We’re excited to post our online exclusive interview with WTF host Marc Maron. His podcast, on which he interviews (mostly) comedians, is one of our most favourite podcasts out there. The interview was conducted by Kyle Dowling. Here is an excerpt.
THE BELIEVER: I remember you once saying that sometimes it takes five years to write a good joke.
MARC MARON: Yeah, jokes do finish themselves. I really do see them as ongoing conversations about personal themes that I ruminate on. Then my attitudes change and I sort of add that to the conversation. Whether people know the evolution of the conversation or not, I don’t know, but thematically, as a comedian, I stay in the same ballpark—around my issues and my philosophy of life.
BLVR: That idea of the ongoing conversation is very present in both your act and on WTF. Where did the concept of an “ongoing conversation” come from?
MM: I think I got it from my grandpa Jack. He used to have a hardware store and there was always this weird klatsch—is that a word?—of, like, these old men that you could just hang around with in his hardware store and just bullshit. I found it so fascinating. You know, for the years I was doing stand-up, I kind of lost touch with that.
BLVR: Until you started the podcast?
MM: Yeah, but that’s not why I started it. At the time, I didn’t know what else to do. I had nothing going on, and I was working with a guy who’s a genius radio-producer, and I said, “Let’s try this.” The only thing we really committed to was the schedule. I said, “I don’t know what the show’s gonna be, but let’s put up two a week, at this time, and just honor that and see what happens.” That was really the only intention. I didn’t know if anybody would listen to it.
Read more…
photo credit: Noah Kalina

We’re excited to post our online exclusive interview with WTF host Marc Maron. His podcast, on which he interviews (mostly) comedians, is one of our most favourite podcasts out there. The interview was conducted by Kyle Dowling. Here is an excerpt.

THE BELIEVER: I remember you once saying that sometimes it takes five years to write a good joke.

MARC MARON: Yeah, jokes do finish themselves. I really do see them as ongoing conversations about personal themes that I ruminate on. Then my attitudes change and I sort of add that to the conversation. Whether people know the evolution of the conversation or not, I don’t know, but thematically, as a comedian, I stay in the same ballpark—around my issues and my philosophy of life.

BLVR: That idea of the ongoing conversation is very present in both your act and on WTF. Where did the concept of an “ongoing conversation” come from?

MM: I think I got it from my grandpa Jack. He used to have a hardware store and there was always this weird klatsch—is that a word?—of, like, these old men that you could just hang around with in his hardware store and just bullshit. I found it so fascinating. You know, for the years I was doing stand-up, I kind of lost touch with that.

BLVR: Until you started the podcast?

MM: Yeah, but that’s not why I started it. At the time, I didn’t know what else to do. I had nothing going on, and I was working with a guy who’s a genius radio-producer, and I said, “Let’s try this.” The only thing we really committed to was the schedule. I said, “I don’t know what the show’s gonna be, but let’s put up two a week, at this time, and just honor that and see what happens.” That was really the only intention. I didn’t know if anybody would listen to it.

