the street.
My uncle saw it happen and shouted for the taxi to stop before the frontend finished me off. I remember screaming, “I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” as the paramedics were cutting-off my shorts and my mother was leaning over me covering my genitals. My friends were laughing and gave me shit for years. They mocked my ten-year-old genitals and made stupid jokes as I hobbled around, “That’s was one hell of a way to catch a cab.” My uncle even joined in. But I almost died that day, and I could see the whole thing from above, like I’d been dosed with opiates or psychedelics. It was such a profound experience that I had to repeat it when I was thirteen, as I got hit by a car two-more-times, only I was on my bike and I was not run-over. I walked away clear headed and unaffected. In fact, I got the people to give me money if I promised not tell my mother or call the police.
I think it’s fair to say that you can break down my writing thus far, teasing out a philosophy of Risk, Charity, Courage, Mischief, Romance, Death, Immortality, and Hope.
CN: The anthology gathers a fairly disparate array of authors, all with quite different and highly individual styles under the umbrella of ‘clinical brutality.’ This was pretty much as I’d expected, and hoped – i.e. to show different interpretations of the theme. What does the concept of clinical brutality mean to you?
JL: Most things that are deemed clinical have an undercurrent of brutality. The sophisticated indifference that is pushed upon us in the United States as a healthy, responsible, cultured life is really just a perverted, clinical form of brutality. Madeleine Albright proved that when she said, on 60 Minutes, that hundreds-of-thousands of infants killed in Iraq, due to U.S. sanctions, is an acceptable number of dead kids, that is, as she actually said, “It’s worth it.”
That’s the mentality I experience throughout the States and in New York. If you express an emotion over injustice you’re considered immature. If I’m reading the paper over an espresso at the French Roast, and start getting emotional because some cop with a power-trip shoots a Nigger in the back for running away with a stolen toaster-oven, New Yorkers, or new New Yorkers I should more fairly say, get up in arms because I didn’t use the proper nomenclature when referring to the poor black guy: when instead they should be manifesting an aggressive emotion over police injustice. It’s fucking ridiculous. Sophisticated indifference is the most brutal thing I’ve ever experienced, but I don’t have to worry about ten tons of explosives and bits of metal resembling silver dollars falling out of the sky, landing on my home and ripping and blowing children, elderly people and non-combatants to bits.
Injustice is brutality and the more clinical the more brutal because its hypocrisy is hidden in “sophisticated”, “civilized,” “cultured” mannerisms.
I understand your title, Clinical Brutality, to be satirical. All the writers might be rude, crude and brutish, but I suspect that every one of them loses their shit when they see or hear about injustice, about many of the rich taking advantage of the poor and duping the middle-class, or the mighty maiming and killing or dispersing the weak into a disoriented existence. That’s real brutality and it’s usually done quite clinically: from behind a desk with a remote control nano-bomb that is designed to resemble a butterfly. We live in an obscene and beautiful world. There are no caricatures, but this indifferent sophistication that is pushed on the common person is vicious, and it is brutalizing the soul of humanity.
CN: The Internet is littered with e-zines, most of which are pretty poor, it has to be said. You recently launched ‘Antique Children,’ which certainly stands apart from the majority, in terms of quality, and also in terms of feel. What prompted you to establish the site, and what is the ‘Antique Children’ ethos?
JL: Thank you. I’m glad that you like it, and I hope that it might me a worthy distraction.
Antique Children (AQC) was an impulse. I have a lot of photography lying around collecting dust, so I made the header art in two days and decided to search others to help create the aesthetic.
Antique Children overwhelms me. Sometimes I feel like I proposed marriage to a woman who I’m afraid to commit myself to because I don’t know what I’m in for, and I’m a little apprehensive of having to be responsible for the duration. I’m also unemployed and have no budget to run the damn thing; nevertheless, it’s coming together.
More than anything I was interested in designing my own covers for the printed journals, whether it be my art or someone else’s. I’ve always loved the feeling of being in a record or book store and seeing a cover that impressed me enough to pick it up and buy it. If the album or literature was good then that affirmed my immediate sensibilities. So what I am after is that first impression, the ineffable experience taking form into something coherent, beautiful, unknown.
The philosophy or mission statement of AQC is still forming, but it is designed by orphans.
CN: The way in which literature is transmitted and received has changed dramatically with the advent and evolution of the Internet. To take Lyotard’s assertion that the status of knowledge has altered in the postmodern age as accurate, would you consider the status of literature to have changed also? If so, in what ways?
