Thursday, June 11, 2009

RBL Open Interview


I’ve been thinking lately that it might be fun to devote an entry to random questions from readers. I see it as an expanded version of the comment feature that would make it easier for visitors to ask questions and make comments not necessarily related to the content of regular entries — sort of an online Q & A. If it works, it could become an ongoing interview and a conversational exchange of ideas. If no one is interested — which I realize is a distinct possibility — I’ll quietly sweep it under the rug and that will be that.

So, what do you think? If you would like to ask or tell me something, simply use the comment box and I will give the best response I can. While I don’t mind being challenged, rules of common courtesy do still apply. But by no means do questions and comments have to be serious. I love what I do and am serious about it, but not so serious that I can’t also see how ridiculous it is, and how ridiculous I am.



Progress Report, Saturday, June 13, 2009
My thanks to everyone who has contributed so far, and to those who have followed along. I’m thoroughly enjoying the conversation. I would be happy to answer more questions, so please don’t hesitate. Also, for future convenience, I’ve placed a link in the “Reference Section.” Feel free to add questions and comments at any time, days, weeks, months, or even years from now. (Note: If I’m dead, response time might be a little slower.)




Updates:
In the Forum: cut-rate souls and fat cheap cigars.
In the Forum: The purchase of 10,000 bees is casually mentioned.

49 comments:

S_Allen said...

Great idea William. Here is a question. Do you keep a writing schedule? Or do you just write when it strikes you? If you do keep a writing schedule, what is it? Morning? Afternoon? Evening? All day? What times are best for writing for you?

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Scott. I’m definitely a morning person. I’m almost always up by five, and start in as soon as the coffee is ready. If I have a big project going, like a novel, I tend to keep at it all day, until my eyes are crossed and my neck is stiff, which of course makes for some rough nights. Usually, I work on two or three things at a time. I write every day. If we have company, I write before they are up, and then tie up the loose ends at night before bed.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Okay...question #2.

Did you like my poem or not? :-)

Kevin Atteridg said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion, I'll be sure to check it out! I read "The Idiot" by him awhile ago, but thanks again. I may whip up a question for you now too...

What is your favorite part of life?

William Michaelian said...

Gary, I love your poem. Now, which one are you talking about?

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Heh heh.

William Michaelian said...

I’ll see your heh and raise you a chuckle.

Kevin, I still remember coming unglued once — this was probably twenty years ago — while I was reading Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” to my wife in the kitchen as she was making supper. The more I read, the more worked up I became, and then at the end I was in tears.

My youngest son just finished The Idiot and loved it.

To answer your question — I don’t really think there are parts. I see life as a single movement, a single ongoing moment. There are, of course things I would rather do and things I would rather not do.

S_Allen said...

Hey Kevin, excited to see you here. See you leave the blogosphere for a little while and all sorts of crazy things happen.

Kevin was in one of my classes this last year and a member of our creative writing club here at Pomona High School. He is a wonderful writer and a fun kid.

New question for William,
Do you find that your reading influences your writing? Or the other way around? Do you read to get inspiration to write?

William Michaelian said...

Well, I am inspired by what I read, but the real reason I read is because I love reading. And while I do some reading online, I’m still addicted to printed matter. I love the whole mind-body experience that comes about when I hold a book in my hands. These days, generally speaking, I don’t think my reading influences my writing in any obvious, quantifiable way. Like life’s experiences, it’s more of a subtle cumulative thing. My writing has changed a lot over the years. Reading is partly responsible, but so are illness, the birth of a grandchild, the death of friends and loved ones, and everything in between.

I, too, like what Kevin’s been doing with his new blog.

Paul L. Martin said...

I am intrigued by your use of the subconscious/ conscious mind in your dream diaries and your poetry. The dreams are so vivid and clear. Is remembering your dreams necessary to your art?

Secondly, if something is only a mistake if we do not learn from it, what mistakes have you made that have led to wisdom and growth? Where do you come down on the predetermined fate versus a random universe debate? Are there truly no accidents in life?

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Paul. When you ask a question, you really ask a question. Well. Let’s start with the dreams. When I write them down, I do my best to record them just as they happened, or as I think they happened — because just the act of waking up and then trying to remember them, it seems, is enough to start in them a process of change. I don’t purposely use the subconscious or conscious mind in the writing of dreams and poems. I’m not all that sure I can tell the difference anyway. As for dreams being necessary, I write whether I can remember my dreams or not. So in one sense, they aren’t. And yet over the years, especially before I made a habit of writing down the ones I can remember, I’ve incorporated many dreams into whatever I happened to be writing at the time. I like to include random happenings from daily life in what I write, and dreams certainly fall into that category.

Now for your second question: I won’t be able to answer it for a little while, because my wife and I are leaving momentarily to run some errands. So stay tuned. Although, this in itself might be one vote on the random universe side....