Read more…

photo credit: Noah Kalina

Interview with Jon Raymond [writer]
Part I.
When Jon Raymond taught a fiction workshop of mine a few years ago at Portland State University, he’d lope into the room sporting a hunter orange cap and down coat, worn to a dull sheen. Raymond’s workshop coincided with the 2008 publication of his short story collection, Livability, and the premiere of Wendy and Lucy, the second feature film he co-wrote with director Kelly Reichardt. This spring, Raymond will publish his first new novel since 2004’s The Half Life. Due out April 2012 from Bloomsbury, Rain Dragon follows a young California couple as they negotiate their transplantation to an organic farm in Oregon. 
Now in his early 40s, Raymond met me this past November at downtown Portland’s Tugboat Brewery, fresh from the Emmys. Mildred Pierce, the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet that Raymond co-wrote with director Todd Haynes, had been nominated for 21 awards—a subject we raised and dropped within a few sips of our pints, moving on to Neil Young, California spiritualism, the “loser ethos” of his hometown, and French altarpieces. - Ramona W. DeNies
Jon Raymond: The Emmys were really more fun for my family and friends watching than for me. Though the swag rooms were interesting. The people I end up dealing with are still from the same small world. Not that it’s a huge sacrifice to be screenwriting. But novels are what I put the most stock in, am most invested in. A fairly brutal act of will is required to complete something like a book. I don’t know how pandering you want this to get, but just the books themselves, it would be nice if they were more read, more lucrative. Screenwriting is easier, compared to the heavy lifting of prose. Almost relaxing. It’s fun to be on a team, where other people depend on you; that’s an itch that doesn’t get scratched by fiction writing. And there’s a lot of plausible deniability with the films. For a book, there’s no hiding—you’re the sole proprietor. I had dinner a few weeks ago with Paul Auster, of all things, and I found it gratifying that he said much the same thing.
The Believer: I looked up The Half Life and Livability on Amazon’s bestseller list. So, they’re at 1,572,556 and 79,836 respectively. That’s an encouraging trend, right? How do you feel about Rain Dragon?
JR: I started Rain Dragon well before Livability, so it’s been dragging on. It’s been a real struggle. God willing, people will like it, though I’m nervous, to be sure. I don’t feel like the book’s going to be a humiliation, deplorable or evil, but I don’t know if it achieves its goal or not.  It might be a “small book.” I’m okay with that. Any way I can think of not to worry about what I put out there is helpful. It might not be good, but I think about Neil Young. He puts stuff out, good or bad, goes where he has to go, and lets other people sort it out. That’s what I aspire to. The other model is Jeffrey Eugenides – a book every ten years. He must be a wreck.
BLVR: It doesn’t read like a small book to me. It’s still sinking in. So your main character, Damon, he’s open to communal farm life. But while his girlfriend gets increasingly absorbed into the farm, he doesn’t show much aptitude. So he turns to his L.A. ad-man experience, taking the farm’s message out into the world through consciousness-raising seminars. It’s a curious twist. It’s like he’s evangelizing. But for what?
JR:  I was interested in knowing how people construct a sense of identity, as a couple, and I felt that this is fundamentally a spiritual pursuit. This was a big avenue for me going into Rain Dragon. As I started it, I was reading a lot of Walker Percy and Graham Greene, writers I respect, and who are both very devout in their ways. Greene was Catholic, extremely pious in a way I don’t really understand. Greene and Percy worked out their religious issues on the page in a way that made me wonder whether I was somehow lacking. There’s a book I encountered called California Spiritualism; I thought, oh, this is my religious upbringing. It’s not as weak or lame as it might sound; it’s somewhat viable. I wanted to write about new age spiritualities in a way that others might write about Catholicism; manifesting own’s own destiny is a theme that circulates in the book. 
BLVR: This is a West Coast spiritual phenomenon that we’re talking about?
JR: Self-actualization idealogies are baked deep into our DNA here – the tools of the encounter group, the meta-communication that started in the 1940s and 50s, the Erhard Seminars Training of the 1970s.  The Landmark Forum we have now stems from EST. With organic farming and its progressive ideals, there is some kind of intellectual relationship between these worlds. And the vocabulary is now steeped into coporate America, it’s how businesspeople now talk about projects: whose vocabulary is most powerful, whose “technology” is most effective. Silicon Valley was built on this new-agey sense of spiritual achievement. Steve Jobs was a pure product of this consciousness-raising. 
BLVR: So in Rain Dragon, there is this rigorous pursuit of manifesting one’s destiny. I feel like that theme is also present in the The Half-Life, with your teenage protagonists living on a Portland commune in the 1980s. In The Half Life there’s also just plain manifest destiny, with the backstory of the Oregon Territory. Your latest film, Meek’s Cutoff, follows pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Are you conscious of certain recurring elements in your fiction and film?  
JR: Well, Rain Dragon and The Half Life obviously share overlapping geography and trace some overlapping history. There are structural similarities between the two novels as well—people being lost, having to find their way out of situations with incomplete information. That wasn’t conscious though. They open the same way—arriving here in Oregon, from California. I was interested in the idea  of veering off from the same starting place: that part was conscious. I read what I felt was a gratifying review of Meek’s Cutoff that connected the film to some of the stories in Livability, made a connection between imperialism, how people change a place. That’s in Rain Dragon, too, a history of place that all of the characters participate in. 
BLVR: When you think about your books and films collectively, do you want them to work together to communicate something larger?
JR: I do see all my works as part of a whole piece. This is something that doesn’t get talked about in workshops—establishing themes that one can work with over time. In workshops, every story is it’s own thing. But one has to think bigger than that; what will sustain you over time, take many angles for you to fill in. There is a political utility to thinking about what happens in your own backyard. For example, in Livability, the story “Young Bodies” is one of my favorites. For a long time I wanted to do a story about two people trapped in a mall overnight. The story drives to a scene – it’s really just a few lines – where a young Russian girl who works at a mall gives this other mall worker a blow job, and she’s thinking about history in this very angry, pessimistic way. I feel like I was able to get to pretty candid place about some of the darker aspects of class and human nature in that scene. It’s funny, though. The story’s been optioned by a guy in Australia, and should it get made down there I don’t know if she’ll be Russian anymore. I don’t know what kind of Russian expat population Australia has. But to my mind, Kendra, the girl, is very much a creature of Russian nihilism. I guess they could substitute some other backstory. But to me, there’s a certain flavor of Russian negativity that’s kind of integral to her character. We’ll see what happens. 