JL: I can’t really answer this question without sounding sophomoric. To be honest, I really don’t know. I can make simple observation.
I think it has changed in the obvious way: the artifact of the paper book is less important because of the internet and I don’t really care for that. I don’t like staring into a screen that is shining a light in my face and agitating my brain. But the internet has its benefits. You and I met on the internet, and I met Dave Kelso-Mitchell and Craig Woods, who is one of the more creative contemporary writers on the internet. Meeting people on the internet and feeling a “sense” of closeness is something I would have never expected.
The internet is relatively new to me. I just started poking around on it in 2003. Prior to that I thought it was a total waste of time and completely irrelevant to my life. Now I think of the internet as a partial waste of my time, yet it has the addictive quality of opiates.
I still prefer the artifact of the paper book, and I suspect that I always will. I do wish that the pulp/timber and cotton industries would lighten-up and allow hemp back into the market. Hemp could reverse some of the damage that the timber industry has inflicted on the environment. Hemp might also be an excellent solution to the economic problem.
There is and always has been literature, publishers and agents who are too timid to take risk. The internet offers writers the opportunity to search out those publishers and agents who are not afraid to take risk.
But I’m not very savvy when it comes to the subject of the internet.
To revisit what I was attempting to communicate at the beginning of this interview, about my suspicions of the written word: writers do not have to be as careful when it comes to choosing words as they did in the past. This is obvious. Computer writing programs make it easier for a writer to delete his or her thoughts; thus, it is not as essential for a writer to search deeply within his-or-her mind and sensibilities prior to committing to a word. The ability to delete without wasting a sheet of paper or ink or having to start all over again seems to make writing a more visual process than it was in the past. Therefore, the process of how a writer decides upon a word is obviously influenced by the computer. Again, what is happening to the mnemonic faculty is apparently being affected by the invention of the internet.
Writers, well human beings in general, are not given the time to adapt to the rapid growth of technology. McLuhan observed this phenomenon. I’m therefore not able, nor do I trust anyone, to definitively answer questions about how the human species has been enhanced by the technology of the past fifty-years. All we can do is guess. At best we can study it inductively. There might be some deductive mathematical equations: the writing of codes and such, but there is no way of telling, with any certainty, where the internet will take literature or how it will ultimately act upon the human species.
We are all in this together, regardless of race, nation, class, or intellect. No one can truly understand what we are doing nor understand what we created when we split the atom or when we observe subatomic particles appearing in two places at one time, let alone communicate and transfer information at the speed that we currently do. I can’t even adapt to last year’s information, nor can I acquire knowledge or wisdom through the internet because new information is constantly being presented.
The development of wisdom requires time. Wisdom is a process. And I am quite firm on this point: there is no way to acquire wisdom through the internet. No matter how intelligent Bill Gates might be he is not a man of wisdom. I’m not trying to blemish his sphere of influence, nor his contributions, nor his genius or generosity. But he is not the man that comes to mind when I think of “wisdom.” At best one might acquire bits of knowledge or spark one’s career through the internet, at best, but one can never acquire wisdom through it. Not at this time in history. A program has not been developed or designed for the acquisition of wisdom.
There seems to be a subtle attack upon the necessity of wisdom in today’s age. In some ways, it seems apparent that the internet is uninterested in wisdom and anyone who aspires after wisdom is as useless as a broken shoelace. But if one looks throughout the history of Literature it becomes apparent that Literature has always harnessed a relationship with Wisdom. I don’t see this interrelationship between Literature and Wisdom occurring with the internet. Nevertheless, at best, the internet is a useful tool, an autobahn of information for acquiring nominal knowledge; at worst, it is a perverted platform for star-fuckers. However, our evolutionary adaption is way behind our technological advancements and what this has done to the central nervous system remains unknown. Marshal McLuhan warned us of this very real phenomenon and its affect on literacy and human development.
CN: Do you consider your writing to belong to any particular genre, or that you ‘belong’ to a greater literary community? Is ‘community’ important to writers?
JL: I have always romanticized the idea of a tribe, especially Native American tribes, and I have sought out Shamans, though I have never found one, to give me some mystical insight, so community is important to me because it is where archetypes exists. And I have a tendency to appreciate archetypes and how the evolve.
