October 2009

Michael Schaub

features

An Interview with Brandon Scott Gorrell

In a quote on the back of During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present, Brandon Scott Gorrell’s 2009 collection of poetry from Muumuu House, the great Ohio writer Noah Cicero writes, “I feel lonely, and while I’m lonely, reading this book makes me feel less lonely.” That’s exactly how I feel about Gorrell’s tense, hilarious, deeply moving poems, which deal with isolation, anxiety, and technology in the age of the Internet. Gorrell’s poems can be hilarious and tragic, sometimes in the same line, and he can seem both distant and charming in poems like “do not let me alienate you because i am small and afraid” and “the best moments of my life were the worst moments of my life if you consider the past and the future.” Gorrell captures the feeling of anxiety perfectly in this book, one of the best books of American poetry I’ve read in years.

Gorrell, 25, has a degree in psychology from the University of Utah. He is the co-editor of the 2009 Muumuu House book The Brandon Book Crisis, and is the author of two e-books, Nervous Assface (Bear Parade, 2009) and Alienated Afraid of Furniture in Bedroom (Lamination Colony, 2008). He is also the author of the as-yet-unpublished novella My Hair Will Defeat You, and maintains a blog. He lives in Seattle, where he answered questions for Bookslut via email.

 

Would you say there are any authors who have influenced you, either your writing or you, personally?

At this moment, I feel affected most by Tao Lin, Chris Killen, Sam Pink, Jimmy Chen, Zachary German, Ellen Kennedy, Chelsea Martin, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Yates, Frederick Barthelme, Earnest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Jean Rhys, Jean-Paul Sartre, Lorrie Moore, Joy Williams, Noah Cicero, Andy Warhol, Toby Olson, Don Delillo, Benjamin Blum, Carles, contributors/commenters on HTMLGIANT, commenters on my blog, commenters on Tao Lin's blog, and those with things that I have read at Internet literary magazines. While I feel that almost everything I read influences me, the ones typed above influence me most consistently.

What kind of books did you read when you were a kid?

I specifically remember reading R.L. Stine's Goosebumps and FEAR series, some of the Baby-sitters Club series (seems 'gay' now), a lot of Roald Dahl titles, Clifford, the Bunnicula series, a 'shit ton' of Stephen King, Jurassic Park, and The Hot Zone. I feel that I generally read books within the genres of the books typed above. 

Your touch on a lot of personal themes in your work -- anxiety, sex, loneliness -- was it difficult to write these poems? Did it make you feel any more or less anxious?

It was not difficult to write those poems because I 'simply' wrote the sentences that seemed funny that were 'going through' my head at the time.  

Writing the poems made me feel less anxious because afterward I often looked at the poems and had vague notions of myself as a 'depressed individual with beautiful, hidden secrets that would someday be discovered, but possibly never discovered (deepening the beauty of the hidden secrets).' I would also experience these notions from another's perspective, often a girl that I made up in my head, dressed in hipster clothes, who lived alternatively and thought social conventions were 'fucked.' I also thought about that girl and imagined her facial expressions and thoughts during the successive, and limitless, moments in which she realized 'the deepness of my soul,' 'goodness of my being', and 'what a "gem" she possessed.' I would imagine her speaking to her friends about me in a tone that signified 'profound respect.' I would imagine breaking up with her/ her 'thinking fondly' of me for the rest of her life. I also fantasized about friends (who were non-existent at the time) conversing about me to other friends, speaking of me in a way that signified 'deep respect' and envy, and focusing, in long discussions, about the uniqueness of my talent. I would even 'go so far' as to, after finishing a poem, go to my MySpace profile and look at the photos that I uploaded of myself while attempting to perceive them from the perspective of a 'fan' that had just read the poem, and I would see myself as 'deep,' 'interesting' and thus, I think, maybe, 'sexy.' These notions, other notions, and the feeling of finishing poems I think often relieved my anxiety.
 