Interview with Jon Raymond [writer]

Part I.

When Jon Raymond taught a fiction workshop of mine a few years ago at Portland State University, he’d lope into the room sporting a hunter orange cap and down coat, worn to a dull sheen. Raymond’s workshop coincided with the 2008 publication of his short story collection, Livability, and the premiere of Wendy and Lucy, the second feature film he co-wrote with director Kelly Reichardt. This spring, Raymond will publish his first new novel since 2004’s The Half Life. Due out April 2012 from Bloomsbury, Rain Dragon follows a young California couple as they negotiate their transplantation to an organic farm in Oregon.

Now in his early 40s, Raymond met me this past November at downtown Portland’s Tugboat Brewery, fresh from the Emmys. Mildred Pierce, the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet that Raymond co-wrote with director Todd Haynes, had been nominated for 21 awards—a subject we raised and dropped within a few sips of our pints, moving on to Neil Young, California spiritualism, the “loser ethos” of his hometown, and French altarpieces. - Ramona W. DeNies

Jon Raymond: The Emmys were really more fun for my family and friends watching than for me. Though the swag rooms were interesting. The people I end up dealing with are still from the same small world. Not that it’s a huge sacrifice to be screenwriting. But novels are what I put the most stock in, am most invested in. A fairly brutal act of will is required to complete something like a book. I don’t know how pandering you want this to get, but just the books themselves, it would be nice if they were more read, more lucrative. Screenwriting is easier, compared to the heavy lifting of prose. Almost relaxing. It’s fun to be on a team, where other people depend on you; that’s an itch that doesn’t get scratched by fiction writing. And there’s a lot of plausible deniability with the films. For a book, there’s no hiding—you’re the sole proprietor. I had dinner a few weeks ago with Paul Auster, of all things, and I found it gratifying that he said much the same thing.

The Believer: I looked up The Half Life and Livability on Amazon’s bestseller list. So, they’re at 1,572,556 and 79,836 respectively. That’s an encouraging trend, right? How do you feel about Rain Dragon?

JR: I started Rain Dragon well before Livability, so it’s been dragging on. It’s been a real struggle. God willing, people will like it, though I’m nervous, to be sure. I don’t feel like the book’s going to be a humiliation, deplorable or evil, but I don’t know if it achieves its goal or not.  It might be a “small book.” I’m okay with that. Any way I can think of not to worry about what I put out there is helpful. It might not be good, but I think about Neil Young. He puts stuff out, good or bad, goes where he has to go, and lets other people sort it out. That’s what I aspire to. The other model is Jeffrey Eugenides – a book every ten years. He must be a wreck.

BLVR: It doesn’t read like a small book to me. It’s still sinking in. So your main character, Damon, he’s open to communal farm life. But while his girlfriend gets increasingly absorbed into the farm, he doesn’t show much aptitude. So he turns to his L.A. ad-man experience, taking the farm’s message out into the world through consciousness-raising seminars. It’s a curious twist. It’s like he’s evangelizing. But for what?

JR:  I was interested in knowing how people construct a sense of identity, as a couple, and I felt that this is fundamentally a spiritual pursuit. This was a big avenue for me going into Rain Dragon. As I started it, I was reading a lot of Walker Percy and Graham Greene, writers I respect, and who are both very devout in their ways. Greene was Catholic, extremely pious in a way I don’t really understand. Greene and Percy worked out their religious issues on the page in a way that made me wonder whether I was somehow lacking. There’s a book I encountered called California Spiritualism; I thought, oh, this is my religious upbringing. It’s not as weak or lame as it might sound; it’s somewhat viable. I wanted to write about new age spiritualities in a way that others might write about Catholicism; manifesting own’s own destiny is a theme that circulates in the book. 

BLVR: This is a West Coast spiritual phenomenon that we’re talking about?

JR: Self-actualization idealogies are baked deep into our DNA here – the tools of the encounter group, the meta-communication that started in the 1940s and 50s, the Erhard Seminars Training of the 1970s.  The Landmark Forum we have now stems from EST. With organic farming and its progressive ideals, there is some kind of intellectual relationship between these worlds. And the vocabulary is now steeped into coporate America, it’s how businesspeople now talk about projects: whose vocabulary is most powerful, whose “technology” is most effective. Silicon Valley was built on this new-agey sense of spiritual achievement. Steve Jobs was a pure product of this consciousness-raising. 

BLVR: So in Rain Dragon, there is this rigorous pursuit of manifesting one’s destiny. I feel like that theme is also present in the The Half-Life, with your teenage protagonists living on a Portland commune in the 1980s. In The Half Life there’s also just plain manifest destiny, with the backstory of the Oregon Territory. Your latest film, Meek’s Cutoff, follows pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Are you conscious of certain recurring elements in your fiction and film?  

JR: Well, Rain Dragon and The Half Life obviously share overlapping geography and trace some overlapping history. There are structural similarities between the two novels as well—people being lost, having to find their way out of situations with incomplete information. That wasn’t conscious though. They open the same way—arriving here in Oregon, from California. I was interested in the idea  of veering off from the same starting place: that part was conscious. I read what I felt was a gratifying review of Meek’s Cutoff that connected the film to some of the stories in Livability, made a connection between imperialism, how people change a place. That’s in Rain Dragon, too, a history of place that all of the characters participate in. 

BLVR: When you think about your books and films collectively, do you want them to work together to communicate something larger?

JR: I do see all my works as part of a whole piece. This is something that doesn’t get talked about in workshops—establishing themes that one can work with over time. In workshops, every story is it’s own thing. But one has to think bigger than that; what will sustain you over time, take many angles for you to fill in. There is a political utility to thinking about what happens in your own backyard. For example, in Livability, the story “Young Bodies” is one of my favorites. For a long time I wanted to do a story about two people trapped in a mall overnight. The story drives to a scene – it’s really just a few lines – where a young Russian girl who works at a mall gives this other mall worker a blow job, and she’s thinking about history in this very angry, pessimistic way. I feel like I was able to get to pretty candid place about some of the darker aspects of class and human nature in that scene. It’s funny, though. The story’s been optioned by a guy in Australia, and should it get made down there I don’t know if she’ll be Russian anymore. I don’t know what kind of Russian expat population Australia has. But to my mind, Kendra, the girl, is very much a creature of Russian nihilism. I guess they could substitute some other backstory. But to me, there’s a certain flavor of Russian negativity that’s kind of integral to her character. We’ll see what happens. 

The Believer’s full interview with Jim Woodring is now online.

Read part IV below.

IV.

BLVR: Was there ever a moment or episode in your life when you decided that you needed to start acting normal? Do you ever attempt to make yourself “normal”?