But I also like being alone and taking-off when I want to and not having to explain myself to anyone, thus Existential Literature has had a profound impact on my writing (I include the Surrealist and many Latin American writers in that genre). There is no pretense in the genre. The Surrealists and Existentialists had just come out of World War I, where humanity was blowing itself to hell and doing it with rapid speed and force. There was no time to think, action was the most valuable currency. There was so much violence that a person had no time for pretense. Latin American Literature is the same. Struggle and death is the central theme and how one deals with struggle and death is essential to developing one’s character. Today just about everyone is pretentious, even myself at times. I find those who go around with their moronic critique, calling writers, who grapple with struggle and death, pretentious. Actually, I would say that the greater pretention lies with the turds who go around criticizing writers as pretentious.
But if there were one writer that has influenced me most in literature it’s Nelson Algren. I’m an American and I speak American English and I have not read anyone who has the rhythm of the English language as Nelson Algren does/did in the 20th century. Herman Melville was incredible but his time is far removed from mine. Algren’s social realism and his wit stands above anyone I have ever read. He can make the reader laugh and want to think, and Algren is socially responsible in his writing. He has an ethic that forces the reader to consider the plight of the underdog, the losers, scumbags, and unwanted while not romanticizing their destructive choices, yet he also forces the reader to consider his or her own responsibility in this whole bloody, unjust mess that humanity has tendency to create. I’ve read everything he’s written, except “Chicago, City on the Make,” and I like everything he has written.
I’ve always been attracted to losers, underdogs, the unwanted, whores, artists, transvestites and self-destructive people, but I have also been lucky to have had some mentors who have embodied genuine benevolence, (a sort of holy man), like Ray S. Anderson. I went to seminary simply to study with him, and I never met someone like him. I suspect I never will again. He was a remarkable theologian and though I didn’t agree with all his ideas he was indeed the most benevolent man I ever met. Nothing seemed to ruffle him except hypocrisy. He had a Christ-like ability to make a person feel heard and understood and was able to give a response that was relevant. He died last year on father’s day and his last book was on hope.
Without hope a person will usually just lie down and die and that is what is so miserable and fucking vicious about the domination of Empires and corporate control: it strips hope away from the unwanted losers. Nature also has this power; however, look around. Empires and corporations are too often behaving like greedy pigs, lining their pockets with natural resources that are inherently free (they actually bottle and sell water. It’s fucking insane). Corporate elitism controls the majority of the wealth and resources, and then they have the nerve to peddle false hopes with a bread and circus act. It is an astronomical endeavor for the underdog to compete with a market system that determines value based upon one’s purchasing power. But this is really nothing new, as Aristotle said, “Some are born to Mastery and some are born to Slavery”; nevertheless, there has been progress.
I understand the Existentialist to be looking for hope deep within oneself, to discover and develop one’s inherent sense of freedom and determine one’s own becoming. The Surrealists do this by attempting to unlock the subconscious, if there is indeed one, and Latin American writers tend to do both and root their work in the world of violence, which they have been extremely subjected to. Algren does all of this and brings it home, right in my backyard, where the 10 Freeway spits out its poisonous gas fumes and decrepit hopelessness, as working people make their way to a 9-5, which I have tried to avoid. Who wants to work some deadbeat job, which oftentimes severely damages the body, scrounging for pieces of eight?
I suppose you can label my genre, thus far, as Transgressive or Mischievous or simply “Filthy 10 Freeway” Literature. My body has literally been run over and polluted by desperate people driving back and forth to work, and that has made such an impact on me that it has left an immortal imprint on my smoggy face, and I refuse to accept a slave mentality or slave wages: a little bit of money is not necessarily better than no money at all, especially if you don’t have children, which I don’t.
I woke up to the sound of automobile traffic. My days were impacted by cars crawling, zooming and honking. My dreams were invaded by speeders, drunk drivers and rumbling locomotives carrying products day-in-and-day-out for ten years of my young life. There was a catwalk across the street where I could stand above and watch the cars drive by as I pissed on them. I’d shit on empty, smashed Rits Cracker boxes and toss it on cars as I stood along the shoulder of the 10 Freeway. I assaulted those cars constantly but not as much as I they assaulted me. But they were merely filled with simple people (who I never demonized or blamed) making their way back and forth to work. Thank God I never hurt anyone, but I never wanted to be one of them either.
Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to wash the filth off my face, but it will forever be smeared in my mind. And right now that’s what I have a tendency to write about: filthy, down-and-out subjects looking for hope.