Have you ever had a nervous breakdown?

I don't think so.
 
Do you feel lonely right now?

I don't think so.

Do you find it hard to write about sex?

No.

Are there any other writers, or musicians or artists or filmmakers or whatever, who you think accurately capture the feeling of being anxious, or having a nervous breakdown?

Noah Cicero in The Human War and his blog. Chris Killen in a lot of the things he writes, specifically The Bird Room. Charlie Kaufman as the director of Synecdoche, New York, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the main character of that film. Joe Swanberg as the director of Hannah Takes The Stairs, and Greta Gerwig as the main character of that film. Richard Yates in Revolutionary Road, Easter Parade, and some of his short stories. Blake Bailey in A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates. Jean Rhys in Good Morning, Midnight. Joseph Heller in Catch-22. Ernest Hemingway in the conclusion of A Farewell To Arms. Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea and The Road To Freedom Trilogy. Daniel Spinks in Small, Pale Humans. Zachary German in the 'climax' of Eat When You Feel Sad (the e-book, not the novel). Ellen Kennedy in Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs. Chelsea Martin in a lot of the things I have read of hers. Tao Lin in You Are A Little Bit Happier Than I Am. Werner Herzog in The Grizzly Man. Woody Allen. Yoni Wolf of WHY? in every album they have produced. Odd Nosdam in a lot of the songs he has produced. Nick Drake in a lot of the songs he has produced.  

Have you felt more confident about yourself after writing this book?

Yes.
 
Do you care whether people like you?

Yes.

You write frequently about the Internet, and frequently about detachment. Are the two related, for you?

They are related. The Internet allows people to view what I wrote while I was feeling detached. I often have the desire to 'put out' 'work' of a more detached tone because I read things in the Internet that are of a detached tone, and like them, and subsequently am 'driven' to write similarly, because I like to write what I also like to read. I also feel positively reinforced to write in a detached way, because every time I write something that seems highly detached, a lot of people comment on my blog, 'Like' it on my Facebook 'News Feed,' '@' me on Twitter, and I get 'mad hits.' This creates a situation where, for example, if I post something highly detached at 11 PM, and then fall asleep, I wake up the next day to approximately15 - 20 new emails (notifications from social networking websites reflecting level of activity surrounding my various website profiles), which is a 'great' way to 'start the day.' It makes me really excited. Writing in a detached tone is also an angle internet-journalists use to profile and interview me, and this functions to my benefit. Finally, 'on a certain level,' writing in a detached tone is a 'gimmick,' which by its nature attracts people, and the fact that it can be 'posed' as 'gimmicky' attracts 'even more' attention (positive and negative), which I want, because, among other short- and long-term goals, I want to sell copies of my book, get book deals, and become rich and famous. However I do not feel that the Internet has ever been a necessary cause for my detachment.

Is there anything you find it difficult to write about?

I find it hard to write about the sensation of 'meaning' or 'life.' I feel I did that semi-successfully (to my own standards) in this blog post, and maybe some poems, but never in a piece of fiction. I want to write a novel in which the main character experiences short moments of meaning (in the fashion that I do in my own life), and I want to be able to describe those moments metaphorically, yet not in a 'totally gay' way (and if not metaphorically, then in some other way). I also want to be able to describe, in a way that I feel is 'perfect' and not 'totally gay,' the feelings of 'meaning' that in my life have come, seemingly, from situations involving love, calm, isolation/ solitude, beauty, and friendship. I want these descriptions 'build' both the 'plot' of the novel and the reader's understanding/ empathy for the characters. I want the reader to really like the characters, and to feel, if the characters were real people, that they would want to be the characters' friend.

I find it hard to write metaphors, or, even, about feelings other than isolation, depression, alienation, sarcasm, irony, and low self-confidence in an almost 100% 'concrete,' mostly rhetoric-free way without feeling 'totally gay,' yet I want to write about these things. It is a self-esteem problem, I think.