William Michaelian said...

Okay. Where were we? I’m more inclined to think that life is of a random, accidental nature. But who knows, maybe that outlook is part of my fate. Some things certainly seem preordained, but that doesn’t mean they are. On the other hand, when you grow up as I did, listening to old aunties in the parlor reading fortunes in your relatives’ coffee grounds, it’s almost impossible not to believe in fate, or to imagine anyone, celestial or otherwise, daring to interfere with their predictions. But really, this is something I prefer not to nail down. I’m comfortable not knowing. People who know everything scare me.

And mistakes. I have to think about this. I’ve made so many. The most significant, of course, were those that hurt others — family members, friends, acquaintances. It was never my intention to let them down, but somehow, through hardheaded selfishness, I did. But I did learn from those situations. After each, I usually made a different mistake. Different on the surface, anyway. To this day, there are a handful that still bring pain when I remember them. I suppose I’m still learning from them, and can use the reminder.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

"But really, this is something I prefer not to nail down. I’m comfortable not knowing. People who know everything scare me."

- William Michaelian


.
"I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."

- John Keats

William Michaelian said...

That reminds me — the other day, I came up with a potent curse: May you know everything. Keats was right, I think.

Paul L. Martin said...

That reminds me of something, William. When I first started at this Armenian school, some of the Armenian teachers offered me Armenian coffee one afternoon. They had a small electric pot that looked like a thermos.

For those who do not know, Armenian coffee is very strong and the consistency of mud. They drink it in very small cups and claim they can tell one's fortune by the pattern of the grounds in the bottom of the cup.

Being a coffee lover, I tend to drink in volume. I had this huge cup, so I filled it up, thinking that they had already had theirs. In short, I drained the pot, and while they watched with horrified looks, I swigged the brew down in a few gulps. I was up for a week. Good stuff.

William Michaelian said...

Priceless. I’ve opened a few eyes myself, serving it to unsuspecting guests. Sometimes, though, I forget to tell them to be on the lookout for the grounds at the bottom, and their expressions suddenly change when they get a mouthful.

Chrees said...

Well, this feature looks like a success. Not really a question, but how about a childhood memory that still makes you smile when you think about it...

William Michaelian said...

Sure. How about this one:

There was a mossy irrigation ditch that ran along one side of our farm. Every summer, my brother and I would catch as many polliwogs as we could and then bring them home. We raised them in the shade of our walnut tree, in a section of concrete pipe that our father had sealed at one end. When they grew legs and turned into miniature toads, they hopped out and disappeared into the flowerbeds. This went on for years, until there were so many fat toads hopping around the place at night that we had to watch where we stepped. Finally, one year, Dad declared that he was sick of having to hose the toad filth off the sidewalks every morning. That evening, he presented us with five-gallon buckets. We filled several of them with toads and hauled them back to the ditch. But we didn’t get all of them. There were always a few around. When I was in high school, there was an ancient one that lived in a hole at the base of our air conditioner, surrounded by mint. In the evening it would pop out its head and listen to our backyard conversation.

Chrees said...

Heh. The old "but they're cute when they are kittens/puppies/chicks/etc." trap. The toad hunt reminds me of the Carmel Valley frog hunt in Cannery Row. Though not completely a success, it sounds like yours turned out much better.

William Michaelian said...

Much better. To this day, I admire toads, their solemnity, patience, and wisdom. The older ones are Zen masters. The younger ones are earnest and mobile — a great finishing touch for any garden.

Cosmopsis Books said...

What's your favorite book title of all time? And I mean devoid of the contents of the book (even if it's something you've never read).

Also, how would you define "peccul"? It is the word I have to type on this very page to verify that I am not a computer with a mind of my own (which I am, although I'm definitely smart enough to read the word "peccul").

William Michaelian said...

Just a moment ... “peccul” is not in my 1924 Webster’s New International Dictionary. Therefore, I’m inclined to think it doesn’t exist. And yet, I find the word in this reference to the pepper trade in Nat the Navigator, A Life of Nathaniel Bowditch (1870):

“The pepper is generally weighed with American scales and weights, one hundred and thirty-three and a third pounds to a peccul. What is weighed each day is paid for in the evening, the natives not bein^ willing to trust their property in the hands of those they deal with.”

So, make of it what you will. And I must say, your being a computer bothers me, because I don’t generally talk to computers. Well — I curse at them occasionally, but at those times I’m really only cursing at myself, as the disappointments have continued to mount over the years, and I ... oh, yes: book titles. Would you settle for a couple of drummer jokes? Here’s one:

What is the best way to tell when the stage is level? It’s level when the drummer is drooling from both sides of his mouth.

Here’s another:

Did you hear about the guitarist who locked his keys in his car? It took him two hours to get the drummer out.

