Part of my drinking was so much about trying not to feel things, to not feel how I actually felt, and the terrible thing about being so hidden is if people tell you they love you… it kinda doesn’t sink in. You always think, if you’re hiding things, How could you know who I am? You don’t know who I am, so how could you love me? Saying who I am, and trying to be as candid as possible as part of practicing the principles, has permitted me to actually connect with people for the first time in my life.
This interview is such a gold mine.
I differ from the most diseased part of myself, and I think that an irony of spiritual practice is that when you get out of yourself you kind of more become yourself. When I was a little kid I was bouncy and I made a lot noise and I broke shit. I ran around, I was very enthusiastic. In all the pictures of me I’m smiling. Now, I’m pretty happy. I laugh a lot. I have joy on a given day. I’m not a blithering idiot, and I suffer when it’s hot out or it’s raining and I can’t get a cab. I worry about my kid or my friend getting chemo or whatever. I suffer. But I’m pretty happy. And it’s almost like, I remember my mother saying when I was getting sober, “you’re going to come back to that [childhood happiness].” And I said, “Mother, I don’t even fucking remember that.” I just don’t remember feeling that way. But I really think that voice—not the one that says, fuck you, you stupid bitch, you’re a whore, but the one that says, you can do better than this, honey—that voice is God. And that’s actually who you really are. The other stuff that’s telling you what an asshole you are all the time is fucking noise, your ego or your head or whatever. The Buddhists would call it your ego. Pentecostals would call it Satan. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s my fucking head talking.
Literature is Eucharistic. You take somebody else’s suffering into your body and you’re changed by it, you’re made larger by their pain.
Everybody talks about the writer’s feeling and the writer’s expression and the writer’s experience, and, you know, I don’t give a fuck how the writer feels. I want a fucking book that I can be in love with. I want a book that I’ll reread seventeen times. That’s what I want.
“Work,” by John Engman, from Temporary Help
I wanted to be a rain salesman…but…I am paid
to make the screen of my computer glow
In prosperous America, the poet’s economic reality usually involves working a crap job while scribbling nightly in a cheap apartment. Before my pal John Engman suffered a brain aneurysm in his 40s, he toiled in such obscurity. He lived in Minnesota, bussed tables, did standup comedy for a while, taught a class or two at a local community center, but only published two books. From his long-time job as an aide in an adolescent psych ward came poems rich in pathos, each tinged with his signature irony.