I want to write about the concepts typed in this answer in a mostly detached and concrete manner while sometimes 'stepping outside the bounds' of that while still feeling comfortable.

You wrote an article for The Nervous Breakdown about the people you know on the Internet, and mention "cultivating internet relationships" in your poem "you are a goldfish and i am alienated." How hard is it for you to make and cultivate friendships or relationships on the Internet? Is it easier or more difficult than your friendships in "real life"?

It seems very easy to make and cultivate friendships or relationships on the Internet. It feels formulaic to me, with most people. If there is someone I want to be friends with, I send them a relevant email, I comment a relevant comment on their blog/ Facebook profile/ Facebook 'Status Update,' 'Like' one of their Facebook 'Status Updates' on their 'News Feed,' '@' a relevant '@' on Twitter,  'side with them' in an 'HTMLGIANT shitstorm' (thus, automatically, 'joining their team'), support their comments with 'embedded' comments on HTMLGIANT and other 'Internet Literary Meta-Blogs,' and generally try to impress them with my detached sense of humor. I go on a campaign, consciously or semi-unconsciously, consisting mostly of these behaviors, 'making sure' to implement them strategically, systematically. When it is appropriate, I find a way to 'break the barrier' (the first Gmail/Facebook chat). Then we are friends.

It contrast it is much harder for me to make and cultivate friendships in real life. I don't have a persona preempting my presence in real life. In other words, when I walk on the sidewalk, people cannot see my blog, or my book, or my Facebook photos, or a certain poem I have written, or something I have just posted on Twitter, or that article on The Nervous Breakdown. They cannot see that I am friends with Tao Lin. They do not know that I have been interviewed. These things work to my advantage in the Internet social scene. This is what social networking websites are for. I am at much less of an advantage in real life; instead, a person on the sidewalk sees an image of my face that I would probably never put on the Internet (I generally only pick the good photos for my social networking websites), and if they wanted to talk to me, it would be much more difficult for them, because, generally, people are not comfortable with stopping someone on the sidewalk (as they do, metaphorically, on Gmail/ Facebook chat) and saying 'Hi.' Also, if I wanted to talk to someone approaching me on the sidewalk, I would not have at my disposal all the strategies I use on the Internet, and I would not have a 'Backspace' button, and I would not be able to 'just' get up and 'take a shit,' and while 'taking a shit,' think of the next thing I am going to say to that person. I would not have already 'proved myself' as someone that the person wants to meet. Moreover, in real life, I feel much less skilled at the 'art' of 'charisma'/ persuading people to like me.

Regardless of the difficulties of meeting people in real life, I prefer real life friendships/ relationships much more than I do Internet friendships/ relationships.

What do you think of the hostility of some people -- I'm thinking about the hit piece The Guardian published about Tao Lin and Muumuu House -- to the kind of writing that's associated with you, Tao, and Ellen Kennedy?

I think it exists. I think it functions to my benefit. I am unsure what hostile people are trying to do (other than 'voice their opinions'/ reinforce their identities via physically defining, to themselves and 'the world,' a particular stance on a particular issue/ validate their opinions to avoid feelings of cognitive dissonance, threat, and isolation/ 'preserve' their sense of superiority and/or individuality/ 'defend and protect' a subjective view of 'how the world should be'). If you write about me, negatively or positively (especially negatively, I think), people are going to be compelled to find out more about me. A percentage of those people will give me money (via my book) -- I need money. A percentage will email me, and Facebook friend me, and follow me on Twitter. A percentage will tell a friend about me. A percentage of friends of people that have bought my book, 'Facebook friended' me, and followed me on Twitter will then, eventually, give me money, email me, Facebook friend me, follow me on Twitter, and tell a friend about me. 'And so on.' The result of this aggregation is an increase in the likelihood that I will get a book deal, and thus not have to/ work less hours in a cafe, or another shitty job I have to work to support myself. There is little-to-no chance, I feel (unless attention comes from me committing murder, or deliberately trying to hurt someone/something through dishonest, 'scheming' methods, or something) that negative attention will result in decreased. . . attention, or that I will somehow get sales taken away from me (because sales that have already happened have already happened; I doubt anyone will ask for a refund, or something). I feel that the thing most likely to happen as the result of hostility toward me, as long as I am honest, is more sales, in the long-term. The people that like me will continue to like me, and the people that dislike me will continue to dislike me. Both of those situations are fine. I cannot 'get fired.' One of the primary reasons that my internet persona exists is for attention. So hostility is good.   