But seriously, several years ago, these titles caught my eye: The Inheritance of Hairy Ear Rims, How to Boil Water in a Paper Bag, and I Knew 3,000 Lunatics. I don’t if they’re my favorites, really. I’ll have to think about that.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

It's a bummer in the summer for a drummer if the plumber didn't come or didn't want to.

William Michaelian said...

Excellent. Is that the poem you mentioned earlier?

William Michaelian said...

While Gary is pondering that question, why don’t we conduct a mini-survey? I’m curious, especially in these difficult economic times, about readers’ book-buying habits. Are you cutting back, for instance, and relying more on the Internet to satisfy your needs? Are you doing without other treats, such as expensive coffee and potato chips, in order to be able to afford books? Do you buy used books? Do you spend more time at the library? How important are books, and reading in general, in your daily life?

Jean Spitzer said...

I am using the library to excess, but I still end up buying some books. But almost all used books. And books are very important.

William Michaelian said...

That’s the way I feel. Thinking about it, these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if my used-to-new book-buying ratio is fifty to one. By the way, I just visited your blog. I like your “paintings as they happen” approach. I love your Portrait in Burnt Umber, and the information you give on fugitive colors. Fascinating.

Chrees said...

We're actually more stable than we've been in a while but I still am buying less books, new or used. Of course, having kids will change the stream of expenses and less "treats" in general. Also helping that trend is I now pass a couple of county libraries to and from work, so I have more books easily available.

Although reading is just as important on a daily basis. I need the escape, immersion and stimulation even if it's just for a couple of minutes a day.

William Michaelian said...

I know the feeling. I do miss the old library experience of my youth, when one glare from the librarian or finger held to her lips was enough to reestablish silence. And not that I mind having information at my fingertips online, I also miss the card catalog. Back in the Eighties, when we were still living in Central California, I used to stop occasionally at the university library at Fresno State. They had about 600,000 titles at the time, and a whole room set aside for the card catalog.

And speaking of kids, we relied heavily on the Salem Public Library when ours were little. I remember there was a fifty-book limit per card, and we would cart home at least 150 books per visit.

brian (baj) salchert said...

Have basically finished my email clearance project--four and a half days of work, but that's another story.

Question: Do you write and draw with the same hand?


w v: ancest

William Michaelian said...

I do — the right. But sometimes the results seem to overlap: drawing is a kind of writing, and writing is a kind of drawing, if that makes sense.

William Michaelian said...

They also overlap in their therapeutic value. The physical sensation of making marks on paper opens doors to other thought-places, as well as places that are thought-free — in my case, an extra benefit.

~im just only me~ said...

I had a question when I searched out this post in the archives, but I've forgotten now that I've read through the comments! Oh well, I'm sure it will come out some time... As for your book question: for real reading, I definitely prefer the good old book to electronic. I do, however, do a ridiculous amount of reading online because I never have the cash to buy the books I need for class! -- Recent lit classes can be a problem lol! I literally have to avoid book stores, because I feel more guilty buying a book than coffee or such, since it is always there to remind me. The bloody annoying thing about electronic books is that you can't write in them (with pencil of course! lol)... Here's a question:

Do you write in library books?

William Michaelian said...

Absolutely not. My mother would never forgive me. In fact, I don’t write in any books. But I’m always interested to read what others have written in the margins, and I’ve bought books for that reason alone. Any notes I make while reading, I just scribble on bits of paper or the backs of old business cards. Then I find them a few years later and wonder what on earth I was talking about. A very effective system.

don't be emily said...

William, did you write your own Wikipedia entry? :)
I am of the writing-in-book-margins-with-pencil group, and do love to read the comments others leave in old books--but NEVER in ink!!!! All my highschool literature books are riddled with my deep and thoughtful insights....or something to that effect. And like you, William, I make notes in random places--usually scrawled sideways and nearly illegible across the inner pages of notebooks that are lying around all over my house; and months or years later I find them and wonder what on earth I hoped to remember with those few words, what was so magical or important about them. The latest: "she didn't even look up here before she turned off the light". Make of it what you will; I can't remember.
Another question: when you scribble your notes, is it in cursive or printing?

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Last weekend my cigarette lighter ran out so I got a box of kitchen matches from a drawer in the kitchen and went back to sit on the porch. As I lit my cigarette, I noticed a scribbled note on the top of the match box that said 'Poem Inside'.

I slid the white box with the matches in it out from the outer box and, sure enough, there was a little poem written on the side of it. (actually a stanza intended to be added to another one).

I don't know how I managed to do this without spilling the matches.

William Michaelian said...

Katie, most of my scribbles fall somewhere between printing and handwriting. A fairly recent sample can be found in this entry of Hit and Run Magazine.

I love your note. In fact, I can imagine a moth uttering those exact words.

For the most part, the wikipedia article seems to be the work of two or three editors who, for whatever strange or misguided reason, have found my record worthy of note. The information in it is certainly accurate and relatively easy to track down, although I see it doesn’t mention the completion of Songs and Letters, and the ISBNs listed under Translations seem to have been transposed.

Gary, I just searched through every box of matches in the house and didn’t find a poem in a single one of them. What happened to you, apparently, was a lucky strike.

~im just only me~ said...

William, you wrote "..by the time this picture was taken, I had already become a terrible student in the traditional sense, and totally frustrated with the educational “system.” "... what did you do about that frustration?

William Michaelian said...

Ah, you’ve been looking at my high school picture. Well, I started by working and drinking beer. Or was it the other way around. Then I graduated and went to college, and the same thing happened, so I got a job and drank more beer. I mean, you have to pay for the beer somehow. Then I dropped out of college, got married, went back to college for a semester, and dropped out again. Maybe I’m undisciplined, but I’ve always liked to learn on my own terms. I want to read what I want to read, and pursue what I want to pursue when I want to pursue it, which is when the interest arises. I learn better and faster that way. And so really, everything I’ve done since that time has been in answer to that frustration. But not only that frustration, because I can hardly say I was satisfied with myself. I knew what I wanted to do, but had no idea how to do it, the work, commitment, and sheer lunacy involved. By then I had a family, and my father needed my help on our farm. And so I bought an old Royal typewriter, and little by little I learned to drive it like a tractor, and to write the same way I pruned trees and vines — one cut at a time, methodically, but also as quickly as I could go. But even then, I was a long way from writing anything of value. Some things never change. Sure, I thought it was something at the time, but it wasn’t what I thought it was. It was necessary in order to move on, the same way all of our experiences are necessary if we’re ever to understand ourselves. To a large degree, I feel that way about my writing today. And my living. Ten years ago, I had no way of knowing the type of writing I’d be doing today. And if I’m alive ten years from now, it will be the same. Oh, there are little glimmers and hints along the way, and sometimes they return and assert themselves two or three years later. I think this reflects my learning process. I could never conceive of a massive series of novels, for instance, like Balzac or Zola, and follow through with years of research and writing to bring it into being. I don’t even know who I’ll be next week. All I know is that I will write, as long as my mental faculties allow.

ALeks said...

Dear William,imagine me coming here (I shall squeeze in for the occasion) bringing and lighting up a beautiful candle next to a beautiful,white lily or just a little,rounded stone as a symbol of a shared feeling of loosing dear friend.I hope you are okay,take care,
Aleksandra

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Aleksandra. It’s wonderful of you to squeeze in after the passing of my friend. I like the idea of that being part of the record here as well. I saw his brother and son today. We met downtown at our usual coffee place with his daughter-in-law and another mutual friend, and it felt almost as if he was there. There were some sad moments, but some beautiful, funny ones as well. And now I’m writing a little something about him for the community newspaper he founded many years ago. He would have done the same for me if I had gone before him.

ALeks said...

I was afraid you would find it intrusion in your private matter so Im glad to hear this, and of your writing,im sure your friend would do the same for you,he is your friend.
Wish you all the best.
Aleksandra

William Michaelian said...

And my best to you. When I first wrote about my friend in the middle of the night after hearing about his death, I didn’t hesitate to share it on the blog. In thinking about it now, there is no way I could have not written about something that important. We are shaped by such events, and I can safely say that I would not be the same person if the two of us had never met. And recording changes, big and small, is one of the reasons I write. I pity the person who doesn’t change — the person so set in stone that life never penetrates to the heart. At the same time, events and changes take time to unfold. One obvious example is being born.

~im just only me~ said...

William, I just noticed that you're incredibly consistent with your post timings... are you forever a day behind, or does brilliance really strike you at 5:30 each morning?

William Michaelian said...

...she said at precisely 4:08. Oddly enough, when your comment came in, my eyes popped open and I bolted out of bed. Yes, I’m so restless it’s necessary to bolt me into bed. But to answer your question: yes and no. I mean, I don’t know about the brilliance part, but something strikes me. Most of the longer pieces are written the day before. Some of the shorter ones are too, but quite a few are the product of my early morning “reverie.” Think of a stunned chicken standing in the yard at the first hint of daylight: “Well, I’m up — now what should I do?”

~im just only me~ said...

William, have you read/ what think you of G.K. Chesterton?

William Michaelian said...

Nine months! Just imagine what that would have been like if we’d been sitting in the same room, across from each other at a table, trying not to be the first to blink. I have not read Chesterton, just a little about him. I like some of his pithy remarks, which pop up now and then in the course of my Web wanderings. How about you? Is there something of his that you’d recommend?

Wanda Lea Brayton said...

Ahhh...after reading the various comments on this post, my own thoughts were much too long for the system to accept, so I shall email them to you instead. Have a lovely Saturday, William.

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Wanda. Message received. My best to you as well.