JW: Yeah, in high school. I was having a terrible time of it and I asked my parents to let me see a psychologist. I saw him for half a year and all he did was ask me innocuous questions and drowse with his lower lip stuck out during the many prolonged silences that ensued. He also showed me poetry he had written under the influence of LSD. I guess he was suggesting that I should drop acid, which probably would have put me in the loony bin, I was so messed up at the time. What a jerk. I remember one session he had a gob of mayonnaise on his cheek- at least I hoped it was mayonnaise - and I was too self-conscious to tell him about it. Strange to say, I just saw a film in which that exact scenario occurred. Maybe it’s some standard psychologist ploy. Anyhow, it was a total waste of time and my parents’ money, except that it convinced me that help was not to be had from the outside. And then in my thirties I became aware that there was a chunk of my past that was hidden from conscious memory, and that it probably contained repressed or forgotten events that were too painful to confront. So I went to see a Jungian analyst, but after our initial interview she declined to treat me. That was it as far as getting professional help went. Oh, look, it’s the Sagrada Familia! [Woodring points to the television screen, at some slow moving images of Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona.]

BLVR: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I able was to see it a few years ago.

JW: Really? Lucky you! That’s a real work of art. I wish I had the balls, I wish I had the audacity to do something anywhere near that grand. The books that I do, the stories that I write - I’m glad I’m able to do them, but they will quickly be swallowed up by the sands of time. Sometimes it frustrates me that I’m not able to do bigger, more important, more significant things. I guess you have to be content to do whatever it is you can do.

BLVR: You feel that your books and your Unifactor isn’t enough?

JW: Well, I have to be satisfied with it, and I do sort of feel like I’m building my monument with what I do, BUT it’s pretty small and inconsequential compared to real works of genius like this, which are giving vast inspiration to humanity. But I guess I shouldn’t even say that. It’s ridiculous to say that. You are what you are. My stature suits me.

BLVR: But you just said that comics and cartoons were an inspiration to most people.

JW: Well, yeah, cartoons are perhaps a bigger part of art that is generally realized, and they influence people in ways that are not always recognized. But creating a monumental work of architecture, or writing a great symphony is something else. It’s a higher order of creation. I love Polly and Her Pals, but compared to Beethoven it’s trivial. Then again, they say that on his deathbed, Beethoven pathetically asked a friend, “I did have a certain talent, didn’t I?” so maybe it’s just something artists feel – that they could have done more, whatever they’ve accomplished. Maybe Gaudi at ninety years old, before he got hit by that trolley, felt that he had yet to prove himself.

There’s this spooky little parable I heard somewhere…There’s a young boy who who hears the sound of a horn - maybe he hears Miles Davis - and he realizes that all he wants to do is play the horn. So he looks to the sky and says, “Please, please, please, make me a great horn player.” And the voice of the universe says, “Yes. Become a great trumpet player.” So the guy does that. He plays his horn. He devotes his life to it. He succeeds. He does all the things a usual obsessed person does, all the highs and lows. And at the end of his life he says, “I spent all my time playing the goddamned trumpet. That’s all I did, and I missed so much because of it. What a tragedy.” And the same voice of the universe speaks to him and says, “Yes. What a tragedy.”

BLVR: That reminds of me of the Upanishads.

JW: It makes the hair on my neck stand up. It resonates, but the exact meaning is a little elusive. To me it means you should set your sights as high as you possibly can. When I was setting out to be an artist, I said, If I can just produce one work that some people think is good, if I can become an obscure cult artist, that’s all I want. Well, I attained that. I’m an obscure cult artist, and I think now, Why didn’t I say I want to be another Picasso or something? What other options were open to me? But I was convinced I couldn’t achieve great things because I don’t have a steady-state mind.

BLVR: What do you mean by that?

JW: My mind is a will o’ the wisp. It’s like a runaway horse, and that has caused me untold grief. It’s a serious defect, though some people have a much worse case than I do. You see them sleeping in doorways all the time. Great souls like Swami Vivekananda, or the best artists, like R. Crumb, have great steadiness of mind, tremendous ability to concentrate and retain control. Crumb has a conspicuously steady state mind. If you look at his sketchbooks you can see it. There’s an incredible evenness of quality to all his drawings, even his quick sketches. If you look at my sketchbooks there’s, this fucked-up jumpiness. My mind jumps around like a frog. 

BLVR: Is that always a bad thing?

JW: Yes. A mind in control is always better than a mind out of control. For one thing, a controlled mind can learn much better and go much farther than a chaotic one. A person with a steady-state mind has the potential to exit this life with a much greater understanding than someone who is continually learning and forgetting, gaining and misplacing knowledge.

People for whom art is religion can say, “What I love about art is that it points to a higher reality.” Well, fine, but the time comes when the smart thing for such a person to do is let go of the fun of the art and get into the hard work of attaining and understanding of that higher reality unmixed with worldly games.

I think that’s an appropriate goal for anyone, whatever their vocation. I don’t believe in art like I used to. I believe in something beyond it, something that contains art and everything else. But I just don’t quite have the nerve to chuck drawing and painting. Part of it is that I enjoy IT too much, and part is that I don’t have the courage to renounce the world. I don’t want to move out of this nice neighborhood so that I can live in a shed and devote myself to meditating and touching something I can’t feel. I’m addicted to the fun of playing in the world. 

Vanessa Veselka (author of Zazen) and Lidia Yuknavitch (author of The Chronology of Water) had a conversation for The Believer on the subject of writing female characters who cry. This is the final part. Read Part 1. Part 2.

VANESSA VESELKA: Let’s talk about crying. When do your characters do it? Do they do it? If they do it, is it like masturbation, done mostly in private?

LIDIA YUKNAVITCH: No! Not in private! I consider it part of my writerly goal to get the crying out of the closet; out of a “feminized” space, a privatized space, a space of weakness. Crying can be a power move. There are studies of chimps that show that. In nonfiction and fiction, I represent crying as a set of corporeal power choices, even when the crying is connected to vulnerability.

VV: I notice my characters tend to cry when they’re mad, in public, or walking down the center of streets.

LY: I love that about your characters! The opening of my Joan of Arc book is her crying after she has basically slaughtered her enemies.

VV: That’s awesome. That’s so much more to the heart of how I think of crying: overwhelm and conflict. I’m pretty sure I would cry coming out of a battle rage and looking at the people I’d slaughtered.

LY: Yeah, it’s no “boo-hoo, I’m sad” deal in that scene. Trust me. Crying is a language of the body.

VV: What I like about crying is how it runs amok. I usually only cry when I want to absolutely smash something to bits.

LY: I can identify with that. Also: bleeding, crying, shitting, peeing, cumming, sweating, eating. These disobey manners and run amok.

VV: But on the other hand, don’t you think crying women are comforting to a reader? I mean, they set up a narrative of healing. Years ago, I wrote an article for Bitch magazine called “The Collapsible Woman,” and the main point was that we only have one cultural model for an appropriate response to rape and molestation, and it requires that a woman breaks down into a blubbering mess before she can be shamanically reborn as “healed.” Now I am not one to dog shamanism, but I dislike the idea that one model of emotional healing is the only real model, and that women who do not live out that particular cycle of grief are ‘not really healing’ or whatever. A woman crying in a story is likely to set off a series of packaged assumptions about where the narrative is going. When that’s disappointed, does that lead people to call the work “bad” or say that it doesn’t “work”? You mentioned training people how to read you. As a young union organizer, I learned you train the boss how to treat you through your own actions.

LY: I love that about you, actually—your ability to train the boss man. My fallback is always Cool Hand Luke: “Calling it your job doesn’t make it right.” I’ve actually said that to deans, agents, publishers, and as you can imagine, it hasn’t gotten me very far. I think we do have to agitate pretty much every chance we get. I guess I think that’s part of why I’m here. When I’m in the belly of the oyster, I don’t turn out as a pearl, you know? Or I turn out as a really odd misshapen black pirate pearl.