Do you ever imagine how people will react when reading your work? Is the reaction of readers important to you at all?

Yes. Yes.

Do antidepressants and antianxiety medications destroy creativity?

I really feel like I have no idea. I haven't tried to create anything while 'on' antidepressants/antianxiety medications.

The night I sent you the first batch of questions I'm asking you, I had a dream that you were in. We were both at a vegan potluck and you were drinking a beer called "Lydia Davis." I said, "I thought Lydia Davis was a writer? Not a beer?" And you looked at me and said, "No, it's a beer." As a student of psychology, do you have any idea what that means? Or can you make something up, if you don't?

The vegan potluck is symbolic of the Internet Literary Scene. A potluck is a gathering that requires people to bring food. Bringing food is the 'sole reason' for the gathering (otherwise it would be just called a 'party'). Other things happen at the potluck (socializing, drinking, karaoke), but food is the main reason people gather.

Likewise, the Internet Literary Scene is a gathering under the 'sole reason' of literature. Thus people 'bring' their literature into the scene (in this situation you are bringing this interview). Other things happen in the Internet Literary scene, (socializing, group activities, message boards), but literature is the main reason people gather.   

The potluck is vegan because, regarding the 'reception' of this interview by the Internet Literary Scene (via publishing on Bookslut), you are more concerned with the perception of Muumuu House writers (who 'everybody' thinks are vegan) than you are of writers affiliated with other publishing 'houses.'

In real life, it is not uncommon for people to be defined by what they drink (for example, you are likely to think [something] when you go to a bar with your bro and he orders a glass of white wine, or a Coke (instead of a beer or a hard drink)). In your dream, my beer was called 'Lydia Davis.'

Likewise, in the Internet Literary Scene, people are defined by their 'handles.' My Internet 'handle,' on a lot of websites (as well as the main character in NERVOUS ASSFACE) is 'Lydia Davis.'

You asked, "I thought Lydia Davis was a writer? Not a beer?" This was an attempt at clarification. You were confused. You wanted to know, "Is Brandon the beer he drinks (his internet handle/persona), or is there something more? What's going on with that? I want to know more."

This is what you are doing right now. You are interviewing me. You are attempting to clarify thoughts of me that exist in your brain. And this will be made public in the 'potluck,' or Internet Literary Scene.

In your dream, I answered, "No, it's a beer." This reflects your prediction of the way in which I would answer your interview questions. The statement was direct. You had in your mind that I would answer your questions directly.

In conclusion, your brain was 'simply' going over, in a randomized, highly-metaphorical way, the event (our interview) that, statistically, it was processing more than other events, which is, I am pretty sure, what dreaming typically is.

Can you tell me what the last movie you saw was, and whether you liked it?

Old Joy. It 'fucking sucked.'

Do you hate anybody?

Boost Mobile.

How are you feeling right now?

Good.

Is there anything you want to say to the readers of Bookslut?

Hi. If anyone is interested in publishing my novella in the US, please visit my blog and go from there. If anyone is interested in purchasing my book, please visit my blog and go from there. Spike Jonze, if you are reading this (heard you read Bookslut via Shane Jones), and want to buy the film rights to my poetry book or my next novella, or are in Seattle and simply want to 'chill,' please visit my blog and go from there. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview.